The film follows the Turtle brothers as they work to earn the love of New York City while facing down an army of mutants. (from IMDB)
With everything old becoming new again - time and time (and time and time) again in Hollywood, it should come as no surprise when popular franchises - like Transformers, Star Wars, any number of superheroes (Spider-Man comes to mind easily) and, in this case, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - continue to come back for the big screen treatment. We last saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in theaters in 2016 when their 2014 live action reboot was given its one and only sequel. Previously, the Turtles had three live action movies in the early 1990's and a computer animated feature (titled just TMNT) in 2007. But thanks to Nickelodeon and producer/co-writing comedian Seth Rogen, the four Renaissance-painter-named heroes in a half shell have been reinvented yet again.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem makes every effort to change things up and start something new. The opening sequence gives a semi flimsy new origin story for the Turtles, roping in some other familiar characters from the franchise in the process (instead of them being genetically altered by someone else). Mutant Mayhem also marks the very first time the Turtles have been voiced or played by actual teenagers! The voices sound a little weird at first - especially the boy who hasn't quite hit puberty yet - but it does feel more accurate for the characters. One of the biggest changes for this entry, too, is to the Turtles' most reliable human ally, April O'Neil. The usual white-skinned, yellow-suited, orange-haired heroine has been replaced by a short, stocky, beanie-wearing, dreadlocks-sporting, freckle-faced African American girl. The change feels forced and pandering, at a time when these kind of changes are becoming the norm. (I'm looking at you, Disney.) It's the kind of change that feels placed solely to ruffle feathers and point fingers in the name of "intolerance" (or worse), but it really just begs the question: Why? Purists will be expecting their usual April O'Neil, so why alienate the fans? What grand purpose does it solve? (Can't we just introduce new characters to widen the diversity if it's needed so badly? But I digress...)
Finally, the biggest visual change is actually the style in which the film is presented. In the same vein as stylistic animated films like the Spider-Verse franchise, Mutant Mayhem offers an unfinished, sketchy, rather painterly style. It works to offer audiences something fresh and different, but I'd be lying if there weren't several scenes that left me wishing a particular moment or visual was instead shown in photorealistic detail. After all, the 2007 movie is basically video-game grade animation by today's standards; I'd be interested in seeing this gang with the technology that today's computers can give us. The movie's trailers had me a little worried about whether I could stomach a feature-length movie with this kind of unruly animation, but thankfully the movie is good enough to rise above its visual limits. All this is to say, it works sometimes, but definitely doesn't always work.
With that said, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is actually quite good - if not the best Turtles theatrical outing to date. The teenage Turtles feel like a snapshot of 2023's youth - for better or for worse - making pop culture references, using the slang of today's youth (some of which I only know because of my own 12-year-old son), and having that short attention span that kids often have (which, yeah, I know, is a trait not limited exclusively to the young). Each of the new voice talents are solid, and they really give us a Turtle quartet we can warm up to. I found myself on board with these kids pretty quickly, and ended up loving them by the end. It's also a brilliant choice to cast martial arts legend Jackie Chan as the voice for their rat father, Splinter. He's wonderful, and it's a nice way to introduce his physical genius to a new generation (even if we only see the real Jackie in cleverly-snuck-in footage from his movies). I also liked how they handled the other mutants here, even introducing some of the familiar baddies as allies to start. While Shredder isn't the main antagonist in this movie, there's promise that we'll see him in future installments should the franchise be awarded a sequel or two.
The movie is rated PG, but like the aforementioned PG-rated Spider-Verse series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem features some profanity and lots of action violence. I noticed over 8 uses of "Oh my G-d," as well as one each of "Dear G-d" and "Dear L-rd," and other cuss words like 3 of "d*mn," 5 of "h*ll," 1 of "p*ss me off," and 2 of "cr*p." It seems to be a growing trend to slip more and more language into animated kids movies, and I can't say I'm a fan of this direction. The action gets pretty violent at times, with some of it shown in slow motion. In one instance, we see a few of a bad guy's teeth flying from his face as a Turtle hits him. There's also a running gag about how April pukes whenever she goes on the air live on camera, and we see several playbacks of her throwing up a lot of green goop.
If you can look past some of the movie's silly character changes or its distractingly frenetic animation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is actually a really good animated action movie and Turtles entry. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we see more of these heroes in a half-shell in cinemas!- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/23/23)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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