Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

2023, PG, 99 min. Directed by Jeff Rowe. Voices by Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Edebiri, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Aug. 4, 2023

Mutated teenage turtles who happen to be ninjas. It’s a testament to the absurd charm of the original comic book series that every generation finds a version of this long-running series. From comic books to live-action films to animated television shows, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remains a critical first introduction to martial arts and superheroes for many young film fans. And with new animated feature Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Nickelodeon proves that this franchise has not lost any flexibility with age.

Twenty years after being awakened by an experimental ooze, Michelangelo (Brown Jr.), Donatello (Abbey), Leonardo (Cantu), and Raphael (Noon) struggle to find their place in the world. Despite being masters of stealth and hand-to-hand combat, they remain hidden away in the bowels of New York City, trained by their father at an early age to fear all humans. But when the turtles befriend a local high school reporter, April O'Neil (Edebiri), they realize they have a chance to control their destinies. If they can save the city from a mysterious terrorist – and present themselves as heroes in the process – then maybe, just maybe, they’ll have a shot at a normal teenage upbringing.

Born as a black-and-white indie comic but increasingly catering to kids, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has always been a franchise that ping-ponged between superhero largess and animated silliness. Thankfully, things are much simpler here. Gone, for example, are Master Splinter’s tragic backstory and lifelong mastery of ninjutsu. In this version of the story, Splinter (Chan) is a shut-in who teaches his children martial arts through YouTube videos and VHS tutorials. These little comedic flairs are peppered throughout – narrative tweaks meant to make a 30-year-old franchise relevant for new audiences – and these decisions make the movie both sillier and more relatable than many of its predecessors.

But the star of the show is, of course, the animation itself. Director Jeff Rowe has described Mutant Mayhem as being inspired by childhood sketches, and the movie’s aesthetic adheres to the color-outside-the-lines energy of pencil-and-crayon art. Each nighttime fight or underground chase scene is awash in bright colors that seem to scribble off the edges of the screen. In an era where Hollywood seems loath to take a single creative risk, Mutant Mayhem slots nicely alongside films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish as shining examples of how a little artistic risk can just make everything better.

(The highlight of the film is a prolonged hallway fight that draws clear inspiration from Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. It’s as good as any action sequence you’ll see in theatres this year.)

Of course, any film that advertises itself as coming from the mind of “permanent teenager Seth Rogen” does run the risk of acting particularly sophomoric at times. The movie does wrap itself in a surprisingly compelling story about xenophobia, but while the age range of mainstream animation continues to tick upward, this does feel like a film aimed solidly at the teenage set. No shame in that – everyone deserves a story that features people like them as the hero – but audiences raised on the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies (either the Nineties originals or last decade's reboot) are not the target here. Still, for everyone not struggling with adolescence, there’s a whole film of New York needle drops and gorgeous animation to enjoy. It’s more than enough.

Showtimes

Gateway Theatre

9700 Stonelake, 512/416-5700

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Tue., June 18

digital 11:00am

Wed., June 19

digital 11:00am

Metropolitan

901 Little Texas, 512/447-0101

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Tue., June 18

digital 11:00am

Wed., June 19

digital 11:00am

Westgate 11

4477 S. Lamar, 512/899-2717

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Tue., June 18

digital 11:00am

Wed., June 19

digital 11:00am

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Jeff Rowe

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