With an animation style inspired by the recent "Spider-Verse" films and a hip, kinetic energy influenced by movies like "The Mitchells vs. The Machines," "Mutant Mayhem" is not your father's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In fact, in many ways, it's better.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were such huge pop culture icons in the 90s, that many forget that they first existed as a comic book, by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, several years earlier. The first live-action movie - released in 1990 - was a massive box office success, and in turn led to a successful line of action figures, TV series, clothing and random merchandise, not to mention six total films (not counting "Mutant Mayhem"). The films along have grossed over a billion dollars worldwide.
Over the last few decades, Hollywood has been scrambling, trying to figure out what to do with the franchise and its beloved characters: The "leader" Leonardo (in blue and sporting katanas), the nerdy Donatello (purple sporting a Bo), the fun-loving Michelangelo (orange with nunchacku) and the blood-thirsty Raphael (red with twin sais). Then there's their wise, older "rat-man" mentor, Splinter, their human reporter/friend, April O'Neil and a gallery of villains and other rotating characters so numerous that it gives Batman's Rogue Gallery a run for its money.
In "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem," the Turtle Power has never been stronger. The uniquely rendered animation style perfectly fits this world full misfits, where the human faces are curled and gnarled nearly as much as some of the mutants. This is a true "re-imagining" of the Turtles, and the filmmakers (including Seth Rogen, on-board as one of the film's writers) find surprising depths, taking these sewer-dwelling characters to new heights.
The first major overhaul seems obvious, but these Turtles are teenagers for a new generation...a generation raised on social media, electronics and TikTok videos. You're not going to here anyone here utter the word "Cowabunga." And while they still love pizza (what generation of teenagers hasn't?), the core character personalities are left intact. But what comes as a shock is how well the "side" characters are handled.
Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan) has always worried about his "children," but here they explore sides of him we've never seen before, including his loneliness and his personal aspirations. The more diverse overall cast is underlined with the decision to make April O'Neil (Ayo Edebiri) a high school reporter, who has been ostracized in many of the same ways the Turtles have. April's arc is the most rewarding in the entire film.
The decision to leave the TMNT's arch-villain, Shredder, on the sidelines for this one was a bold choice, but proves to be the correct one. We instead get a mysterious human villain, Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph), whose name should be a hint for hardcore Turtle fans as to where her character may go in the future. Then there's the mutant house-fly, SuperFly, who goes from lukewarm to scorching hot given the voice-performance from Ice Cube, who single-handedly makes this character compelling...and hysterical, with several references that will have the parents laughing right along with the kids.
The plot? It's an origin story, but not in the traditional sense. The origin of the mutant ooze seems to make more sense than ever before, as do the motivations of many of the characters. SuperFly isn't alone by the way, as he is accompanied by a hilarious mix of misfit monsters - all real TMNT canon characters by the way - including the skateboarding Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd), the song-singing fishman, Ray Fillet (Post Malone), the croc-mutant Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), Ghengis Frog (Hannibal Burress) and of course, everyone's favorite rhino and hog duo, Rocksteady (John Cena) and Bebop (Seth Rogen).
This is a downright funny and good-spirited trip to the movies. Longtime fans will love the endless Easter Eggs, and the film's self-referential, self-deprecating nature. The Turtles are just here for a good time, but unlike these or any teenagers for that matter, the filmmakers know EXACTLY who these characters are. There is a reverence baked in, but a forward gush of energy that might just propel this universe into the future for several more decades to come. Heck, they've already greenlit a sequel and an upcoming Nickelodeon TV series.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" continues a current renaissance period for animated movies. Here's an IP that has been spinning its wheels for a long time, but finally seems to have landed on something.
They may be heroes in a half-shell, but nothing about this movie feels like "half." In fact, everything about this film is operating at 100%...that's the same percentage of people that I'd imagine will love this wildly entertaining movie.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Animation.
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Edebiri, Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogen, John Cena, Rose Byrne, Ice Cube, Jackie Chan, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Rudd, Post Malone, Hannibal Buress.
Written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jeff Rowe.
Directed by Jeff Rowe ("The Mitchells vs the Machines") and Kyler Spears (feature directorial debut).
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" is in theaters on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023.
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