​'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem' Captures the Youthful Spirit of Its Half-Shell Heroes

Directed by Jeff Rowe

Starring Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Hannibal Buress, Rose Byrne, Nicolas Cantu, John Cena, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Natasia Demetriou, Ayo Edebiri, Giancarlo Esposito, Post Malone, Brady Noon, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Aug 3, 2023

It feels like it's been a minute since we saw a movie or TV show worthy of the Turtles. A mainstay of the children's cartoon rotation in the '90s, the most recent Michael Bay-produced iterations of the heroes in the half-shell have been odd, to say the least. But at long last, thanks to director Jeff Rowe and co-writers Seth Rogen and Ethan Goldberg, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been given the proper cinematic treatment. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem employs the animation style du jour, with comic book sketch stylings used throughout the film. The illustrations are vivid and dynamic, mirroring the frenetic and youthful energy of teenagers — a key aspect of what makes Mutant Mayhem work.

For the first time in a long time, a story about the Turtles focuses on their adolescence and growth from sheltered turtle tots to teenagers eager to explore the world around them. Voiced by actual teenagers — Nicolas Cantu (Leonardo), Micah Abbey (Donatello), Brady Noon (Raphael) and Shamon Brown Jr. (Michelangelo) —the Turtles long to enrol in high school and get out from beneath the thumb (tail?) of their father, the rat Splinter (Jackie Chan). 

During one of their nightly supply runs to their local bodega, the Turtles witness April O'Neil (Ayo Edebiri) getting her moped stolen. Feeling guilty for their part in the theft (an errant ninja star was lodged into April's helmet, distracting her), the Turtles follow the robber into a garage, inadvertently crossing paths with a mutant gang led by Superfly (Ice Cube). While initially the boys are excited to meet others similar to them, things quickly take a turn when they learn of their plan to kill all humans. 

There is a simplicity to Mutant Mayhem's story that is reminiscent of the TV show many of us grew up with. To bolster this episodic-like plot, Rowe incorporates coming-of-age elements and a father-son(s) dynamic to bring heart and some depth to the film. Rogen and Goldberg's background with creating high school comedies is evident throughout the film. The humour is decidedly PG-rated Rogen, with many references to popular movies and TV shows, the only window the Turtles had to the outside world. 

Mutant Mayhem plays into '90s nostalgia with a perfectly curated soundtrack that will have the adults in the audience nodding their heads in unison. But what makes the movie work, and what Rowe has done so well, is bringing the Turtles into a modern context for a new generation. By playing to two different — yet related — demographics, Mutant Mayhem was at risk of feeling stretched thin. However, the movie firmly sticks its landing as a welcome party for one generation and the celebration of another's childhood memories — no diggity, no doubt.
(Paramount Pictures)

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