Over the years there have been many iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), from the original ‘80s animated series to the Michael Bay produced live-action movie. Although these adaptations varied, one issue was consistent throughout – the teenage part of the title was significantly ignored.
Enter Seth Rogen, who correctly thought it was about time something was done about this. And so he started work producing the brand new animated film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, which hits cinemas next week and has that crucial teen spirit running through its veins. Not only do actual teenagers voice the turtles (Michah Abbey as Donatello, Shamon Brown Jr. as Michelangelo, Nicolas Cantu as Leonardo, and Brady Noon as Raphael) but there’s a youthful energy right at the beating heart of the movie.
This is something that actor Ayo Edebiri (who brilliantly plays Sydney in hit show The Bear) really enjoyed tapping into as she voiced April O’Neil, the turtles’ closest human ally and dear friend. Whilst other versions have depicted April as an adult reporter, this time she is an eager teenager who is chasing her dream of becoming a journalist.
Speaking to GamesRadar+ (ahead of the actors’ strike), Edebiri emphasised that this allowed her to more fully explore April: “I definitely think that it gave me a lot more space to play and interpret the character, to give her an arc of growth as she’s not this totally capable adult who knows how to help them. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She has a lot of ideas, drive, and heart but she’s ultimately a teenage girl at high school. It was really fun for me to play!”
Smells like teen spirit
It isn’t just the fact that the characters are younger that gives Mutant Mayhem its playful edge, as that youthful energy also comes through the vibrant, sprightly art style the film harnesses and runs completely wild with, to great effect. Looking like kids’ sketches that have come to life, the animation is not only unique but stunning to see on the big screen. It’s no surprise then that Edebiri was very excited to get a first glimpse at her character’s design:
“I remember when I first met Jeff [Rowe, director] he was showing me art done by actual teenagers, telling me how that played a lot into the process of creating these characters. I love that the art style feels so evocative and fresh, and getting to see April be a young Black girl, that’s so cool. There is something that feels very youthful to me about the art, how it’s like a drawing, the sketchiness of it, the colours, the use of light. It feels very young and it was helpful for me to see that, to know who I was breathing life into.”
Edebiri goes on to reveal that being able to record with the quartet portraying the turtles was also crucial in her development of April’s character, as they could bring how they bounced off each other in real life to the screen. Typically, actors record their lines in separate sessions, but here the opposite was encouraged: “The script was truly so funny but Jeff and Seth were super open to improvisation in the recording sessions – and I got to do some with the boys! It was a lot of like playing off each other, especially off the insanity that they came out with.”
The search for acceptance
Together, April and the turtles embark on a journey – and here we aren’t just talking about them hunting down a mysterious crime syndicate. Each one of them is searching for acceptance and trying to find out who they really are, which is why they form such a close bond, as Edebiri explains: “I feel that there’s this arc of understanding yourself, being comfortable in your own skin, looking for acceptance, looking for friendship. It’s really nice that not only are the turtles searching for that, but so is April, and they find it in each other. As they team up and work together, there’s also this real friendship being cemented.”
Speaking of which, as our chat with Edebiri draws to a close, only one question remains – which of the beloved turtles is her favorite? Of course she wants to remain diplomatic, but Edebiri’s heart says differently: “Historically I’ve been a Mikey girl. Yeah, I think the people who are like ‘I’m funny and cool’ are the Mikey heads – but that answer might hurt Leo’s feelings a bit. But, it is what it is!”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem releases in UK cinemas on 31st July.
In the meantime, check out our guide to the rest of the most exciting upcoming movies in 2023 and beyond.