Remember the days when the British government and po-faced media got into a frenzy about the use of ‘Ninja’ in the titles of the popular Turtles cartoon? Well thankfully, those ridiculous ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ days are long behind us, with the half shell heroes enjoying numerous rebirths since they first burst onto the scene. This latest incarnation ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ feels like a real evolution of the brand – taking the best elements from what’s come before and using a breathtakingly beautiful animation style to deliver one of the best animated films of the year.
Somewhat of a revised origin story, we are introduced to scientist Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) as he creates a mutant named Superfly (Ice Cube). When his lab is ransacked some Mutant Ooze is spilt, trickling its way down to the sewers of New York City. There, a group of young turtles and a rat are exposed to it, mutating them into our heroes. Raising the turtles as his own children, Master Splinter (Jackie Chan) trains them in the ways of the Ninja, warning them that humans are dangerous and that they must always be on their guard.
Years pass, and as the turtles grow into teenagers, Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) and Donatello (Micah Abbey) long to live life on the surface. One night when they come to the aid of a young high school reporter April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) who has her bike stolen, they may have found a way to become accepted by humankind – become heroes. So secretly they stay out late and help bust crime on the streets of NYC. However, a new threat is coming – Superfly wants to take over the city and he wants the Turtles to join his gang of mutant misfits looking to take revenge on all of the world.
Taking a few new narrative angles has given ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ a brand-new lease of life, cultivating a very accessible and fun family adventure, and giving established Turtles fans a fresh new take. It’s also one that could yield very positive narrative avenues for the future (the details of which I can’t reveal because they are spoiler-filled). But rest assured, the Turtles franchise is in good hands, with directors Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears delivering a sumptuous looking film, with a razor-sharp script from Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit and Brendan O’Brien.
The casting of Nicolas Cantu as Leonardo, Brady Noon as Raphael, Shamon Brown Jr. as Michelangelo and Micah Abbey as Donatello was a masterstroke. All being teenagers gives the film an authenticity that really comes across in their interactions onscreen. I’ve felt every iteration of the Turtles over the years has nailed their respective chemistry dynamics and delivered us good takes on the brothers. ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ continues on with this trend.
The filmmakers have got the vocal casting spot-on throughout the film. Ayo Edebiri, Ice Cube, Jackie Chan, Rose Byrne, Natasia Demetriou, John Cena, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, Giancarlo Esposito, Post Malone and Hannibal Buress are a dream ensemble who all deliver memorable turns in the film. There’s a lot of humour throughout too which all lands where it should, and the music is utterly fantastic and really helps promote the visual style and vibe of the movie.
It’s safe to say that Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s beloved creations are thriving once again, and the legacy of the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ looks as strong as ever. With lots of potential for sequels and a great teaser scene mid-credits that promises the return of a very popular character, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ is one of the finest animated films of 2023. It’s a very funny and entertaining ride that keeps the core values of the characters alive, whilst updating it for a new generation to enjoy. I can’t for a sequel to this.
Cast: Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Shamon Brown Jr., Micah Abbey, Ayo Edebiri, Ice Cube, Jackie Chan, Rose Byrne, Natasia Demetriou, John Cena, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, Giancarlo Esposito, Post Malone, Hannibal Buress Director: Jeff Rowe, Kyler Spears Writer: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Brendan O’Brien Certificate: PG Duration: 99 mins Released by: Paramount Release date: 31st July 2023