While fans largely hated Michael Bay’s pair of live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, I personally thought the sequel was quite good, faithful, and probably should’ve been the first one. Believe it or not, that was SEVEN years ago already (!!!), and now Paramount/Nickelodeon, who have long since hitched their wagon to this franchise, have gone back to the drawing board with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, a complete reimagining of our favorite Heroes in a Half-Shell. With dynamic animation and humor that springs from the stoner mind of Seth Rogen, this is exactly the jump kick in the pants that TMNT needed.
The things you know and love about the Turtles are there: the brotherly love, the sibling rivalry, the pizza, the ninja action, the secret green ooze. But imagine all of that from the guy who gave us Pineapple Express and Sausage Party. The 41-year-old Rogen’s wit and perspective are all over this. You feel it in the classic hip-hop soundtrack featuring De La Soul, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and a killer fight montage backed by Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”
Rogen also isn’t afraid to update a few things. The Turtles (voiced by Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon) were discovered by rat father-figure Splinter (Jackie Chan, perfect use of Chan that pays homage to his legendary skills) swimming in a spill of green ooze. All of them are transformed, and Splinter takes them in as sons. But as they grow up, the Turtles: brave Leonardo, angry Raphael, resourceful Donatello, and charismatic youngster Michelangelo, want to be part of the human world, which Splinter mistrusts. While goofing around on the surface, they make a new human friend, April O’Neil (voiced by The Bear‘s Ayo Edibiri), an intelligent African-American teen who longs to be a journalist. Like the Turtles, she hopes that by breaking a big story that helps the city, people will learn to like her. That story she’s following is the criminal menace, Superfly, a mutant fly with a plan to destroy all of humanity.
Ice Cube voices Superfly, and it’s like they just told Cube to channel his old NWA days. The attitude and swagger are pure old school Ice Cube, and it’s hilarious as part of the TMNT universe. Cube steals the entire movie, droppin’ braggadocio verses on the Turtles as he beats them up. Joining Superfly are killer squad of fellow mutants, which briefly has the Turtles thinking they’ve found a place where they can be accepted. Rose Byrne voices the Aussie alligator Leatherhead, with Rogen and John Cena as Bebop and Rocksteady, Post Malone as the sing-songy Ray Fillet, Natasia Demetriou as mutant bat Wingnut, and Hannibal Buress as Genghis Frog, and Paul Rudd as the chill skater Mondo Gecko. With so many characters, we get to hear precious little of a few of them. Rogen and Cena, in particular, should’ve been given more of a spotlight considering their roles, but they barely register.
The animation takes some getting used to. The kinetic, exaggerated style has some figures looking deformed, but it all comes together and gives the Turtles a fresh, energetic look. Director Jeff Rowe captures much of the same magic that he found with The Mitchells vs. the Machines, delivering big action and brotherhood in equal measure.
Paramount has something special here with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, which is why they are already planning more adventures. While the tone and some of the jokes are geared towards people in Rogen’s age range, and thus suits people like me, some of it may fly over the heads of younger children. They won’t understand why it’s funny when “Go ninja go!” blasts over the radio. Even so, kids will still fall in love with the fun-loving, pizza-chomping, kick-throwing Turtles without ever having to shout a single “Cowabunga”!!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem hits theaters on August 2nd.