The ooze those baby turtles were doused in not only mutated them into humanoid crimefighters – it also seemingly gave them powers of regeneration and longevity. Since the original animated series launched in 1987 (loosely adapted from the comics created a few years earlier), the heroes in a half-shell have never been too far from our screens, with varying degrees of success.
The latest feature-length iteration – which the marketing tags as from "permanent teenager Seth Rogen", who co-writes, produces, and lends his voice – puts a younger, actually teenage spin on the sewer-dwelling foursome. It’s reinvigorating: this is the Turtles’ most enjoyable outing since their '90s heyday.
In this animated origin story, Leo (Nicolas Cantu), Mikey (Shamon Brown Jr.), Raph (Brady Noon), and Donnie (Micah Abbey) yearn to leave the sewers to explore New York City, but their adoptive father/sensei Splinter (delightfully voiced by Jackie Chan) fears a lack of acceptance from the ground-level world.
The young voice cast bring a delightful, bantering energy to the Turtles, fizzing with a natural chemistry as they crack wise and talk over each other (as they’re teens, pop-culture references abound too). They’re a blast to be around, and their outsider status also adds to the relatable teenage aspect. Mutant Mayhem is consistently funny, too: sometimes taking jabs at the lore, but always affectionately.
While the Turtles are voiced by newcomers, the rogues’ gallery is a roll call of comedy talent (many of who have previous form with Rogen productions), including Paul Rudd, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, and Hannibal Buress. Ice Cube, just speaking in his regular Ice Cube voice, is an enjoyably incongruous presence as lead baddie Superfly, but there are so many other mutants in the line-up that most feel like blink-and-miss-’em cameos. Throw April O’Neil (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri) into the mix, and even a couple of the Turtles don’t get quite enough room to breathe (Leo and Mikey fare best on that front).
There is a lot thrown at the screen – the Turtles try to prove themselves by saving NYC from the other mutants, and sinister organization the TCRI are also on the periphery. But even if it feels overstuffed at times, it’s never less than enjoyable.
Director Jeff Rowe previously wrote and co-directed The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and as in that film, the father-child dynamic provides the heart (a cute flashback is a high point), even when the action is at its most absurd. And like MvM, Mutant Mayhem rocks a rad art style: clearly inspired by the Spider-Verse movies’ willingness to color outside of the lines, there’s a similar-but-different sketch-animation look here that brings a grungy, hand-drawn texture to the CG animation.
Beyond the arresting visuals, the set pieces zing too, particularly one fight scene set to Blackstreet’s No Diggity. Despite seemingly being set in the present (smartphones!), it harks back to the era of the Turtles’ peak, and the 90s needle drops are no less effective for being obvious. There’s a crunchiness to the action – in part down to the masked quartet’s signature weapons – that occasionally induces winces.
There are references and gags that’ll please long-time Turtles fans, but Mutant Mayhem isn’t overburdened by references to past glories. As a good origin story should, it makes you feel like you’re meeting these characters for the first time, and leaves you wanting to spend much more time in their company. It’s powerful stuff, that ooze.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is in UK cinemas from July 31 and in US cinemas from August 2. For more upcoming movies, check out our guide to all of the 2023 movie release dates confirmed so far.