They finally got teenagers to voice the Turtles! Oh, and the movie is pretty great, too.
Set during the Turtles’ formative years, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a back-to-basics approach for these Turtles in a Half Shell following Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), as they rise out of the sewers and step into their own as heroes, brothers, sons, and most importantly, teens. Living a somewhat sheltered life thanks to their overbearing and paranoid father, the humanoid rat known as Splinter (Jackie Chan), the Turtles soon meet an aspiring journalist in April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) and slowly begin to reveal themselves to the world just as an evil crew of mutant monsters linked to the Turtles’ origin begins to wreak havoc across New York City. Torn between listening to their father, wanting to have a normal teenaged life, and needing to prove their worth as heroes, Leo, Donnie, Raph, and Mikey must decide what matters to them most, or else risk losing their family, themselves, and the city they call home.
Immediately making a case for being the best-looking animated movie of the year thanks to its grungy yet beautiful art style (I said what I said, Across the Spider-Verse), the animation put on display here is jaw-dropping to say the least, acting as a wholly unique look that sells these revamped Turtle designs well. Looking like a cross between a kind of stop-motion animation mixed with a painterly, comic book-y art style that pops off the screen, Mutant Mayhem absolutely nails the Turtles’ latest transition into the world of computer graphics, with the star-studded voice cast further bringing to life the world the filmmakers have created here. Evenly paced throughout while giving audiences just enough action scenes, laugh-out-loud moments, character-driven beats, and fan service to satisfy, I was pleasantly surprised with nearly everything I saw in this one, with the spot-on musical score meshing well with the vibe these younger Turtles give off.
But despite all the good this movie does, I will admit there were a couple of things that stood out to me as being a bit off. Not only is the story a bit simple at times, but thanks to the filmmakers finally depicting the Turtles as actual, you know, teenagers, this appropriate approach led to a few scenes that felt a bit too familiar for a coming-of-age story like this, making me wish there was a little more to story beats that audiences have undoubtedly seen a hundred times before. Other than that, I had some issues with how the script portrayed both Splinter and Mikey. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate Splinter’s dislike and untrustworthiness towards humans, but the entire sloppy weirdo, non-martial arts master angle felt way off to me. Similarly, Mikey’s characterization didn’t ring true at times, as his usual immature, jokester, “little brother” persona felt dialed back and practically nonexistent, ensuring that he melted into the background as a character, especially considering he had the least to do compared to his brothers.
I may have some nitpicks with this one, but overall, it’s hands down the best TMNT movie since the original, and that’s before you factor in the jaw-dropping visuals and near-perfect musical score. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem successfully brings these amphibious ninja brothers back into the spotlight while setting them up for a new generation to enjoy, with all signs pointing to an even better and more exciting second installment yet to come. Cowabunga indeed!