With an excellent voice cast, stylish animation that stands out, and a fun, decent story, Mutant Mayhem aims to please and succeeds.
Editor’s note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the [series/movie/etc] being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem deserves the hype. Even before the film landed in theaters, a sequel and a spin-off series were announced. Directed by Jeff Rowe from a screenplay by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit, Mutant Mayhem boasts an animation style with personality, fun characters, and a story that doesn’t grow tired. With an excellent voice cast, stylish animation that stands out, and a fun, decent story, Mutant Mayhem aims to please and succeeds.
Mutant Mayhem opens with Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito), a loner scientist who plans on mutating several creatures. The plan seemingly goes awry when Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph), the head of a secret organization called TCRI, orders an attack on Baxter in a bid to steal the ooze. It’s never found, instead falling into the sewers where four baby turtles — Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon) — and an older rat, Splinter (Jackie Chan), are transformed into human-sized, talking creatures. 15 years later, the Turtles, against Splinter’s wishes, and with the help of high school journalist April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), battle Superfly (Ice Cube), Baxter’s mutated creation, before his villainous plans destroy the world as they know it.
The animated film holds plenty of charm and energy; it’s practically bursting at the seams with it. It’s infectious, and I found myself quickly drawn into the film’s world, empathizing with both the Turtles and Splinter, who is very much a concerned father who puts fear above all else. He learns just as much about the world as his sons do, and it’s their familial relationship that plays such a large role in endearing the characters to the audience. The Turtles’ friendship with April — who is also facing some of the same struggles and acts as a connection between the four mutants and the human world — is also a big part of what elevates the film.
The message at the film’s core is that of acceptance, and while it doesn’t have anything particularly deep to say about that, or the comparisons the story draws between Superfly and the humans he so despises, Mutant Mayhem addresses the topic well enough. It makes the story all the stronger for it, too, because the film is very much a coming-of-age story for the Turtles, who are more concerned with being liked and changing people’s perceptions. There’s a lot of love poured into the film, and it shows. The filmmakers clearly enjoyed delving into what makes this world, as well as the Turtles as teenagers who are coming into their own.
The result is a fun, exciting animation that keeps us hooked throughout. Yes, there is the occasional lull in the story, but it doesn’t linger before picking back up with some new story turn or action sequence. There is one joke, however, that goes on for too long, repetitive in a way that will make any adult want to roll their eyes (though the kids at my screening were entertained by it). Ultimately, though, the film has so much energy that you can’t look away, and the character dynamics and action sequences will maintain interest.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is now playing in theaters. The film is 99 minutes long and rated PG for sequences of violence and action, language and impolite material.