Cowabunga! The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are finally in a movie worth watching. As directed by Jeff Rowe and written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, their latest adventure has a distinct sugar rush vibe, which makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem feel like the comic books that captivated youngsters in the first place.
Unlike the bland denizens of most superhero flicks, these vigilantes are stuffed to the shell with raucous character traits, pizza and soda. The same kind of boundless energy we saw in Rowe’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines fuels the turtles’ heroic missions, and it usually ends with someone ordering fast food. These dudes are on a diet that would make most doctors faint, but thankfully they burn off those calories with karate lessons in their underground lair, where they hide out with a giant rat (Jackie Chan) who’s been looking out for them for years. He knows what the world would do to a bunch of talking turtles.
Still, teenagers Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Rapehael (Brady Noon) and Donatello (Micah Abbey) are determined to live up to their namesake by starting a renaissance. After watching a movie at their local drive-in, they try to become high school students above ground with the help of a human named April (Ayo Edibiri), who warns them of another mutant who plans to take over the world. Good thing these fast-talking, hilariously childish turtles are masters at fighting, since they are going to have their hands full with a menagerie of villains voiced by celebrity actors (Rogen, Paul Rudd and John Cena among them).
While the plot to save Earth is formulaic and excessively familiar, Rowe fills the space around his turtles with a feast of zany barbs, bonkers jokes and brazenly silly visuals that harken back to The Lego Movie, Into the Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs. The Machines. It’s a new wave of animation wherein different art styles are thrown into a blender to create a stunning mix of colors, tones, memes, pop culture references and childlike doodles that feels as spontaneous as it does thought out.
Mutant Mayhem isn’t trying to break new ground or deviate from this modern aesthetic, but rather, apply it to a franchise that has needed a retooling for decades. Both manic and magnificent, this latest installment finds a way to give newcomers a taste of what made the source material so special, while serving fans a side of nostalgia to go along with their fresh slice of “Za.” It’s a delicious (if overstuffed) meal for the senses.
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