Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem review – Turtle Power is alive and well

Review by Kambole Campbell @kambolecampbell

Directed by

Jeff Rowe


Brady Noon Ice Cube Jackie Chan Micah Abbey Nicolas Cantu Shamon Brown Jr.


Looks charming, but the Ninja Turtles have had a lot of false starts on film.


An energetic, hilarious reinvention of everyone’s favourite anthropomorphic, pizza-devouring, chelonian martial artists.

In Retrospect.

Turtle power is alive and well.

The pizza-loving, wisecracking anthropomorphic reptiles receive a substantial facelift in this charming animated outing, which embraces their adolescent spirit.

After nearly 40 years of iteration, perhaps the most immediately striking thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is how gangly the Ninja Turtles now look. Under the direction of Jeff Rowe (co-writer and co-director on The Mitchells vs the Machines), they look compellingly awkward and adolescent, each given a unique physical stature. Such expressivity and intentional roughness carries through to the rest of the film’s captivating and expressive design, its grimy, luminescent vision of New York rooftops (which recalls the 90s live-action film in some ways), alleys and undergrounds built from lopsided lines, the VFX and lighting illuminating its strange nightlife textured with pencil scribbles.

If films like Into the Spider-Verse feel ripped from a comic book, the vividly imagined Mutant Mayhem feels ripped from the margins of a teenager’s notebook (I half-expected the “Cool S” to appear onscreen). Add in a thundering electronic score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and it’s all a beautifully textured reflection of these characters’ coming-of-age, spirited but unsure of their place a world that’s frankly pretty terrifying.

Remixing a number of classic TMNT beats, the Mutant Mayhem of the title begins when the Ninja Turtles and their mutant “cousins” disagree on the best route to a peaceful life on Earth (an echo of one of their comic book inspirations, the X-Men). The latter think the best solution to their inability to live among people is to simply kill them all. That mission is led by the massive, misanthropic Superfly, voiced by Ice Cube with hilarious forthrightness: he’s tired of hiding. The Ninja Turtles’ father, a bumbling and paranoid take on anthropomorphic rat Master Splinter (Jackie Chan!) believes cohabitation impossible, and keeps his adopted reptilian children hidden away in the sewers, from fear of humanity’s violence towards that which is different. The boys seek a third route with the help of junior reporter April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), hoping to pave their way to social acceptance by becoming heroes for a city that very well may hate and fear them.

That separation between the Ninja Turtles and the human world has long played into their stories but Rowe and the writers breathe new life into that idea, a direction which helps fend off the IP wariness: as great as Barbie is, we got a toy movie just a couple of weeks ago, and the TMNT are as about as toyetic as cartoon franchises come. But the winsome personalities of the Ninja Turtles give it sincerity, thanks in no small part to its teenage voice cast, and Rowe’s embrace of chaotic crosstalk in the film’s voice direction.

Their voice performances lend the story authenticity even at its most ridiculous, while constantly threatening to derail scenes into excitable or mocking chatter, and it’s an adorable delight whenever it does. That messiness in their conversations extends to the film’s thrilling and funny action sequences, mixing it up between slapdash improvisation and the fluidity of a seasoned martial artist. One standout sequence exemplifies the latter by stitching together four different fights together into one dance, each of the brothers’ movements flowing into the next, all with Backstreet’s “No Diggity” crooning in the background, one of many choice 90s needle drops (personal favourites being M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” and De La Soul’s “Eye Know”).

Such needle drops are one way the film itself embraces the boys’ magpie-like attitude towards pop culture, combining it’s nods to TMNT’s past with a hoard of references to everything from Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Jujutsu Kaisen and Attack on Titan, to BTS and Beyoncé. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but not pointless, used to build an impression of how these characters connect to a world they are mostly shut out of (as is TMNT tradition). But Mutant Mayhem also recognises that this pop cultural ephemera can act as a way to find your people and a sense of belonging. As well as the coloured masks, the Ninja Turtles are also defined by the different social cliques they might belong to, like anime geeks, jocks, do-gooder student journalists and theatre kids. In a story that’s expressly about their insecurity over being inhuman, it’s the most human (and the most teenage) they’ve ever felt.

Published 31 Jul 2023

Tags: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem


Looks charming, but the Ninja Turtles have had a lot of false starts on film.


An energetic, hilarious reinvention of everyone’s favourite anthropomorphic, pizza-devouring, chelonian martial artists.

In Retrospect.

Turtle power is alive and well.

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