By Lynn Venhaus

Cowabunga dude! Surprisingly funny and entertaining, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” oozes unexpected charm.

Heavily sprinkled with snappy pop culture references, this new chapter is told in a zippy yet gritty animated style and aims for multi-generational appeal. Millennials who grew up fans of Turtle Power in its first wave can enjoy a nostalgic blast while new fanboys from the fourth series reboot can delight in familiar details.

The four Turtle brothers, rescued as babies after being doused with radioactive material, have been sheltered from the human world by a toxic avenger, their sensei Splinter (Jackie Chan). Now humanoids living in their sewer home, they yearn to interact with New Yorkers and be accepted as normal teenagers. After an encounter with high school journalist April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) they take on the role of evil crime fighters. When an army of mutants is unleashed by a crime syndicate, they are spurred into action.

Co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who gave us the endearing dorky teen bromance movie “Superbad” in 2007 and have teamed up on many buddy comedy films since, including “This Is the End,” “Pineapple Express” and “Sausage Party,” are clearly fond of the heroes on the half-shell.

The best-buds duo has joined forces with creatives behind the ingenious “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” to create a summer release that’s far from an August throwaway. Jeff Rowe helped write the script and helmed the film, along with Mitchells’ alum Kyler Spears.

Jackie Chan voices Splinter

They smartly frame this comedy like a family sitcom, with Jackie Chan the overprotective dad Splinter, a rat, whose distrust of humans has led to all sorts of goofy dysfunctions. He is the one who taught them ninjutsu, which is a martial art survivalist strategy using espionage, guerilla warfare and unconventional practices from ninja warriors. And the Turtles act like real kid brothers, which is refreshing.

The film’s all-star cast enlivens the experience, especially Ice Cube as a formidable villain Superfly and “introducing” Paul Rudd as Mondo Gecko, played for laughs. Ayo Edebiri (Emmy nominee for “The Bear”) is their feisty ally April, who becomes their link to the real world. Here, she’s an aspiring news reporter, still in high school.

While their nemesis Shredder isn’t a major presence, his ally, mad scientist Baxter Stockman, figures into the plot to take over the world and is voiced by “Breaking Bad” baddie Giancarlo Esposito. The Shredder’s buffoonish henchman, a rhinoceros named Bebop and a warthog named Rock Steady, are comically voiced by Seth Rogen and John Cena.

The TMNT, named for Italian Renaissance artists Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and identified by color-coded bandana masks, are portrayed by young teen actors Micah Abbey, Nicolas Cantu, Shamon Brown Jr.  and Brady Noon.

Typically, Leonardo is the disciplined leader, who wears a blue bandana and is seen using two katana swords. Donatello is smart and invents gadgets, using a bo staff and wearing a purple mask. Raphael is the strongest and at times hot-headed, using a pair of sai pronged stabbing weapons and wearing a red bandana. Michelangelo, aka Mikey, is the most fun-loving and fastest, wearing an orange bandana and using nunchucks.

Bebop and Rocksteady

The Turtles are the fertile creations of comic book authors Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who, in 1984, conceived the quirky characters as a parody of superhero elements back then. Supposedly inspired by the teenagers of New Teen Titans, the mutants of Uncanny X-Men and the ninjas of Daredevil, they combined them with a funny anthropomorphic animal image and in the spirit of underground comics.

When their company, Mirage Studios, licensed the characters to Playmates Toys three years later, the action figures, vehicles and playsets developed a huge following and sold more than $1 billion from 1988 to 1992. The Turtles became the third bestselling toy figures ever, following G.I. Joe and Star Wars.

Influenced by He-Man and Transformers, the comic book guys developed an animated series, which debuted in 1987 and ran for nearly a decade. That’s when the Turtles’ fun-loving personalities emerged, as did their love of pizza. Peaking in the ‘90s, live action movies came out in 1990 and 1991 (“The Secret of the Ooze”) and had a darker tone than the cartoons.

After the creators sold their shares, a new comic series began in 2003 and ran for seven seasons. A computer-animated film “TMNT” was released in 2007. Now owned by Nickelodeon, a third series ran 2012-2017.

