Fans of the TMNT franchise have experienced mixed feelings in recent years. The original animated series still finds a place in several all-time lists and the video games continue to robustly engage; Shredder’s Revenge (2022) was an absolute delight, and the in-development The Last Ronin — based on the graphic novel — promises a darker, more brutal take on the franchise than anything else before. But the last feature film (and its sequel) by Michael Bay was grossly underwhelming to say the least, and not even Megan Fox’s April O’Neil could salvage the mess.
That changes spectacularly now with Mutant Mayhem, an animated reboot that sees the quartet named after Renaissance artists smash this origin story out of the park.
We are already familiar with most of it. Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr), Raphael (Brady Noon) and Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu) are four little turtles who come into accidental contact with some radioactive material, and are raised lovingly by their overprotective rodent father-figure Splinter (Jackie Chan with some of the finest voice-work he’s ever done) to evolve into crime-fighting vigilantes. And of course, pizza is their favourite thing in the world.
But the teenagers long to take their adventures from the underground sewers of New York to the human world above. They soon befriend outcast high-schooler April O’Neil (The Bear’s breakout star Ayo Edebiri), who longs to be a journalist and decides to help the turtles gain acceptance from normal people. However, in their bid to become popular among society, they come across a wacky gang of other mutants — led by the monster Superfly (Ice Cube) — who are going about dealing with humans in quite a different manner.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (English)
Director: Jeff Rowe
Voice cast: Jackie Chan, Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogen, John Cena, Hannibal Buress, Paul Rudd, Rose Byrne, Post Malone
Duration: 100 minutes
Storyline: Four teenage mutant turtles go up against other scary mutant creatures, in order to save the humans
From there on, it’s a straightforward mutants vs mutants battle, with several unhinged, high-flying action scenes directed expertly by Jeff Rowe (The Mitchells vs the Machines), as the film slaloms towards a satisfactory, if predictably chaotic, conclusion.
But akin to the groundbreaking style of animation that Spider-Verseis now renowned for, it’s the very look of Mutant Mayhem that transforms the film into a delectable smorgasbord of a viewing experience. A genre-bending mix of computer-generated animation, scribbly doodles and colourful graffiti, the visuals pop off the screen resembling the marker-shaded pages of an adolescent’s scrapbook, in the most gloriously nostalgic manner possible.
And then there’s the easy charm that the film oozes with; the constant banter between the four turtles is hilarious (co-written by Rowe, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit), laced with pop-culture references and playful jokes that is a hallmark of the franchise’s legacy, and adds a coming-of-age subtext to the otherwise wacky storyline.
The rest of the casting is genius too — comedic A-listers Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogen, John Cena, Hannibal Buress, Paul Rudd, Rose Byrne and Post Malone have an absolute ball — even as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross give us one of the most enjoyable soundtracks in recent memory; 90s hip-hop meets rock and piano interplay in dazzling symphony.
Mutant Mayhem does get a bit indulgent at times, but still remains so cool, so funny and so slick that it’s easily one of the best things to come out of the TMNT franchise ever.
Oh, and pizza has never looked better on-screen. Cowabunga!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is currently running in theatres