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Review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ reinvigorates the franchise

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ is a refresh designed to appeal to a younger, modern audience

A scene from ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’
A scene from ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies.
A scene from ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a refresh designed to appeal to a younger, contemporary audience — at least until the references become dated.

What began as a small comic book with a dedicated following has since resulted in television shows, movies, toys and more comics that have entertained generations since its introduction in the early 1980s. Abandoned baby turtles altered by a toxic ooze discarded in a sewer, and taken in and raised by a similarly altered and fatherly rat has always been the basic origin story for the superheroes in a half-shell. It’s certainly a tale that captures the imagination and has produced decades of storylines as the anthropomorphic animals try to find their place in the world. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an updated take on the classic narrative with many familiar faces (and voices).

Beginning 15 years after Splinter (Jackie Chan), a rat, discovered the helpless turtles, the mutant teens (Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu and Brady Noon) long to be among the humans they’ve sworn to avoid. Humans’ track record with things they don’t understand isn’t the greatest, so no one can blame their dad for being protective. However, tired of being confined to the sewers, they indulge in rambunctious horseplay whenever they’re tasked with going to the surface for supplies — which eventually puts them in the path of April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), would-be journalist and high school student. Understanding their desire for acceptance, April agrees to help them be recognized as heroes so they can try to build lives outside the sewers. Unfortunately, previously unknown and more nefarious mutants have other plans, menacing the city so their leader, Superfly (Ice Cube), can enact his destructive plan.

While the core storyline hasn’t changed much, these turtles are very contemporary. They surf the internet, watch modern TV and movies, and sound very much like everyday teenagers. They make regular reference to present-day pop culture, which simultaneously makes the film very current and soon-to-be dated. They have a zest for life that jumps off the screen and sibling relationships that many will find relatable. Similarly, April is an awkward but intelligent teen with ambition and compassion, giving her new friends her honest opinion in nearly every situation. Meanwhile, Splinter is the epitome of a father figure, complete with reclining chair and sage advice for which no one asked. Superfly’s crew is the complete opposite of the ninja family, growing up hating the human world and biding their time until they could exact their revenge.

The animation style is unlike most mainstream pictures, adopting a comic sketch aesthetic that appears rougher and better matches the updated approach to the narrative. It’s slightly jarring at first, but quickly establishes a very complementary connection to the story unfolding. Seeing all these familiar characters in this fresh aesthetic also makes it easier to accept this iteration as a new life for some beloved characters, which was unexpectedly brought to the screen by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. In addition, Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch provide an excellent soundtrack for a movie some may be surprised they’re even scoring. The voice cast is a list of well-knowns too, including Maya Rudolph, John Cena, Rose Byrne, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Rudd, Post Malone and Hannibal Buress.

There’s no shortage of action or humour to keep audiences engaged from beginning to end. Younger viewers may find the final villain confrontation a bit upsetting, but this movie is definitely targeting a new generation of soon-to-be TMNT fans.

Directors: Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears
Starring: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu and Brady Noon

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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