Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Photograph: Paramount Pictures
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

4 out of 5 stars

Belly-laugh-inducing and visually stunning, this coming-of-(sew)age reboot is an unexpected delight

Phil de Semlyen

Time Out says

Even in a year that has already given us origin stories for Tetris and Nike Air Jordans, a Super Mario Bros. Movie and a Wham! documentary, the idea of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot seems like pushing the ’80s nostalgia trend to breaking point. How many more times can you reshell those sewer-dwelling martial artists for kid-friendly fun? 

On the evidence of this Seth Rogen-produced animation, the answer might just be ‘a lot’. Shelve any scepticism because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a blast – a worthy companion piece to the groundbreaking Spider-Verse films. What it lacks in those movies’ dazzling storytelling, it makes up for in visual effervescence and a steady stream of big laughs.

Like Spider-Verse, the anything-goes animation style hits like a needle scratch on a dusty old LP. Jeff Rowe, co-director on The Mitchells vs the Machines, and his animators underlay the familiar adventures of the four genetically modified turtles with an unfamiliar animation style: all glitchy, punky, doodly, drawing-outside-the-lines splurges of colour and action. It’s just the latest in a new wave of Hollywood ’toons that owe more to manga and anime than traditional CG animation. 

For confused Gen Z-ers and Millennials who didn’t grow up in the era of Velcro and Max Headroom, the movie’s opening tackles the Turtles’ origins in snappy style: a vial of mutant pathogen falls down a sewer and turns four adorbs baby turtles – Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo – into the reptile kingdom’s nunchuck-wielding answer to Jackie Chan. Also mutated is Splinter, a rodent sensei voiced, in an inspired touch, by the actual Jackie Chan. 

Fast forward 15 years and Splinter is the teen Turtles’ overprotective shut-in dad, who lingers in their sewer lair issuing dire warnings about humans that the movie’s criminal underworld – all ugly goons and grotesque henchmen – bears out in full. But a bigger threat is out there: Superfly, a Cronenbergian insectoid nightmare voiced by Ice Cube. Cub reporter April O’Neil (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri) is on hand to help out.  

The anything-goes animation style hits like a needle scratch on a dusty old LP

There’s so much to love in what follows, from the very Rogen-y humour (think: body horror for beginners and a killer joke about the ‘best Chris’ in Hollywood) and pop-art New York cityscapes, to the fan-favourite mutants and the crate’s worth of hip-hop cuts on the soundtrack. The fun-loving nostalgia and callbacks – even Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ninja Rap’ from 1991’s dorky Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II gets a nod – are all cut with an affecting note of melancholy. More than just another franchise reset, Mutant Mayhem wrestles with its own cultural relevance (or otherwise) in interesting ways. 

But best of all is a teen voice cast who inhabit Mikey, Leo, Donnie and Raph with boisterous likeability and a touching sense of uncertainty about their place in the world. They want to be heroes, but most of all they just want to be liked. ‘Maybe one day everyone will love us like everyone loves Ferris Bueller,’ the Turtles reflect after taking in a ’80s favourite at a Brooklyn outdoor cinema. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

In UK cinemas Jul 31 and US theaters Aug 2.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Kyler Spears, Jeff Rowe
  • Screenwriter:Jeff Rowe, Seth Rogen
  • Cast:
    • Seth Rogen
    • Evan Goldberg
    • Benji Samit
    • Dan Hernandez
    • Natasia Demetriou
    • Ayo Edebiri
    • John Cena
    • Jackie Chan
    • Paul Rudd
    • Brady Noon
    • Micah Abbey
    • Hannibal Buress
    • Shamon Brown Jr
    • Nicolas Cantu
    • Ice Cube
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