Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem review: youthful and fun animation

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is bursting with action, silliness, and emotion – here’s our review.

While their father, mutant rat Splinter (Jackie Chan) is desperate to keep them away from the cruel, violent and judgmental outside world, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will do anything to be a part of it. Attempting to win over the people of New York with acts of heroism, under the guidance of human ally April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), they decide to take on criminal mastermind Superfly (Ice Cube). Mayhem, involving mutants, ensues.

What an energizing and refreshing movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is. The film’s look, an imperfect, sketch-styled animation that takes place at night under streetlights and neon signs, is incredible. The pace, the sound, the script, the characters; everything is so full of life and movement. Released in a glut of summer blockbusters where it can be hard to work out which movies will be tired and formulaic, this is a full on blast of fresh and invigorated filmmaking.

The action sequences are visually engaging and exciting – clear, colourful and buzzing with adrenaline. It’s the antithesis of the overloaded CGI that has plagued some other recent films (leading to action sequences produced on blockbuster budgets that are little more than pixelmulch). The scenes here are thrilling; the final battle in particular is a big, bombastic climax.

While the striking animation style is likely to grab your attention, everything in this film spins out of the youthful and excitable version of the Turtles. With Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon) and Michaelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) all played by voice actors who are actually teenagers, the Turtles have never felt like a more real and relatable group of kids. From that comes this loose animation style, excitable visual asides and fully charged action sequences.

The script comes from Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit (with ‘story by’ credits for Rogen, Goldberg Rowe and Brendan O’Brien, and based on credits for Turtles creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird). It performs an incredible balancing act, infusing a steady stream of jokes (every character gets a chance to be funny) with a story that builds to an excellent climactic battle and deeply satisfying ending. My only real complaint about Mutant Mayhem is that it potentially has too many characters; it’s not overstuffed, but I wanted more of some of the supporting characters.

Perhaps that’s because the cast is electric. The four Turtles are allowed to lead; their characters are immediately defined, and all are really likable and funny. Ice Cube appears to relish the role of Superfly, while Paul Rudd’s Mondo Gecko is an unstoppable scene stealer. Jackie Chan’s Splinter, too, is delightful and heartening.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.

Mutant Mayhem's action sequences can be quite intense. That’s because of the brilliant animation, of course, but they’re all pulled tight by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score. Any ideas that Reznor had jettisoned his Nine Inch Nails credibility to make a zany cartoon score are way off the mark. The music is dark and imposing at times, beautiful and affecting at others.

While Mutant Mayhem will draw obvious (and warranted) comparisons to the Spiderverse movies due to its look (and it’s not particularly interesting to say but the movie is visually stunning), it also shares a director (Jeff Rowe) with the excellent The Mitchells Vs The Machines. Mitchells was produced by Lord and Miller at the same time as Into The Spiderverse, and Rowe’s movie certainly bears that experience. Mutant Mayhem is co-directed by Kyler Spears. There’s such a big creative team that seem to be sharing so many credits in Mutant Mayhem; rather than attempt pick out who deserves praise for what, it feels like a better idea to just celebrate everyone.

One of my favourite things about Mutant Mayhem is how gross it can get. It gets gloopy and disgusting. In that way, the movie itself is a bit like a teenager; at once sophisticated and juvenile. In capturing an authentic youthful feeling, in being slimy and gooey and silly, and in being a story about community and family, it feels like an elevation of everything Nickelodeon were doing in the 90s.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem has this formidable, intense score, wonderful and funny character writing, a striking visual style and brilliantly exciting action sequences. It’s funny and gross and cool and sweet. All of these thing just come bursting out of this film in a big ball of infectious energy.

The team behind Mutant Mayhem has created something special. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise probably needed to be reinvigorated, but I’m so bored of reading about what films mean for franchises – whether this movie or that will allow some faceless corporate money machine to continue to try to draw growth percentages from the brands that they’ve bought.

Mutant Mayhem isn’t another piece of content puked out by an algorithm, it’s this awesome, exciting, uplifting movie about these outsider kids trying to find a place in the world. It can mean whatever it means for the branding – for your afternoon in the multiplex, it means you’re probably gonna have a fantastic time with this joyous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a film about mutants that is full of humanity. It is outrageous that the modern studio system was able to produce a TMNT movie this good.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is in cinemas now.

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