A fourth live-action film came out in 2014, followed by a sequel “Out of the Shadows.” They were disappointing in quality, but successful at the box office.

The fourth animated series “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” premiered five years ago, running for two seasons, and Netflix released a film last year. leading to this new animated film.

With this rich history and fresh content, TMNT seems unstoppable as a pop culture force. A sequel has already been announced. The pedigree here is particularly impressive, as is the soundtrack, with music by Nine Inch Nails duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Oscar winners for “Soul” and “The Social Network.”

Set in the streets of New York City, this story is darker in tone, with a nefarious gang of mutants intent on worldwide domination – and are grotesque, hulking beasts. The action is intense, and in the final act, the mayhem turns into overkill, with much time spent on whiz-bang combat and explosions.

But all is well, for the Turtles not only save the world but get to attend high school. Hey, it’s a fantasy, rooted in reality, and a swell time in air-conditioned comfort on a hot August day.


“The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is a 2023 animated adventure directed by Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears, and voice actors include Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, John Cena, Seth Rogen, Ayo Edeburi, Micah Abbey, Nicolas Cantu, Shamon Brown Jr. and Brady Noon, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, and Rose Byrne. It is rated PG for sequences of violence and action, language and impolite material. It opened in theatres Aug. 2. Lynn’s Grade: B

Note: this review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Ice Cube is villain Superfly

By Lynn Venhaus
Of all this summer’s films, “Luca” might be the one that gives you a serious case of wanderlust – and nostalgia for the summers of your youth.

The playful computer-generated animated feature sweeps us away into two exotic worlds – under the sea and on land – for a fun, fast-paced teenage adventure. You will wish Portorosso was real – not just a reference to Hayao Miyazaki‘s film “Porco Rosso” from 1992.

Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, “Luca” is a sea monster-turned-little boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and scooter rides. Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) shares adventures with his new best friend, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is also a sea monster, and meets Giulia (Emma Berman), who will change his life, and her fisherman father Massimo (Marco Barricelli), while he’s hiding from his fretful parents Daniela and Lorenzo (Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan). Can he still live in both worlds without fear?

Following a long line of Disney dreamers, Luca Paguro is a charmer – coming of age as he straddles his natural sea world and the picturesque fishing village he discovers during an escapade with his new best friend, the worldlier and more mischievous Alberto.

Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph voice parents Lorenzo and Daniela

Luca herds goatfish by day, trying to stay safe, warned by his protective mother (Maya Rudolph) about dangers of the outside world. But he yearns to see what’s out there for himself. When he ventures above the surface, he appears to be a human, but once wet, he reverts to his sea monster scales.

With wide-eyed wonder and an insatiable curiosity, Luca wants to explore the vast universe that he is only now experiencing. It turns into an unforgettable summer on the sun-kissed shores of Italy, set in the ‘50s – captivating us in the grand time-honored tradition of a hero’s far-away journey.

The vivid animation matches the creators’ limitless imaginations, and the swift shapeshifting between the ‘human’ boys and the sea monsters is remarkable. During the credits, watercolor drawings, reminiscent of old picture books, dot the frames.

Pixar’s latest and 24th feature, “Luca,” isn’t as profound or ground-breaking as “Soul,” “Coco” or “Inside Out,” but is a pleasant excursion into a gorgeous nook of land-and-sea, as refreshing as an ocean breeze.

The characters, conceived by director Enrico Casarosa and co-writers Jesse Andrews (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Mike Jones (“Soul”), are distinguished by colorful personalities and exaggerated physical features – whether it’s a brawny dad bod with a thick mustache or a swaggering pompadoured bully in sunglasses.

The appealing voice cast imbues characters with warmth and humor, and particularly amusing are Sandy Martin, Mac’s Mom on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” as the saucy grandma, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the hulking gravel-voiced Uncle Ugo (stay for the credits for more on this imposing creature).

 Tremblay, now age 14, conveys enthusiasm and amazement over everything Luca sees and does. The guileless Tremblay broke through in “Room” (2015) and has followed up with the earnest “Wonder” and the hilarious “Good Boys.” He is a natural fit for the sea creature-out-of-water Luca.

