‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ Review

To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a computer-animated superhero film directed by Jeff Rowe (The Mitchells vs. the Machines) from a screenplay written by Rowe, Seth Rogen (Superbad), Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express), Dan Hernandez (Pokémon Detective Pikachu), and Benji Samit (The Addams Family 2). Featuring the voices talents of Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Hannibal Buress, Rose Byrne, John Cena, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Natasia Demetriou, Ayo Edebiri, Giancarlo Esposito, Post Malone, Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Maya Rudolph; it is the seventh theatrical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film and serves as a reboot of the series. The story follows Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael as they team up with April O’Neil Turtles to take down a mysterious criminal known as Superfly.

In New York, TCRI scientist Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) talks with his mutated housefly “son” about how he never fit in with people. Using a mutagenic ooze he created, Stockman plans to create more siblings for his son so that they can be a family. Before he can complete his experiments, his boss Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph) sends a squadron of agents to hunt him down. After breaking into his house the agents take down Stockman and plan to confiscate his experiments. Stockman’s son begins attacking the agents one by one to free his father. While shooting at the giant fly, one of the agents causes an explosion, killing Stockman. His son escapes with his siblings in the ensuing confusion and the mutagen falls into the sewer.

Fifteen years later, Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), and Raphael (Brady Noon) leave the sewers to retrieve supplies for their father, Splinter (Jackie Chan). After completing their tasks in only an hour the brothers decide to head to Brooklyn to enjoy an outdoor movie night to Leonardo’s dismay. After watching most of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the teens decide to head home.

My entire life I have been a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember watching reruns of the 80s animated series as a kid and I loved the 90s live-action trilogy of movies. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze is my favorite and “Ninja Rap” is easily Vanilla Ice’s best song – the track is briefly heard in this installment. When I saw that they were rebooting the franchise as an animated film I was hesitant. I was not a fan of how young the turtles seemed to be. To me, they looked like Preteen Mutant Ninja Turtles. I should know better than to doubt Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as this film is wonderful. Rogen and Goldberg have executive produced some of the best superhero content this decade with The Boys and Invincible and now they can add Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem to that incredible list.

The entire voice cast was fantastic. Allowing Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon to record their lines together worked out well as it truly feels as if they are all on screen together. Normally recordings happen at different times so it’s that they could do this. The teens retain their original backstory along with the different sizes and aesthetics seen in newer adaptations. The major difference is how the turtles and Splinter learned ninjitsu. Splinter teaching them remains, but this time around he didn’t gain the skills from his former owner, instead, he and his children learned them from workout videos.

Making the turtles younger allows for better chemistry. Most incarnations of the turtles feel like they are in their late teens so getting to see their formative years is a nice change of pace. This will also allow for the filmmakers to change their designs as they age. The younger April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) plays just as well. Her personality is vastly different than what I have seen in the past. The same goes for her body shape. She does not work for a news channel yet, but we can see she has the bug. It’ll be interesting to see if she continues down this career path in future installments.

Many other familiar characters appear with roles quite different than in the past. Characters previously shown as enemies are presented more as antiheroes now. Surprisingly not going with Shredder and the Foot clan out the gate is an interesting move. As the ending shows, he is being saved for the sequel. That being said Superfly (Ice Cube) is a good choice. The character is original to this film as in previous iterations Baxter Stockman becomes a human/fly hybrid. Ice Cube does a great job voicing the character. Some of his lines are even Cube’s old lyrics. His backstory makes his turn to villainy more understandable. He’s very similar to Killmonger in that he feels that humanity has let the mutants down and they should be exterminated. Ice Cube brings a hip-hop flavor to the character that works well. He can be joyful and fun, but get serious at the drop of a dime.

The film was animated by Mikros Animation and Cinesite who did a stunning job. The look of the movie is a byproduct of what I like to call the SpiderVerse effect. Studios are now moving away from the typical 3D animation made famous by Disney and Pixar and moving towards a more stylistic approach akin to a comic book or painting. The character design is very interesting. Even though the turtles are mutants they have the most symmetrical features of all the people in the film. When you look at the humans their faces are distorted and abstract almost like they are living Picasso paintings. I think this was done on purpose so that the audience relates more to the turtles than the humans.

The soundtrack of this movie radiates East Coast hip-hop and elevates the entire New York experience. You hear “Ante Up” by M.O.P. when the turtles steal supplies, “No Diggity” by Blackstreet when they attack the gangsters, and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard when the mutants hang out at the arcade. These scenes flow effortlessly into Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ (The Social Network) powerful score. Together they make the city feel lived-in and deep.

This movie is a welcome addition to the various entries in the TMNT franchise. The animation is beautiful, the music is dope, and the cast is wonderful. I give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem a Decent 8.5/10. Can’t wait to see what they cook up with the sequel and if the turtles’ designs will change as they age. As long as they don’t release it the same year as Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, I could see the second entry taking home an Academy Award.

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