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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Donatello (Micah Abbey, Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu) and Raphael (Brady Noon) look to save the day in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Distributed by Paramount Pictures)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a major property that somehow hasn’t quite taken off as the massive movie franchise it seems like it would be. The early nineties live-action series did okay enough for three entries, but it isn’t exactly fondly remembered today. The 2007 animated adaptation has largely been forgotten. There were two more live-action entries in the mid-2010s that made decent money, yet were not well-received. Now, Nickelodeon films is trying again with another animated adaptation, this time with Seth Rogen as the brains behind it.

The result, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, has grittier, less colorful, comic book style animation and leans closer to the “teenage” part of the title, instead of the “ninja” part. Think the Tom Holland Spiderman movies, with more of the silly Peter Parker stuff and lighter action scenes. The turtles are kids, longing for acceptance. The screenplay doesn’t do a ton of world-building, focusing mostly on the personalities of its heroes. That leads to a lot of comedy with not as much action as expected. This is a clear attempt at a new franchise and is fun enough that it just might succeed.

After some radioactive ooze leaks into the New York City sewer system, four baby turtles are turned into mutants. Fifteen years later, they live in the sewers with their overprotective rat father, Splinter, sneaking above ground for necessities. Lonely and desperate to be normal teenagers, they decide to work together to stop a crime wave, so that everyone will love them.

For those of us tired of superhero origin stories, this takes it pretty easy on us. The backstory for the ooze is told briefly at the beginning, to get the plot moving. However, the overall story here is really treated as the turtles’ origin story. This is how they reach their destinies as heroes. It skips over the sciencey stuff, mostly taking it for granted, in favor of a story about a group of teenage boys, kept away from the world by their scared father, who only want to be around kids their own age. It just so happens that they are mutants. That tilts this in the direction of coming-of-age comedy, rather than straight adventure. Mutant Mayhem (89 minutes, plus a mid-credit scene) feels like it was made by people who love this property. It is not a cynical cash-grab, merely a regular one.

April O'Neil (Ayo Edibiri) meets the turtles

The key to the charm is in the camaraderie between Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael. This is them discovering the traits that have defined them since they first showed up on tv 36 years ago. Leo is an unconfident leader, Donnie hasn’t figured out how to put his nerdiness to use and Raph has no outlet for his aggression. Mikey is basically the same laid-back dude, though he isn’t the only comic relief here. The turtles are actually voiced by teenage boys this time, giving them a goofy immaturity that is kind of endearing.

The cast surrounding them is stacked. It features Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Paul Rudd, Rogen, John Cena and Rose Byrne, among others. They are all support (except Chan, who has a significant role as Splinter). There is not a lot of time devoted to the villainous Superfly; he helps push the theme of belonging, while allowing the titular characters to carry the show.

It is hard to say how well Mutant Mayhem will do, since it’ll be competing against the Barbie juggernaut. It isn’t a new animated classic. It doesn’t break new ground in the medium like Across the Spider-Verse. It is a fun adventure, aimed at kids and younger teens, but with enough jokes/references for adults, especially those who grew up with these characters. The goal seems to have been pleasant diversion and that target was hit. It doesn’t go crazy wallowing in nostalgia or pandering with pop culture gags. If there has to be TMNT movies, I certainly wouldn’t mind more like this.

3¼ out of 5


Nicolas Cantu as Leonardo

Brady Noon as Raphael

Micah Abbey as Donatello

Shamon Brown Jr. as Michelangelo

Jackie Chan as Master Splinter

Ayo Edebiri as April O’Neil

Ice Cube as Superfly

Paul Rudd as Mondo Gecko

Directed by Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears

Screenplay by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit


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