Since their creation some almost-40-years ago, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have seen their brand of comedic, family-aimed action spread across six feature films (in three separate timelines) and countless television, comic book and video games. Despite all this, and each respective creative honing their own spin, the younger, more appropriately teen-aged years of the quartet have rarely been given sole focus
For Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, director/co-writer Jeff Rowe (The Mitchells vs. The Machines) and producers and co-writers Seth Rogen (Superbad) and Evan Goldberg (This Is The End) have embraced this adolescent mentality, with both the film’s humour, coming-of-age narrative, and exciting, unorthodox animation all expressing this very temperament; the almost scrapbook-like look of the animated renderings bringing to mind the aesthetic of the recent Spider-Verse films.
When the film begins we’re thrust into the action near-immediately, and initially it seems as if Mutant Mayhem will fire on all cylinders, rarely letting us a moment to catch our breath. Thankfully, once Leonardo (voiced by Nicholas Cantu), the quartet’s leader, Donatello (Micah Abbey), the tech expert, Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), the goofball, and Raphael (Brady Noon), the most brash of the bunch, return home from their latest escapade – which includes ditching their grocery duties to catch a late-night viewing at an outdoor movie theatre (the live-action inclusion of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off making for a nice visual touch) – the film takes a moment to slow down, introducing us to their father figure, Splinter (Jackie Chan), and let us in on their mutated history as animals that were all enhanced by the same chemical ooze.
Splinter isn’t keen on the boys gallivanting around the city due to his intense distrust of the human race – we’re witness to a past story he relays regarding how he was treated in public when he first found the Turtles – so when they befriend reporter-in-waiting April O’Neill (Ayo Edebiri), they know they have to keep such a secret. April not entirely freaking out at the sight of them is one thing – her being an outcast at school means she’s sympathetic to their plight – but the rest of the population making nice is another, but the Turtles believe that if they can publicly stop the actions of the criminal mastermind currently terrorising the city, then the adoration they seek will come as their reward.
Said criminal mastermind is Superfly (Ice Cube), a mutant fly who proves to not quite be as shoo-able as the Turtles envisioned. Not only is Superfly an imposing presence, but his motley crew of fellow mutated animal cohorts – which includes enhanced variations of a warthog (Rogen), a rhinoceros (John Cena), an alligator (Rose Byrne), a gecko (Paul Rudd), and a frog (Hannibal Buress) – are equally as dangerous as they are enticing for Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael to consider joining a band that they can relate to.
The idea of the Turtles trying to find their own place in the world is a relatable narrative for the teen audience Mutant Mayhem is primarily targeting, but it will easily sit with any attending age group as it speaks to one’s own confidence and learning who your pack truly is. It’s also to the film’s benefit that the Turtles themselves are voiced by teenaged talent, allowing each character to individually shine through believable banter; to call their chemistry organic would be putting it lightly.
Furthering its colouring-outside-the-lines personality with a 90s-leaning soundtrack (a fight sequence to the tune of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” is a highlight), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an exciting take on the familiar. Though occasionally dark and honing a sense of humour that the older crowd will appreciate, Rogen and co. have still intelligently crafted an action film that speaks to a variety of ages, without sacrificing any of its integrity in the process; it’s so good that we don’t even mind it succumbs to the now-standard mid-credit sequel tease because, if this is anything to go by, further adventures under these creatives will be welcomed with a resounding “Shell yeah!”
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is screening in Australian theatres from September 7th, 2023.