He pairs well with Jack Dylan Grazer, Eddie in the “It” movies, who is the headstrong Alberto, and Emma Berman as the smart and lively Giuilia. Their silly shenanigans recall vintage cartoons – and even “Stand By Me.”

Casarosa’s directorial debut was the lush moonlit “La Luna,” an animated Pixar short shown before “Brave” in 2012 and nominated for an Academy Award. Inspired by his childhood in Genoa for both the short and feature, he has infused this film with a marvelous sense of atmosphere.

Through a big-hearted approach, Casarosa has expanded on the themes of family, friends and community, while also bathing it in a gorgeous glow at nighttime. The lighting here is exquisite.

Cultural touches – on food, lifestyle and landscape – add to the film’s precise sense of style.

The music is another memorable aspect – Dan Romer’s score blends Italian opera, folk music and spirited instrumental pieces to amplify the jolly and jaunty elements.

An original story that may be more of a pastiche and feels like a beach read, “Luca” is an enchanting take on celebrating differences and youth friendships.

If you notice nods to “The Little Mermaid,” “Finding Nemo” and “Pinocchio,” so be it, but it also is an homage to Casarosa’s major influence Miyazaki — plus Fellini and other Italian cinema greats too.

Dive in and just have fun with it, an Italian ice optional.

“Luca” is a 2021 animated feature and comedy-adventure. Directed by Enrico Casarosa, it has voice work from Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli and Jim Gaffigan. Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence, it has a run time of 1 hour, 35 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A-. The film is streaming on Disney Plus beginning June 17 at no extra premium fee.

By Lynn Venhaus
Zippy and clever, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a cross between a fun family adventure with the Griswolds and a fast-paced sci-fi thriller in the mold of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller the producers, Oscar winners for the innovative “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and creators of “The LEGO Movie,” you expect good humor, creative animation and funny people voicing the characters, and they raise the bar once again. Writer-director Mike Rianda delivers a work that is not only entertaining but surprisingly warm-hearted.

An ordinary family finds themselves challenged to save the world from a robot apocalypse. Creative daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has been accepted into the film school of her dreams, so her nature-loving dad (Danny McBride) insists on a family road trip to get her there. Upbeat Mom (Maya Rudolph) and quirky younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) are along for the ride when the machine uprising begins – oh, and their squishy pug Monchi too. They connect with two simple-minded robots to save humanity, combating smart phones, roombas, evil Furbys and renegade appliances.

Families can recognize themselves in the characters, which Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe have lovingly crafted, while its cautionary tale about unchecked technology, over-reliance on social media and losing connections with those you love the most is a valid one.

The contrast between the Mitchells – throwbacks to ‘60s and ‘70s sitcoms, complete with beat-up station wagon and roly-poly dog – with the high-tech modern world is well-drawn and thought-provoking.

The colorful animation is, of course, next level, in its action sequences and visual effects. Its vibrancy and sight gags are worth a second viewing. An Easter egg for St. Louisans, the Arch is one of the landmark attractions seen across the U.S.

The voice actors ideally suit their characters, with the well-meaning but dorky dad voiced by Danny McBride an excellent foil for exasperated Katie, ready to try her wings at college, played by comic actress-writer Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” fame and a veteran of Upright Citizens Brigade. SNL’s Beck Bennett, Fred Armisen and Conan O’Brien are funny as tech voices, with the biggest surprise Oscar winner Olivia Colman as the mad mastermind PAL. The actress, best known as Queen Elizabeth in “The Crown,” is a terrific villain.

The charming and delightful “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a welcome vehicle to gather the whole family to watch – and all too rare these days for such a broad shared experience.

THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES – Mike Rianda as “Aaron Mitchell”. Cr: ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved.

“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is an action comedy animated feature, directed by Mike Rianda. Voice actors are Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Conan O’Brien and Charlie Yi.
The film is 1 hour, 53 minutes and is rated PG for action and some language. Streaming on Netflix beginning April 30.

Lynn’s Take: A