Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
The Turtles are back, in a new animated movie that sees the four brothers in a new slick design & updated backstory. It's a fast, fun good time!
Genre: Action / Animation / Comedy
Director: Jeff Rowe
Cast: Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Shamon Brown Jr, Micah Abbey, Ayo Edebiri, Ice Cube, Jackie Chan, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph & Giancarlo Esposito.
Run Time: 100 min.
US Release: 02 August 2023
UK Release: 31 July 2023
German Release: 03 August 2023
Being a child from the late eighties, I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Every Saturday morning, I would wake up to watch episodes of the animated show on TV, or read the Archie Comics run. When I was six, I was given a TV recorded VHS tape by a friend of my parents, that included the sequel Secret of the Ooze, which was the first TMNT movie I saw. Two years later, I caught up with the first flick. Since the Michael Bay iterations were a disaster, I was unsure about what to expect, being ready to be disappointed. To my surprise, Mutant Mayhem was a fun, fast-paced ride, with stunning animation!
So, grab your nunchakus, as we jump straight into my review for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem!
The four anthropomorphic turtle brothers Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, yearn for the acceptance of the people of New York. Their chance arrives when they need to protect the city from an army of mutants, with the help of an aspiring journalist.
The comics were created by writing duo Eastman plus Laird, who intended the concept to be a parody of different popular elements within superhero comics. The goofy concept, paired with a darker tone, helped popularize the comics. From there on, several iterations with similar, yet distinctive backstories were developed, the most prominent being the 1987 animated series, which changed the mood to a lighter, kid-friendlier atmosphere.
Several iterations followed on television, as well as the silver screen, with varying success. In 2020, it was reported that Nickelodeon Studios was developing their first CG-animated theatrical production, for Paramount Studios. With Rowe appointed director, from a script by Brendan O’Brien. Ultimately, it was Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg and the director, among others, who received screenplay credit, with O’Brien receiving a “story by” billing. The screenplay focuses on the teenage aspect of the characters while bringing back early 90s facets.
The narrative understands the source material, respecting the characters and world-building, while trying out a new route to make it stick out from previous depictions. The tone used is similar to that of the ‘87 TV series, including a lighter, more energetic style, as well as doubling down on the humour, though never feeling overbearing. Yes, some of the decisions taken will split hardcore fans, I know I have my issues with some, nonetheless, I need to confess that for me, it is the best adaptation as of now!
The dialogue is youthfully dynamic, including a lot of jokes that will make a younger audience laugh, but also works for older generations.
The plot includes an array of side characters from the comics, which I was surprised to see. Yes, their backstories were changed, however, that has happened a lot throughout the different alterations of the TMNT franchise. As such, it did not bother me as much.
As stated before, this adaptation of the Turtles focuses more on telling an emotional coming-of-age tale of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo. The brothers are voiced brilliantly by the teenage actors Nicolas Cantu, Micah Abbey, Brady Noon and Shamon Brown Jr. respectively. Their eagerness to be accepted by society, might not be a new topic, though in combination with the child-like curiosity of the young heroes, is surprisingly relatable.
Child actress Ayo Edebiri lends her voice to April O’Neil, displayed as a young, socially awkward teen who still goes to high school. April’s side arc parallels that of the four brothers, as an embarrassing moment turned her into a social pariah.
Now, Splinter’s depiction is the biggest gripe I have with the flick. While I appreciated how this version explores the backstory, to explain the rat's protectiveness over his four adoptive sons, it simply does not appear like the iconic sensei, but rather like a spoofed copy. The voice-acting by Jackie Chan is great, nevertheless!
Ice Cube was the standout voice actor, playing Super Fly. He gave the character a threatening vibe while keeping it cool enough, to tempt the brothers in joining his cause. The decision to make him the main villain is comprehensible, as he marks a cross-road for the heroes. Take the easy route to be accepted by your own, or protect those that are afraid of you. Again, I did not fully agree with the choice to change the origin of this character.
The art style is inspired by Sony’s Spider-Verse, which has already been adopted by a sling of unique animated features these past years. That said, the animators gave the concept an original touch, adding an unfinished roughness to it that makes it look nearly like claymation. The creative decision suits the overall coming-of-age feel. It is inspiring to see Western animation take risks, experimenting with new techniques.
The camera work is quirky, reflecting the original tone intended by Eastman and Laird. The colour palette includes strong saturated shades, plus neon hues. The editing is dynamic, using jump cuts, montages, as well as entertaining inserts. It generally combines a modern vision with nostalgic treats.
The vibe of the soundtrack suits the overall atmosphere of the film, which includes fun hip-hop beats, with an emphasis on East Coast rap, to represent the setting. The score was composed by Trent Reznor plus Atticus Ross.
Verdict: All in all, this new adaptation of the source material might not exactly represent the dark undertone of the Mirage comics, rather following the more upbeat feel of the 1987 animated series. Focusing more on the teenage aspect of the anthropomorphic superheroes, the plot depicts a coming-of-age story about social acceptance and finding a place in this world. The voice acting is magnificent, though some of the Turtles do sound younger than I had expected. Stand-outs are Jackie Chan, who gives Splinter a certain charm, and Ice Cube as the villainous mutant Super Fly. However, I am not fully on board with the changes made to their backstories. The animation is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, inspired by the design of Spider-Verse, yet different enough by making it look like primitive notebook sketches, with exaggerated, squiggly features. I had an incredibly fun time with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and I will grant it a well-deserved 8.5 out of 10!
Are you a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan? Are you planning on going to see this animated flick in cinemas? Which adaptation is your favourite? Leave a comment below & thank you for reading!