Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an irreverent animated delight
The history of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptations is a checkered one. After starting as a comic book in the early 1980s, it was first adapted into a beloved animated TV series. In the early ‘90s, came three live action movies, all reviled. Multiple other animated and live action projects followed, each earning the same scorn as the big-screen trilogy.
So fans have a right to be skeptical of the latest movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, although it is thankfully in the animated realm instead of live action. Led by writers/producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the film goes back to basics, showing how Leonardo (voiced by Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), Donatello (Micah Abbey), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) came to be, as well as how they chafe under the strict rules of mentor/father figure Splinter (Jackie Chan).
A chance meeting with aspiring reporter April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) gets them out of the sewers, where they embark on a mission to stop the rampages of a villain known as Superfly (Ice Cube). The discovery that Superfly and his gang are also mutant versions of animals/insects throws them for a loop, but the turtles’ desire to become heroes who would be accepted by human society keeps their eyes on the prize.
The film, directed by Jeff Rowe and Kyle Spears and written by Rogen, Goldberg, Rowe, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit, is exactly the antidote the property needed for the two Michael Bay-produced live action films in the 2010s. The filmmakers understand the irreverent tone the film needs to strike, as well as establishing the distinct personalities of each of the turtles.
What really sets the film apart is the animation style, which can best be described as “purposefully rough.” Many of the characters have odd angles to their faces, and everything appears scuffed, as if it was drawn quickly. It’s perfect for a story about mutant creatures who live underground. Nothing in the film is pretty to look at, but it draws you in nonetheless.
Per usual for nostalgic properties like this, there is plenty in the film that will appeal to both kids and adults. The kinetic story, with lots of action scenes and fast-paced editing, will keep the attention of anyone with short attention spans, while a variety of references will have parents chuckling knowingly. Out-of-the-norm choices, like scoring a chase scene to 4 Non Blondes’ 1993 song “What’s Up?,” illustrate the effort to appeal to multiple generations at once.
The Ninja Turtles themselves are voiced by young actors, which drives home the impetuous decision-making and goofiness of the teenagers. Joining bold-faced names like Ice Cube and Jackie Chan are Rogen, Rose Byrne, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, John Cena, and even Post Malone, each of whom adds a unique flair to their voice work.
There’s no need to fear disappointment from yet-another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie; Mutant Mayhem is a success from beginning to end. The look, the tone, and the attitude of the film are all as good as any fan could hope; let’s just hope they don’t screw up the (inevitable) sequel.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem opens in theaters on August 2.