Directed by: Jeff Rowe
Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Brendan O’Brien
Starring: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr, Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Edebiri, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube
Released: September 7, 2023
Grade: B+

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

We had three live action movies between 1990 and 1993, then we had a one-off animated feature in 2007, then we had a franchise reboot with films in 2014 and 2016, and now the reboot button has been pressed once more.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem takes us back to the beginning.  It shows us (again) how they came into existence (fluorescent green ooze) before pitting them against a nasty adversary intent on destroying the world.

Just like a revived Broadway play/musical, director Jeff Rowe didn’t want this to be a slavish remake.  For starters, it has a fresh visual footprint in the same vein as the recent Into the Spider-Verse series.  The concept was to make it look like it had been drawn by amateurish teenagers with “weird shapes and bad perspectives.”  While there’s nothing wrong with the alternative (animated features striving for perfection with rich detail), it’s nice to look at something distinctively different.

The casting is another talking point.  This is the first time a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie uses actual teenagers to voice the title characters.  Rowe also made the wise decision to bring the four actors together and record the dialogue in a single sound studio (unusual for the genre).  This provided them with more freedom to go “off script” and talk over the top of each other.  It adds up to performances which are fun, realistic, and organic (feels weird saying that about a talking turtle flick).

There are two key cast members with voices you will recognise.  69-year-old Jackie Chan (Rush Hour) brings his comedic personality to the character of Splinter, the mutant rat who becomes a father figure to the turtles.  The other is Ice Cube (21 Jump Street) who entertains as Super Fly, a feverish villain who sees humans as the enemy and wants them all to become fellow mutants like him.  The likes of Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogen, John Cena, Rose Byrne, Paul Rudd and Post Malone also pop up with small roles.

I liked this more than expected.  The painting-like animation is a big plus but the screenplay is a winner too.  Characters have nuance and to use Splinter as an example, he’s unnecessarily overprotective (“humans are the demon scum of the Earth”) and yet willing to put his life on the line to save his family when required.  The educative interaction between the four turtles and their first non-mutant friend, April O’Neill (Edebiri), creates opportunity for humour as their eyes are opened to different worlds.  The writers have also thrown in several amusing pop culture references which show the target audience is as much adults as it is children.

The action is a too chaotic in places, particularly during the finale, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem takes chances and is rewarded.