On a recent transatlantic flight I had, as one can imagine, quite a bit of time to kill, so I indulged in the airline’s admittedly generous selection of movies. As it was an overnight flight, horror seemed like the only logical answer, which lead to Scream VI, Talk to Me, and two perpetually sweaty palms for the first 4 hours. Realizing that my blood pressure couldn’t handle another horror, especially one as well made as the two I had just watched, I needed something more lighthearted to cleanse my cinematic palette, which led me to finally watching the recently released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and oh boy, it does not disappoint.
While I am certainly a fan of the Ninja Turtles, my exposure to the franchise has been through previous film and TV adaptations, namely the cartoon and live productions of their 1980s/1990s, as well as the outstanding beat-‘em-up arcade game based on the cartoon. I have sadly never read the franchise’s comic book source material, which I hear is not only must-read stuff also much darker than its subsequent adaptations, though the early live-action movies do come closer than anything else to date.
This brings me to one of my favourite aspects of Mutant Mayhem, which was written and produced by Canada’s own Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, because while this is a kid’s animated film at its core, it is also not afraid to showcase blistering action, a deep thematic narrative, and a touch of the dark and sinister that would make its source material proud.
But make no mistake, this is a modernized adaptation that reframes the Turtles as Gen Z-ers who yearn for acceptance in the outside world, but as mutants, they are misunderstood and shunned by humans. However, it turns out that they’re not the only members of their kind, as the murderous Super Fly and his gang of mutants come onto the scene, but instead of acceptance, they seek to destroy humanity, leaving the turtles no choice but to put an end to their apocalyptic scheme.
The Turtles have never felt so much like teenagers, which is strange to say when it is literally in the title, but Rogen, Goldberg and their co-writers brilliantly capture the whimsy of youth without sacrificing punch and wit in the screenplay. And on that note, huge praise must be given to the core four adolescent voice actors, each of whom brings such vocal flare to their respective characters that there is no one standout among them. That is particularly impressive considering the immense supporting cast that includes Ice Cube, Maya Rudolph, John Cena, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Rudd, Ayo Edebiri, and Jackie Chan as a more parental Splinter, the latter of which is not only inspired casting but one of the overall standouts vocal performances of the entire film.
Of course, the best voice acting and writing in the world is naught without the animation that brings it all together, and Mutant Mayhem features jaw-dropping animation that is comparable only to Sony’s Spider-Verse films, by which the filmmakers here are clearly influenced, though it never feels derivative, but rather a further evolution of this style of animation. To be clear, it is difficult for me to offer higher praise to a modern animated film in this department.
Ultimately, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is not just one of the best-animated films of the year, but the very best instalment in the franchise yet.