‘Mutant Mayhem’ sets the gold standard for Ninja Turtles media
I thought the days where I could potentially have a lot to say about a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film were long behind me. As a ‘90s kid who drove my family insane with my turtle obsession in the late ‘80s, I can say with no exaggeration that ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ is the best Ninja Turtles film ever. Not even Vanilla Ice can compete.
Billed as a reimagining “from permanent teenager Seth Rogen” — never mind that he’s one of five screenwriters and nine producers, and not one of the film’s two directors — ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ isn’t quite the revelation that ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ was, but it learned all the right lessons from it.Clearly drawing inspiration from Spider-Verse’s eclectic art style (trailers for ‘Trolls Band Together’ and ‘PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie’ ahead of my screening looked like microwaved shit as I sat in anticipation of the visual feast that awaited me), ‘Mutant Mayhem’ is nothing short of eye-popping. It will hopefully push Hollywood further in the direction of reconsidering every animated feature film looking like a smoothed-over Pixar clone. Also, much like Spider-Verse, it employs the tactic of the setting itself being a character, allowing New York City’s well-known weirdness to set the vibe.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears
Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit
Starring: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Edebiri
Running time: 99 mins
The story of ‘Mutant Mayhem’ is an origin reset of sorts for the titular turtles. Leonardo (voiced by Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (voice by Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (voiced by Shamon Brown Jr.) and Raphael (voiced by Brady Noon) find themselves restless, living with their adoptive rat father Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan) in the sewers of New York City. They long to be accepted by humans and live openly in the city. When a mutant villain by the name of SuperFly (voiced by Ice Cube) begins threatening the city, the turtles devise a plan with their newfound high school newspaper reporter friend April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri) to stop him and use their status as heroes to endear themselves to humanity.
What ‘Mutant Mayhem’ understands so well is that the appeal of this world and these characters isn’t the ninja part. It’s not even the turtle part. It’s the teenage part. Casting relatively unknown, actual teenagers breathes long-missing, improvisational energy and camaraderie into these characters.
The film rectifies and retcons several odd mainstays of the series. It never really made sense that the turtles instantly age when mutated by the mutagen ooze from baby turtles to fully formed teenagers. It’s also a wise decision to make April a contemporary of the turtles rather than a weird adult love interest hanging with teens.
An all-star cast of comedic voice talent from Edebiri to Hannibal Buress, as well as some weird stunt casting like Post Malone and Jimmy Donaldson (MrBeast) makes for a supporting cast of characters that are nothing short of some of the zaniest action figures ever mass produced now fully realized as familial creatures with aspirations. If you can believe it, throw-away toy ideas like Wingnut, Ghengis Frog, and Scumbug get significant screentime, while Mondo Gecko (voiced by Paul Rudd) steals the show.
Though it makes sure to plant every Easter egg possible for elder millennial fans and lace the whole thing with a comforting early ‘90s hip hop soundtrack with the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest , ‘Mutant Mayhem’ very much courts a Gen Z audience, and thus might run the risk of missing out on being a timeless classic. Characters throw out slang like “sus” and “rizz,” which will surely be on the way out of favor before I finish typing this sentence.
Still, there is something oddly timely about this film, which owes much to the IP’s early ‘90s success in the toy business, arriving on the heels of the cultural phenomenon of nostalgia bait that was Barbie. Maybe this was the real double feature all along — or at least the one that makes sense.
You likely already know if a slice of pineapple and anchovy pizza appeals to you. What you may not know anymore is whether these heroes in a half shell have earned a place back in your life. ‘Mutant Mayhem’ will answer that question for you one way or the other. Cowabunga!