Review by Sean Boelman
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series has gone through several attempts to make it work as a theatrically viable franchise, but it just couldn’t end up in the right hands… until now. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem manages to capture lightning in a bottle — it’s a charming, action-packed, funny, and sincere animated film, and breathes life into a franchise with a ton of potential.
In the film, the eponymous characters set out on a quest to be accepted in the human world by thwarting a mysterious crime syndicate, only to face an army of other mutant creatures. Although the film dives deeper into the TMNT lore than other recent theatrical outings in the franchise, it’s still undeniably fun and widely accessible.
The biggest issue with the film is its pacing, which often feels rushed. On the one hand, it makes sense that the film feels a bit hyperactive considering that’s the way the characters are, and this is aimed at a younger audience with a shorter attention span. However, there’s a bit too much conflict, and things move a bit too quickly.
As one would expect, there’s a pretty didactic theme in the film about being yourself. However, although this is not a particularly novel idea within the realm of animated films, the script explores it in a way that could be used to talk about other important issues like racism and xenophobia.
The filmmakers made the bold move of casting (mostly) unknown teenage actors in the four lead roles, rather than recognizable actors as has been done in previous films, and that swing pays off. Nicolas Cantu, Micha Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., and Brady Noon are all unbelievably charming, and most importantly, they have tremendous chemistry to sell that family dynamic.
While the supporting cast can feel a bit overstuffed at times due to the number of A-listers in it, they all get their moments. Jackie Chan is the biggest highlight as the wise Master Splinter, especially during the fight scenes — which has what might be the most convincing voice acting for action in recent memory. Ayo Edibiri is also very charming as the Turtles’ human friend/crush, April O'Neil. And in various roles, Ice Cube, Seth Rogen, Natasia Demetriou, and Paul Rudd all shine.
The film boasts the style of hyperactive, kinetic animation that we’ve seen in movies like the Spider-Verse movies and The Mitchells vs. the Machines. (It is worth noting that director Jeff Rowe was a writer on the latter film.) Although there are a few parts that are slightly clunky — namely the character design — there’s a lot of creativity on display here.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem isn’t without its blemishes, but it’s fun, often funny, and consistently heartfelt. It’s exactly what fans would want from a TMNT movie, and it will be a blast for adults and children alike.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem hits theaters on August 2.