Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Updated: Sep 16, 2023
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's take of the beloved franchise is a charming win
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise IP is something that Hollywood has struggled to exploit. The beloved 80s children’s series had some fan-funded live-action films made in the late 90s and early 2000s, and Michael Bay tried a CGI adaptation in the mid-2010s. However, both attempts failed to capture the playfulness and wonder of the original show. Now, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, of raunchy comedy fame, are trying their hand with the beloved amphibians.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023) is a reboot and redone origin story of the famed turtles. We have the typical storyline of chemicals being dropped into NYC sewers and the subsequent transformation of four unassuming turtles into humanoid like, talking beings: Donatello (Micah Abbey), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), and Raphael (Brady Noon). They are cared for by their human-fearing paternal rat, Splinter (Jackie Chan). Within Mutant Mayhem the adolescent turtles are forced to reckon with fellow mutant Superfly (Ice Cube), who, tired of being shunned by humanity, has a sinister plan to enact revenge.
Mutant Mayhem takes a retro approach with its animation style. Directors Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears bring the comic-book, hand-drawn style seen in films such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse (2018), The Bad Guys (2022), and The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021), the latter of which Rowe co-directed. This shift in animation is a welcome one. We all know how life-like animation can appear these days, but realism robs this medium of the personalized tone that drawings can have. Mutant Mayhem brings a colorful and vibrant world to life, infusing the surroundings and character designs with unique care and flavor.
One of the most accurate decisions Mutant Mayhem takes is casting real teenagers to voice the turtles. Surprisingly, previous TMNT films had opted for young-sounding twenty-year-olds. The banter and raucousness that fifteen-year-olds have, however, is tough enough to emulate for any older voice actor. The young cast in Mutant Mayhem, was reportedly placed in a room together when recording lines (as opposed to separate individual recordings as is the norm), which allowed improvisation and the overlap of dialogue to occur organically. This dons Mutant Mayhem with the restless and energetic rhythms of teenage dialects. The script, which producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg contributed to, also indulges in the teen angst angle, especially during the first half of the film.
However, the cutesy coming-of-age elements of Mutant Mayhem, give way, inevitably, to the action and cliché-ridden latter half, where the same “metropolis-threatening villain” plot device is carried out in derivative style. The animation here, doesn’t risk being creative or experimental either, as the Spider-verse films did, instead opting for simple, by-the-numbers staging.
In the end, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a rather charming and welcome reboot of the franchise, donning a more child-like fun tone amongst the mesmerizing hand-drawn animation style that many viewers feared was a thing of the past. The voice cast is strong, especially it’s young protagonists, and the littered songs and pop-culture references should do enough to entertain nostalgic 90s parents. Mutant Mayhem, is a fun ride, and proves to be the adaptation of the 80s show that many fans had been waiting far too long to finally see.