TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Director on Crafting Authentic Teens and Shredder Plans

Matt Fowler
Movies Comic-Con
Movies Comic-Con Comics Animation

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are reborn once more, in the eye-popping, star-studded animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, from The Mitchells vs. the Machines?co-writer / co-director?Jeff Rowe. This reboot of the classic subterranean heroes pits their? sheltered sibling lives against a mysterious mutants-only crime syndicate led by SuperFly, a new villain for the franchise (though some fans theorize he’s connected to buzzy scientist Baxter Stockman).

With Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as executive producers – and a voice cast featuring the likes of Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Ayo Edebiri, Giancarlo Esposito, Post Malone, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, John Cena, and Rogen himself – Mutant Mayhem is on track to be a hilarious, emotional adventure. One designed to bring a new generation of TMNT fans into the fold.

Fandom spoke to?Rowe (who serves as director and co-writer here) at San Diego Comic-Con about his love of the characters, his choice to cast actual teenagers for the voices of the turtles, and the possibility of seeing the Ninja Turtles’ most infamous baddie in the future.

Sounds Like Teen Spirit

For Jeff Rowe, there was an instant connection formed when he first laid eyes on the Ninja Turtle action figures as a kid. “I feel like my first memory must have been seeing a toy in a store,” he said, “and being like, ‘what is that? I have to have that. That’s so weird. It’s so funny. And what a crazy idea. Like, that’s silly. Do I love this now? Does this need to become my entire life?’”

“Those designs felt so loved by the people who made them,” Rowe remarked. “You felt them having fun creating it. I was just talking with [TMNT?co-creator] Kevin Eastman about that earlier today. Like, the vibe back when they were making the comic and making the early TV series. Just how everyone was trying to gross each other out and outdo each other and I felt that as a kid.”

This time around, crime-busting bros Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo sound decidedly younger than in other incarnations, truly leaning into the “teenage” aspect of their characters. Which is no surprise when you learn they’re voiced by actual teens – Nicolas Cantu (The Walking Dead: World Beyond), Brady Noon (Good Boys), Micah Abbey, and Shamon Brown Jr. (The Chi).

“I think it makes them more emotionally resonant,” Rowe said of the casting choice. “We were chasing authenticity and really making them feel like real teenagers and trying to give them teenage problems and emotions and ways of dealing with their issues.”

“It gives it a level of emotional grounding and relatability that hopefully the audience, more so than ever, is able to really connect with these characters.”

Even April O’Neil is a teenager this time around (though voiced by an adult, via The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri), which Rowe says “helps her become the fifth turtle” as far as the dynamic between the Ninja Turtles and their classic human ally.

“Sometimes it’s like, is she their mom? Is she their love interest? What is her relationship to the turtles? It’s oftentimes strange, but [by making her a teenager], you know she is really able to relate to them and be one of them and joke around with them and also, very importantly, be their portal to the human world.”

Ninja Raps and Shredder Attacks

While Mutant Mayhem is meant to open up a huge door for new fans, providing us with, in this timeline, the turtles’ first big adventure, there are still things for old fans to grasp onto (like the inclusion of Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” in one scene). But that doesn’t mean Rowe was coming at this project from a fan service perspective. That was a place they never wanted to start from.

“We weren’t going to do something just to do it because it would make people pause and clap for 10 seconds in the theater when it plays for the first time,” Rowe explained. “Because if you do that it’s fun on opening weekend but then it doesn’t become a lasting, enduring thing that invites a new generation of fans to be a part of it. So we found ways to organically honor the franchise and the history and bring those things in. But we always tried to start from a place of character, and helping audiences really love these characters the way I did when I was a kid.”

Not wanting to get ahead of himself, or spoil too much, Rowe did offer up a coy answer regarding whether or not we may get to see classic TMNT villain Shredder in a sequel. “You’re just going to have to watch the movie and find out,” Rowe said, before adding? “I think there will be a place for him soon.”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem opens August 2, 2023


Matt Fowler
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