Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Rodent sensei Master Splinter (voice of Jackie Chan) is awfully protective of the four baby turtles he found in the same NYC sewer ooze that transformed him into a mutant ‘rat man,’ having raised the only creatures who didn’t shun or try to kill him.  Splinter hates humans and is alarmed by Leonardo (voice of Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (voice of Brady Noon), Donatello (voice of Micah Abbey) and Michelangelo’s (voice of Shamon Brown Jr.) growing fascination with their world.  Like their dad, they yearn to be accepted, and when a notorious villain named Super Fly (voice of Ice Cube) threatens Manhattan, they find their calling in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.”

Laura's Review: B+

Directors Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears ("The Mitchells vs. the Machines") breathe new life into an old franchise with vibrantly original looking animation, a funky, propulsive synth score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and a script by Rowe, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit that emphasizes hormonal and societal teenaged awkwardness.  These turtles look like hand drawn Claymation figures, their bright eyes popping behind character-defining color-coded masks, set against a city fashioned as modernist watercolor adorned with bursts of graffiti squiggle designating sound and motion.  The animation is so beautifully detailed, their human pal April’s (voice of Ayo Edebiri) satin jacket shows fraying at the cuffs.

A flashback shows the horrors Splinter faced when he attempted to bring his four young wards above ground to see the sights of Times Square.  After they all escaped death, the turtles’ childhood was spent learning swordplay and martial arts from Splinter, their trips outside the sewer now relegated to nighttime jaunts for the snack foods he loves (they, of course, prefer pizza).  When they dawdle to catch a Central Park outdoor screening of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Splinter grounds them for a month.

The quartet gets a breath of fresh air on a rooftop, but when an errant ninja star embeds in a girl’s moped helmet, they try to alert her to her ride being stolen from behind as she’s telling them off.  One turtle wants to slink off, but another insists they must correct the situation they caused.  They’ll end up in a chop shop run by Super Fly’s human henchman where Rowe and Spears orchestrate a Rube Goldbergesque fight scene spiked with dynamic camerawork.  It is there that April O’Neil catches up to them and a truce of a misdeed repaid turns into a bond of complementary goals, teenaged April’s dream of becoming a journalist met with the outlandish story of mutant turtles desiring to become super heroes with a villain in their sites.  The turtles are also excited about April being in high school, a place they dream of going, but when they finally view the premises after hours, they’ll learn that April is as much an outcast as they are, having been dubbed ‘puke girl’ after a humiliating experience in front of the school’s in house news network cameras.

So, with April filming from a hidden location, the four turtles prepare to confront Super Fly (voice of Ice Cube), a Jerri curled jive talker, only to learn he and his minions (a rhino, gater, 'scumbug,' and more voiced by the likes of Rose Byrne, John Cena, Rogen and Hannibal Buress, with Paul Rudd’s googly-eyed Mondo Gecko a standout) are mutant outsiders just like them.  Only problem is, Fly wants to destroy humans instead of assimilate.  After an insane car chase that includes a 4 Non Blondes sing-along, Fly’s guys decide they prefer the turtle approach, but are all branded ‘monsters’ as they try to take on what is now Super Duper Fly, an amalgamation of creatures with a whale’s body making a Godzilla-like attack on NYC.  With the media getting it all wrong on Jumbotrons, April finds the courage to step in front of the cameras again to set things right.

The teenaged turtle vocal cast gives the stars a youthful spark Chan’s humorously fretful parenting cannot rein in.  Edebiri lends the right measure of skeptical acceptance while Fly’s mutants provide rambunctious chaos.  Maya Rudolph goes all Natasha Fatale as Cynthia Utrom, who makes Splinter’s seemingly cockamamied obsession about humans wanting to ‘milk’ them reality.

There have been many iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles over the decades.  This is the first one that’s jazzed me.  A sequel is already in the works and with this crew behind it, I’m all in.

Paramount Pictures opens "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" in theaters on 8/2/23.