Reptile Dysfunction: The ninja turtles are gloomier than usual in TMNT.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” announces ninja turtle Raphael midway through TMNT. “We’re going to rescue our brother…and then we’re going to save New York City.” It’s refreshing to find a terrapin with clear priorities, and that’s just part of the body-and-soul makeover that writer-director Kevin Munroe has imposed on Raphael and his kick-ass siblings. You could say that TMNT aims to do for ninja turtles what Tim Burton did for Batman: turn a jokey, junk-food franchise into a rich Gothic supper. The days of simply gobbling pizza and yelling “Cowabunga!” are over; the four subterranean turtles must now contend with dark nights of the shell. Not to mention a 3,000-year-old warrior, who, with his stone generals, is busy rousting up 13 heinous monsters before a chain of stars realign, igniting a time-space portal that could unleash…OK, the rest of it I lost in a sea of flailing limbs. Old Ninja gal pal April O’Neil (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), has been transformed from a news reporter into Indiana Jones, and her boyfriend, Casey (voiced by Chris Evans), is now the world’s mellowest avenger. And because every comic-book movie needs a classically trained English actor to authenticate its nonsense, the voice of Patrick Stewart is on hand to slather us in quasi-Elizabethan diction. Of course, our mutant lads still burp and ride skateboards and crack wise—all the traits that made the live-action Ninja film series such a succubus on the parental soul. What lifts this animated upgrade to a whole new level is its unusually rich visual texture. Spider-Man never cavorted through such a gorgeously teeming New York City: Every rathole and sewer line is realized down to the last penumbra. For all the newfangled digital technology on display, the film’s animators aren’t above allusions to old masters. Raphael battles a razor-toothed imp-monster in a diner that’s straight out of Edward Hopper, and a scene of intrafamilial strife unfolds in a downpour that can only be called Kurosawan. The art in TMNT isn’t quite at the level of Michelangelo, or even Donatello, but who would have guessed that a pack of hormonal reptiles in headbands could dress up so nice?