Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem manically delivers a fun animated adventure, fueled by its style and impeccable voice work.
You would be forgiven for not knowing the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem was hitting theaters this week. At least in my corner of the country, there seemed to be very little promotion or build-up to the newest Heroes in a Half Shell adventure, an animated reboot helmed by Jeff Rowe, co-writer and co-director of The Mitchells and the Machines. Perhaps Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures were unsure a new film would spark interest in the days of constant IP blockbusters. However, this new film, a frenetic force of style, is one of the best TMNT adaptations and certainly earns the “mayhem” of its title.
The film quickly rehashes the turtles’ origin story before fast-forwarding to 15 years in the future, when Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), Donatello (Micah Abbey), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) are smack dab in the middle of their teenage years, hiding from society in the sewers with their father, Splinter (Jackie Chan). When they meet student reporter April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), the turtles embark on a quest to save New York City while hoping society learns to accept them. This synopsis may sound like a familiar set-up for these four, but Rowe does an excellent job of keeping the audience on its toes, messing with the mythology and daring to go where few, if any, TMNT movies have gone before.
The film’s obvious positives stem from its style and the voice cast. Rowe takes the animation he’s familiar with from Mitchells and cranks it up a notch here, clearly evoking the revolutionary animation from the Spider-Verse films. The blending of 2D and 3D animation gives the entire film the feel of a comic book. While it certainly does not reach the heights of Spider-Verse, in this animation style or in other areas, Mutant Mayhem feels fresh thanks to its style, a style that feels like the filmmakers playing with their favorite toy action figures. This style also elevates the humorous and hectic script (penned by Rowe, Seth Rogen, and others) that kept the audience in my screening laughing constantly.
The exceptional animation and witty script are further fueled by the excellent voice cast. Mutant Mayhem does something oddly unique in that it is the first to cast actual teenagers to voice the TEENAGE Mutant Ninja Turtles. All four do an excellent job of bringing out the personality of each member of the green team, whether it be Noon capturing Raphael’s impulsiveness or Cantu evoking simultaneous conscientiousness and hesitation in his portrayal of Leonardo, the leader of the group. Additionally, the likes of Rogen, Chan, Hannibal Buress, Ice Cube, Paul Rudd, and Maya Rudolph lend their talents to the supporting characters and villains. Ice Cube especially stands out in his surprisingly menacing (but often hilarious) role as the main villain, a mutant fly who wishes to turn the rest of the world’s animals into mutants. The cast fully buys into the film’s craziness, and it works.
What does not work, unfortunately, is the movie’s story often getting in the way of its chaotic vibrancy. To elaborate, Mutant Mayhem’s story is rather simple and straightforward. That might be expected for a children’s movie, but there is simply not enough story to sustain the momentum that is gained through the exhilarating animation and action. Because of this, the film can occasionally devolve into clichés and underwritten dialogue to try to keep pace. It may not bother fans who come exclusively for the ninjitsu and pizza, but it does hold the film back from being a truly great animated caper.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem may not match its stylistic energy with a deep story, but it offers enough thrills and laughs for children, adults, and fans of the heroic reptiles to overlook its flaws. It’s chaotically comical and comically chaotic. Cowabunga.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem was released in theatres everywhere on August 2, 2023, with sneak previews from July 29. Read our list of All Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movies Ranked, Including Mutant Mayhem!