Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been brought to the screen in a variety of ways. There was a live-action/costume mixture in the ‘90s, traditional animation in the 2000s, and a live-action/CGI combo in the 2010s. Now that we’re in the 2020s, the Turtles are being reinvented once again in what I can only refer to as “edgy animation.” The latest movie to feature the characters is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, whose mature, heavily stylized look was clearly influenced by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It lacks the storytelling savvy of that picture and its recent sequel, yet remains a satisfying adventure featuring the heroes in a half-shell.

A brief prologue explains how Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown, Jr.) and Raphael (Brady Noon) came to be and how they ended up as the surrogate children of rat Splinter (Jackie Chan). The quartet is spurred into heroism after meeting high schooler April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), an aspiring reporter who believes she can compassionately tell their story, thereby granting them the human approval they crave.

A chance to prove their abilities arrives when a mutant criminal known as Superfly (Ice Cube) starts committing a series of thefts. Together with his band of equally mutated cohorts – including Rocksteady (John Cena), Bebop (Seth Rogen), and Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd) – he intends to build a special machine for purposes that are, if not quite evil, undeniably disadvantageous to people. The Turtles make every effort to stop him, as a second villain, Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph), monitors the situation.

The animation in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is mesmerizing to look at. It’s darker, more angular, and grittier than most major-release animated fare. Oftentimes, the style and coloring make it look like a painting that has come to life. Even though we’ve had other Turtles movies, the freshened-up visuals help this one stand out in a positive way. They give it a feel all its own. A scene in a bowling alley during a “glow bowl” event is particularly stunning.

Another factor that sets the movie apart is its ultra-hip humor. Pay attention and you’ll find easter eggs related to previous TMNT pictures. Comedy is also mined from the pop culture references the Turtles toss around. (They are teenagers, after all.) Several of the biggest laughs come from Rudd, who turns Mondo Gecko into a lovably weird figure. Parents might want to be aware that a couple jokes push the boundary of the PG rating.

In trying to be an origin story and a tale of how the Turtles meet April and a story about battling Superfly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem fails to get too in-depth on any of those things. Nevertheless, the movie is certainly a lot of fun, especially during the third act, which is where it really hits its stride. Of course, an obligatory sequel set-up occurs partway through the end credits. Based on this installment, I’ll look forward to seeing where the franchise goes.

out of four

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is rated PG for sequences of violence and action, language, and impolite material. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.