July 31, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jeff Rowe; co-directed by Kyler Spears
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the animated film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” features a cast of characters portraying mutant animals and a racially diverse mix of humans representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: Four crime-fighting hero brothers, who happen to be teenage mutant ninja turtles, team up with a teenage aspiring journalist, to stop a mutant insect named Superfly from his plans to enslave and torture humans worldwide.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise fans, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching comical adventure animation that various generations of people can enjoy.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is a vibrant example of how good storytelling, talented cast members, and appealing visuals can make animation the ideal format for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” started out as a comic book series in 1984. It has since spawned several animated series and films (live-action and animated), as well as albums, live tours and a seemingly never-ending supply of merchandise. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is among the best of what the franchise has to offer.
Directed by Jeff Rowe and co-directed by Kyler Spears, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t do anything radically different with the basic concept of the franchise. The story still takes place in New York City, where four teenage mutant ninja turtle brothers grew up in the city’s sewers and now fight crime. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit wrote the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” screenplay.
What’s different about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is that the movie is much more centered around the teenage characters than the live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, which tended to give human adults about the same amount of screen time. The chief villain in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is not human, but a giant mutant insect named Superfly.
The four mutant turtles brothers have distinct personalities, signature colors and preferred weapons that identify each brother.
- Michelangelo, also known as Mikey (voiced by Shamon Brown Jr.), is the level-headed leader of the group. His signature color is blue. His preferred weapons are katanas.
- Raphael, also known as Raph (voiced by Brady Noon), is the hot-tempered and physically strongest brother, who often clashes with Mike over decisions. Raph’s signature color is red. His preferred weapons are sai.
- Donatello, also known as Donnie (voiced by Micah Abbey), is the mild-mannered tech expert of the group and the brother who’s most likely to be a peacemaker in fights between Mikey and Raph. Donnie’s signature color is purple. His preferred weapon is an oak Bō.
- Leonardo, also known as Leo (voiced by Nicolas Cantu), is the goofy and impulsive brother who is the one most likely to want to party. His signature color is orange. His preferred weapons are nunchucks.
Do viewers have to know the above information about the brothers before seeing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”? No, but it helps viewers tell these characters apart quicker than viewers who are unfamiliar with these characters. The brothers’ origin story is explained early in the movie, which generally does a good job of setting up the story for people who might be seeing these characters for the first time.
In the beginning of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” it’s shown how these mutant characters came to be. An eccentric scientist names Baxter Stockman (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) went rogue and created mutants from animals that he kept in his lab. His lab was eventually raided by the government. Stockman died during this raid, but he left behind a toxic ooze that can turn any being into a mutant.
Four baby turtles managed to escape from the raid and were found and raised by a mutant rat Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan), a jaded but very overprotective adoptive father who kept the four brothers hidden in the sewers with. When the brothers became old enough to be curious about the outside world where humans live, Splinter reluctantly gave in to the brothers’ pestering to take them outside.
The experience did not go well at all. Upon emerging in the middle of Times Square, this mutant family was attacked and taunted by humans, out of fear and hatred. Splinter vowed never to take the brothers above ground again. But now that the brothers are teenagers, they want to defy a parent’s rules, as teenagers tend to do. These brother turtles have been sneaking out at night and fighting crimes, but they have to do so in disguise (they wear masks) and as mysterious and elusive heroes.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” has many themes about “fitting in” to society, trying to find self-acceptance, and experiencing prejudice based on outward appearances. The turtle brothers long to be part of the human world but can only watch from a certain distance. While many human teenagers in high school think school is to confining, the turtle brothers feel confined in their own environment and are fascinated with wanting to go to high school, which represents freedom to the turtle brothers.
One night, the turtle brothers help a human teenager named April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, after her scooter is stolen. (The character of April is usually an adult in other “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” stories.) April (who is an aspiring investigative journalist) is smart and witty, but she has her own “misfit” issues because she’s bullied at school and is somewhat of a social outcast with her student peers. She’s been given the unflattering nickname Puke Girl by some of the school bullies because of an incident when she vomited out of nervousness during the school’s live closed-circuit TV newscast. Meanwhile, Mikey develops a crush on April and gets a little bit of teasing about it from Raph.
The word is out that there’s a criminal mastermind who’s plotting to destroy the world. His named is Superfly (voiced by Ice Cube), a swaggering mutant insect, who has a hatred of humans because of the way he was treated by humans. Superfly has a gang of mutant accomplices, of course. These sidekicks include Leatherhead (voiced by Rose Byrne), Mondo Gecko (voiced by Paul Rudd), Ray Fillet (voiced by Post Malone), Genghis Frog (voiced by Hannibal Buress) and Wingnut (voiced by Natasia Demetriou).
The turtle brothers team up with April to try to stop Superfly, with the hope that if they succeed, then human society will finally accept the turtle brothers. In addition to battling Superfly, the turtle brothers also have to contend with a nemesis named Cynthia Utrom (voiced by Maya Rudolph), a government official who was responsible for the raid that led to Dr. Stockman’s demise. Cynthia is menacing in a bureaucratic way, unlike Superfly’s street-tough methods. Other supporting characters are two dimwitted mutants: warthog Bebop (played by Rogen, one of the producers of the movie) and rhinoceros Rocksteady (voiced by John Cena), who both bring some comic relief with their buffonery.
All of the principal cast members do admirable jobs of making their characters memorable and with identifable personalities, while the animation is a combination of gritty and gorgeous. Superfly is a ruthless “gangster” villain (Ice Cube plays this role to the hilt), but the movie also shows Superfly as an example of someone who was bullied who ends up becoming a worse bully than his tormentors. Another standout is Edebiri in her voice role as April, who has a lot of heart and relatable humanity, thanks to Edebiri’s engaging performance.
Fortunately for viewers, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t over-complicate its “good versus evil” plot. The action sequences are entertaining to watch, while the dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t get preachy about it, but amid all the cartoonish fun is a cautionary message about the repercussions of mistreating others. The movie ends on a cliffhanger, but there’s so much to like about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” many viewers will still want a sequel, even if there had been no cliffhanger.
Paramount Pictures will release “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” in U.S. cinemas on August 2, 2023.