Now these turtles are teenagers!
This is coming from a film critic, who never grew up on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” but still knows they’re all named after famous painters. There’s Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael. They live in the sewers of NYC with their rat mentor Splinter, they love pizza, and I guess what they’re most curious about is if they can show their faces in society. A society that thinks of them as monsters, which is why they must remain in the shadows. That’s what “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” likes to convey.
They were able to transition from animation to live action to animation to live action, and back to animation again, and now, with this new version, it decides to stylize the animation in the tradition of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse,” “The Peanuts Movie,” and “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.” And this was co-written and directed by Jeff Rowe, the same genius behind “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.”
The attention to detail in the humans, buildings, mutants, and ooze (the stuff that created the good guys and the bad guys) all looks so fascinating. The story is able to have them questioning about if can show themselves as heroes, even though it doesn’t have the complete pacing of the “Spider-Verse” movies. And the voice acting is in the right place. The filmmakers know the right teens to play the teenagers, and the right adults to play the adults. That is if we really can call them teenagers and adults.
Micah Abbey voices Donatello, Shamon Brown Jr. voices Michelangelo, Nicolas Cantu voices Leonardo, and Brady Noon (“Good Boys”) voices Raphael. Reminds me on how “The Peanuts Movie” used kids to voice Charlie Brown, Linus, and the gang. And none of them sound like Johnny Knoxville, which is refreshing, considering what I had to deal with back in the awful 2014 version.
They’re the turtles who are only allowed to sneak out to get groceries, while Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan) has to be the overprotective parent, who gets mad at them for watching a park screening of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” All these boys dream of is going to high school, and to be accepted into society.
But to prove themselves worthy of that, they need to stop an evil mutant team from destroying humanity. They consist of the ruthless fly leader Superbly (voiced by Ice Cube), the warthog and rhino duo Bebop (voiced by Seth Rogen) and Rocksteady (voiced by John Cena), the mellow gecko Mondo Gecko (voiced by Paul Rudd), the singing manta ray Ray Fillet (voiced by Post Malone), the alligator Leatherhead (voiced by Rose Byrne), the frog Genghis Frog (voiced by Hannibal Buress), the bat Wingnut (voiced by Natasha Demetriou), and the non-speaking inspect mutant-whatever-he-is Scumbug.
And they need the ambitious journalist April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Ederbiri) to film them and get their story out.
Rogen also co-wrote and co-produced “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” and he really knows to let out his teenage self, especially the way he, Rowe, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, and Brendan O’Brien satirize the genre and allow these turtles to have a more personal touch. Yes, it could have been a little more patient in the story, but it still takes us inside their worlds, and lets us see their thick outer shells. Pun intended.
It’s been very difficult for me to pan an animated feature that wants to have 2D and 3D animation, because they take us to new heights, and make us hope we can see this style again. And it’s all levitated by the voice actors (also featuring Giancarlo Esposito and Maya Rudolph), who know how to be funny and how to be serious.
Again, I’m no fan or expert on the franchise, but I can see “Mutant Mayhem” as one of the entertaining animated films out this summer. I know kids and teenagers will like it, and I know animation fans will be marveled by it.
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.