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Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’s Dated Jokes Cause Havoc on Visually Stunning Series Reboot

Parodying, and putting a unique new spin on, a beloved pop-cultural phenenom is one of the most endearing and humorous ways in which people can pay tribute to the trend. The filmmakers of the latest entry in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, Mutant Mayhem, have done just that by creating an overall visually stellar and humorous caricature of the superhero genre, much like the series previously did when it was created in the 1980s.

Mutant Mayhem was directed by The Mitchells vs. the Machines‘ writer-co-helmer, Jeff Rowe. His latest computer-animated adventure movie was co-directed by Kyler Spears.

Rowe also co-scribed the new superhero action film with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit. The script is based on a story Rogen, Goldberg and Rowe created with Brendan O’Brien, as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.

Mutant Mayhem begins with a flashback to 15 years ago, when Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph) of the sinister Techno Cosmic Research Institute (TCRI) hunts down rogue scientist Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito). She wants to stop him from using a mutagen fly he created to form a mutant animal family. After Utrom’s strike force initiates an explosion in Stockman’s lab, the mutagen drips into the sewers of New York City.

The movie then shifts to the present day, when turtle brothers Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello (Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon and Micah Abbey) have been raised by their adoptive rat father, Splinter (Jackie Chan), in the sewers underneath the city. The five of them have lived under the bustling urban street since they were transformed into humanoid mutants by Stockman’s mutagen a decade-and-a-half earlier.

Photo by Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. – © 2023 Paramount Pictures.TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a trademark of Viacom International Inc.

After his family was chastised by people when the turtles were babies and wanted to explore the human world, Splinter began to distrust humanity and train his sons in the art of ninjutsu, in order to protect themselves. He instructed them to only leave their sewer home to secure the supplies they need to survive.

Now teenagers, the turtles wish to live as normal high school students, much to Splinter’s dismay. After years of being sheltered from the human world, the brothers also wish to win the hearts of New Yorkers through heroic acts.

One night, the quartet of brothers inadvertently garner the attention of ambitious teen reporter April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), who wishes to break the next big story in order to be accepted by her peers at her high school. After the turtles share their history with her, she agrees to help tell their story so that they’ll all garner the praise they long for from their peers, as well as the entire city.

The new friends decide to stop a mysterious crime syndicate, which is led by Super Fly (Ice Cube), the creature Stockman was working on when TCRI launched its attack on him. But the five teens soon get in over their heads when Super Fly unleashes his army of fellow mutants, including Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), Ray Fillet (Post Malone), Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd), Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou) and Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress), upon them.

As a result, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and April must find the courage to fight back against Super Fly and his team to save themselves. They’re also fighting to become the heroes they long to be for all of New York City’s residents.

Mutant Mayhem, which serves as the seventh theatrical entry in, as well as a reboot of, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, thrives on its vibrantly distinctive visuals. Rowe amplified the loose, pseudo-hand-drawn style from The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which was nominated for the BAFTA for Best Animated Film last year, by giving every frame a scribbled, street-art aesthetic.

The choice is a radical, strategic one that distinctively differentiates the latest installment in the beloved series from most other current big-budget computer-animated studio movies. The new movie’s lighter animation also offers the story a more illuminating, carefree vibe than the darker, photorealistic textures showcased in the franchise’ last two theatrical releases, which were also distributed by Paramount Pictures in the mid-2010s.

Photo by Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. – © 2023 Paramount Pictures.TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a trademark of Viacom International Inc.

Mutant Mayhem also stands out for appearing as though its animators took what their computers rendered and then retouched every frame by hand. That allowed the movements of the titular turtles, as well their allies and enemies, to appear as though they’re naturally moving, particularly in their fight sequences against Super Fly and his team.

Rowe, Rogen and their co-writers also make the film endearing and relatable for both modern adolescents and the adults who grew up watching the franchise since it premiered and hit its peak popularity in the 1980s and ’90s. By casting actual teenagers to provide the voices of the titular quartet, Brown, Cantu, Noon and Abbey where able to infuse a youthful authenticity and an optimistic view on humanity’s ability to bond together and accept all creatures for who they are into their characters.

Rogen, Goldberg and their fellow writers also infused their signature clever pop-culture banter, particularly between the turtles, as they dream about integrating into the human world. From Michelangelo praising Mark Ruffalo’s improvisation in Avengers: Endgame to the brothers discussing how they wish they can see BTS live in concert, the teen protagonists show their goofy charm through their appreciation of humanity’s biggest pop culture moments of the past few years.

While the feature’s overall dialogue is humorous and reflective of how many teens banter with their friends and families, Mutant Mayhem‘s homages to current societal fads is at times told through cringe-worthy catchphrases and one-liners. Those unoriginal jokes will quickly age the series’ latest entry.

While some sequences thrive on current societal fads, the film’s writing team redeems itself in part through the stellar soundtrack and score it infuses throughout the project. For instance, Ice Cube slyly delivers dialogue as Super Fly that quotes lyrics from the classic 1972 R&B-soul song Backstabbers by the O’Jays.

The movie also features several memorable reworked ’90s-era hip-hop tracks by such acts as a A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. One action sequence memorably stands out for being accompanied by an exurberant rendition of Blackstreet’s hit 1996 R&B-hip-hop single, No Diggity.

Adopting a younger, more family-friendly storyline and depection of its eponymous teenage heroes makes Mutant Mayhem largely entertaining and fun. Despite some cringe-worthy jokes that will sure to age quickly, the film seems destined to reinvigorate the franchise. Overall, the reboot is sure to appeal to audiences of all ages through its dynamic distinctive visuals, savvy enthusiasm of the smartly cast teen actors and classically energetic score.

Photo by Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. – © 2023 Paramount Pictures.TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a trademark of Viacom International Inc.

Score: B+

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is now playing in theaters, courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Karen Benardello
Karen Benardellohttps://cinemadailyus.com
As a life-long fan of films and television shows, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic in 2008. Karen has since been working in the press in New York City, including interviewing film and television casts and crews, writing movie and television news articles and reviewing films and televisions series. Some of her highlights include attending such local events as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and New York Comic-Con, as well as traveling across North America to attend such festivals as the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has been a member of the Women Film Critics Circle since 2012, and the New York Film Critics Online since 2019.

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