TMNT Mutant Mayhem animation meant to pop eyeballs but… 2
Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures International
Culture

Review: The ‘TMNT Mutant Mayhem’ animation is meant to pop your eyeballs but…

The story won’t blow your mind
Andrew Paredes | Aug 21 2023

The Spider-Verse could be influencing our version of reality, after all: Mainstream animation seems to be undergoing a creative growth spurt. A clear example is the latest reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IP spearheaded by “permanent teenager” Seth Rogen and director Jeff Rowe (himself fresh from co-directing 2021’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a robot apocalypse feature with a stylistic throughline from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem
The jokes, for the most part, land.

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is a fairly cookie-cutter origin story/coming-of-age tale: The titular turtles (voiced with winning camaraderie by actual teenagers Nicolas Cantu, Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr. and Brady Noon) chafe under the overprotective supervision of their foster father Master Splinter (Jackie Chan) and yearn for acceptance from the human world. The well-worn story beats are dutifully hit: from the spillage of the radioactive Ooze into the Brooklyn sewer system that creates humanoid critters, to the establishment of the foursome’s ingrained martial arts skills and affection for pizza, to the meet-cute with student reporter April O’Neil (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri), to the rise of Superfly—a mutant villain with an apocalyptic hatred of humanity voiced (of course!) by Ice Cube.

The story won’t blow your mind, but the animation is meant to pop your eyeballs. Where Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is impressionistic and painterly, Mutant Mayhem is wonderfully anarchic, messy in a way that reminds you more of bathroom graffiti than the self-contained wit of Banksy or the sleek photorealism of Pixar (who should be shaking in their boots over this emerging disruption to the animation ecosystem).

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem
The well-worn story beats are dutifully hit.

There is a sense of barely controlled chaos in the line renderings, the color scheming and the direction that dovetails pleasingly with the overlapping, jostling performances of the four leads. (Producer Rogen’s insistence that his four teenaged actors record their lines together in the booth, as opposed to individually, pays off with huge dividends in chemistry.) And like the Harry Potter universe, Rogen and Rowe surround their core four with a stacked voice cast of veterans: Apart from Chan and Ice Cube, there’s John Cena and Rose Byrne, Edebiri and What We Do in the Shadows’ Natasia Demetriou, comedians Maya Rudolph and Hannibal Buress. For added cred, there’s Post Malone as a manta ray who just wants to sing and Paul Rudd as a skateboarding gecko.

The jokes, for the most part, land (a recurring gag about being “milked” hits the chuckle spot precisely because the double entendre is so adolescent), and there is no doubt the film fizzes with the energy of shaken soda. But just to make a point previously made, the proceedings move along on tracks that are too well-trod.

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem
There is no doubt the film fizzes with the energy of shaken soda.

The script’s five credited writers obviously spent more time brainstorming tee-hee teen jokes than expanding the property’s origin story or the film’s coming-of-age genre trappings. Its central conflict has been mined bald by innumerable X-Men movies. Meanwhile, the four turtles are given no more than cursory distinguishing characteristics—Leonardo (Cantu) is supposed to be the leader; Donatello (Abbey) is the nerd; Michelangelo (Brown Jr.) is an aspiring standup comic; Raphael (Noon) has anger management issues—and after a while, their color-coded masks get difficult to tell apart.

If Mutant Mayhem had combined its cutting-edge animation with a deeply limned exploration of its leads, or perhaps witty observations of the adolescent experience, this reviewer would have really screamed “Kowabunga!”

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem opens in Philippine cinemas on Wednesday, August 23.

Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures International