For decades now, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have found themselves passing in and out of the pop cultural zeitgeist. From their humble beginnings in 1984 as drawings on a comic book page, to their breakout 1987 animated series and their original run of live-action films through the ‘90s, the turtles have since played a less prominent role on our screens. Between having Michael Bay at the helm of their attempted gritty reboot, to their various direct-to-video movies and wide variety of series reboots, it felt as though the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle were becoming an icon of the past… until now.
Directed by Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears, with a screenplay written by the likes of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit as well as Rowe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem aims to reintroduce the turtles to a new generation of kids, while remaining true to its source and welcoming the inner child of anyone who has ever loved these four green ninjas in the past.
Acting as a new iteration of the turtles, complete with modern references and new teen slang, Mutant Mayhem keeps true to the source and maintains most of the origin story for Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Raphael (Brady Noon) and Splinter (Jackie Chan), while also utilising its setup to introduce the films main antagonist, Superfly (Ice Cube). Through some efficient storytelling, the audience is then thrown through a whirlwind of 90s hip-hop and ninjutsu as the turtles begin to grow and learn about Splinter’s concerns of the real world.
Longing to be normal high schoolers, Mutant Mayhem uses the guise of gorgeous, sketchbook style animation and high octane action to present a warming tale of wanting to feel accepted. With some terrific voice work and chemistry from Cantu, Abbeh, Brown Jr. and Noon, it’s easy for the audience to get swept up in the turtles desire to fit into a world that doesn’t welcome them.
Quickly after meeting April O’Niel (Ayo Edebiri), the turtles learn of Superlfy’s criminal activities around the city and scheme a plan to take down his organisation as a way of making the city see them as heroes and welcome them into the real world. In doing so, however, they begin to learn of Superfly’s real plan and find themselves biting off more than they can perhaps chew.
Telling this story through animation, Rowe and crew are truly able to push the style of this world into a unique space that allows for these familiar characters to feel fresh and new. Feeling like images pulled straight from school notebook sketches, animation studios Mikros Animation and Cinesite have crafted an exciting visual style with an endless amount of punchy visuals and explosive energy.
Furthering the film’s energy is the soundtrack, which is filled with 90s hip-hop, adding a stylish beat to the film’s various set pieces. The score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, also lends a hand in establishing the feeling of the film. Energetic themes blast their way through moments of action, while mellowed tunes find their way into the film’s more emotional moments.
As a mostly coming-of-age film, these emotional beats are a common thread throughout the easy going run time. Whether in moments of uncertainty from the turtles in their own abilities, or in April’s story of the high school outcast, the Mutant Mayhem delivers a universal message about the desire to fit in and be accepted.
With these key themes presenting themselves throughout Mutant Mayhem, at its core it remains an energetic action flick of ninjutsu, mutants and pizza. Rowe and Spears, along with their writing crew, also manage to inject some dark moments into the film in a way that still allows for younger audiences to remain engaged. They also sprinkle in comedic moments that will find laughs from all audiences, along with standout moments that will tickle the funny bone of older viewers.
Made even more effective through the film’s talented voice cast, every moment and character feels wholly unique. Whether in the main cast of turtles, or in Superfly’s cast of mutants including Seth Rogen’s Bebop, John Cena’s Rocksteady and Paul Rudd’s scene stealing Mondo Gecko, everyone brings a light hearted sincerity to their characters that allows them to shine in their respective moments.
While there is plenty to love in what the film has to offer, it does feel at times like there is more to be desired in the plot. Clearly catering to a younger audience, there are moments throughout Mutant Mayhem that can come off as lightly brushed over or quickly resolved. However, this never detracts from the film’s overall enjoyment and is easily dismissed thanks to Rowe and crew’s solid filmmaking capabilities, as well as the joyous cast that audiences will so easily come to love by the film’s end.
Although rather safe and by the book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an exciting and energetic film filled with fun for the whole family. Its explosive animation style, boom bap soundtrack and loveable cast is sure to welcome a new generation of fans while also lighting up the hearts of longtime viewers. Powerful in its message, high octane in its action and lighthearted in its humour, Mutant Mayhem is sure to engage audiences and has set itself as one of the year’s most entertaining films.
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