Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles battle back to the big screen in style

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM (PG, 100 mins) Animation/Comedy/Action/Adventure/Fantasy. Featuring the voices of Micah Abbey, Nicolas Cantu, Shamon Brown Jr, Brady Noon, Jackie Chan, Ayo Edebiri, Ice Cube, Seth Rogen, John Cena, Rose Byrne, Hannibal Buress, Natasia Demetriou, Maya Rudolph, Giancarlo Esposito. Directors: Jeff Rowe, Kyler Spears.

Released: July 31

COWABUNGA! The bodacious, crime-fighting reptiles created by comic book artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984 somersault back on to the big screen in a gloriously irreverent animated adventure directed by Jeff Rowe and co-directed by Kyler Spears.

Crammed with pop culture references and affectionate nods to previous incarnations, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem follows the lead of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse by shunning pristine, photorealistic visuals to adopt a painterly style in keeping with the characters’ origins.

Five screenwriters, including Superbad double-act Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, have a blast peppering dialogue with name drops and quips, whether it be venerating Adele’s vocal abilities (“those notes were transcending”), rudely comparing the title characters to another misunderstood hero (“they look like little Shreks!”) or milking one running joke about turtle anatomy to the point of absurdity.

Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross intensify the kinetic energy of action sequences and provide a melancholic melody to represent the turtle brothers’ yearning to be accepted by humankind: “Maybe one day everyone will love us like they love Ferris Bueller”.

Rowe and Spears’s rumbustious picture, replete with an end credits tease of the series’ supervillain, shows plenty of love to the heroes in a half shell.

Turtle siblings Donatello (voiced by Micah Abbey), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr) and Raphael (Brady Noon) have been raised on pizza slices, ninjitsu lessons and kindness by their surrogate rat father Splinter (Jackie Chan) in the sewers of New York City.

The creatures were all infected by the luminescent ooze created by scientist Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) and have lingered in the shadows ever since, fearful of the cruelty of the world above.

“Humans are the demon scum of the Earth,” preaches Splinter.

The bodacious siblings hatch a hare-brained scheme to win human hearts by performing heroic deeds aided by new friend April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), a spunky high school student with dreams of becoming a reporter.

Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael pledge to help April get the scoop on criminal mastermind Superfly (Ice Cube), who has assembled a team of mutants including warthog Bebop (Seth Rogen), rhinoceros Rocksteady (John Cena), alligator Leatherhead (Rose Byrne) and bat Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou).

Best laid plans unravel and the turtles are targeted by shadowy syndicate leader Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph), who intends to weaponise ooze to the highest bidder.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a rollicking coming-of-age story which strikes a playful tone from the outset, melding that distinctive handmade aesthetic with impeccable 3D wizardry.

Vocal cast riff enthusiastically off each other, mining generous laughs without completely diminishing the seriousness of a mission to protect New York from a Godzilla-sized threat.

Skyscrapers tumble, the ground shakes and turtle shells crack, but Rowe and Spears’s film stands firm.