Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)
Directors: Jeff Rowe, Kyler Spears
Screenwriters: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe
Starring: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr, Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Ediberi, John Cena, Ice Cube, Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogan, Jackie Chan, Rose Byrne, Natasha Demetriou, Paul Rudd
We all know the story…
Fifteen years ago a scientist carelessly dropped some ooze down the sewers. A rat and four baby turtles mutated and learned some martial arts. Deciding to stay in the sewers, fearful of the reception they might receive from the human world, they surface only to fight crime. And to order pizza.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is the latest offering in a nearly forty-year franchise. Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo and Leonardo have been through many iterations since their creation in the 1980s. Many parents of children flocking to the cinemas for this latest reincarnation would have grown up watching the original cartoon and possibly had an action figure or two. It seems likely that co-writer Seth Rogen and the other creative forces behind Mutant Mayhem did.
This incarnation is a love letter to the Ninja Turtles of the past, while creating something new, fresh, and completely captivating.
The soundtrack and reference points – Vanilla Ice (an easter egg for fans of 1991’s TMNT II: The Secret of Ooze), 4 Non Blondes, Blackstreet, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and a well-placed Cowabunga – amp up the nostalgia, appealing to the adults who grew up loving the pizza-chowing foursome. Meanwhile, modern jokes and stylistic choices plant it firmly in the present day, perfect for a 21st Century audience.
The turtles in Mutant Mayhem are believable teens, played so brilliantly by Micah Abbey, Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, and Shamon Brown Jr. They are gawky and hormonal, voices cracking and doe-eyed, sarcastic, and wilful. Splinter (Jackie Chan) has taught them martial arts – from YouTube tutorials naturally – as a means of self-defence. Unlike the original cartoons where Splinter was a Charlie figure to his reptilian Angels, Chan’s Splinter is an anxious father who wants his children to stay as far away from what might hurt them as possible.
But what is life without a bit of hurt?
Enter April. Ayo Ediberi’s impressive back catalogue of leftfield, grown up comedy makes her the perfect casting for the up-to-date investigative reporter. April is now portrayed as a teen herself, awkward and desperate to be liked. She’s funny, accepting, and instrumental in the turtles’ development from secret sewer slinkers to bona fide heroes. And, boy, does New York need a hero or four. Super-villain, Superfly (Ice Cube), is a mastermind, stealing top secret equipment in order to build a device to mutantise the entire planet. If only there was a motley crew to stop him.
The ensemble cast, many of whom Rogen has worked with before, has a collective CV the size of a skyscraper. They are all major players in comedy, action and animation. But these well-seasoned actors, such as Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne and John Cena, actually play the characters who only have a few lines each. The lion’s share is done by the younger, less experienced crew, and it works so well. The big names help to sell the movie, but really it is paving the way for younger talent as much as it is for younger audiences.
The animation style of Mutant Mayhem is unique and beautiful, reminiscent of comic book illustrations. Mikros Animation is the studio behind it, the same studio that worked on PAW Patrol: The Movie (2021), The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run (2020), Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017), and Little Prince (2015). While all these animation styles are different to each other, there is a similarity in the way they stand out from the stylings of Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and Illumination. Mutant Mayhem is a cut above the rest though, a heady swirl of dark brooding colours lit up by neon ooze and streetlamps. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and the editing snappy and interesting.
What the film does so brilliantly too, is to ramp up the ridiculous just enough to remove any real terror for younger audiences. Of which there will be plenty. Superfly’s (Ice Cube) final mutation is genuinely very funny as he rampages through the city and gives the turtles a run for their money. The film has managed the challenging feat of being suitable for a five-year-old while also portraying peril and graphic violence.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is warm, enjoyable, laugh out loud funny. It possibly borders on slightly too saccharine and sentimental at times, but a swift punchline is always waiting in the wings to regain some balance. It is a fantastic reboot of a well-loved but often maligned franchise.