The world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles changes drastically for each generation.
As soon as the 1987 cartoon went “Kid friendly”, directly opposing the dark and gritty comic version found in the early Mirage comics. After that tonal shift, I firmly believe that no one should get mad at any Ninja Turtles project for being different. And that’s exactly part of what makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem so exciting. It wants to be different. It wants to separate itself from what came before it, while still staying true to the lore of the TMNT Universe.
I loved this movie. Let’s just get that out of the way. I absolutely loved it. No notes, just hopes for the sequel.
The film is gorgeous. With every animated movie I ask the same question. “Why is this animated?” And “Could this be done in live action?” I’m happy to report that this wouldn’t be possible in live action. Or in CGI. The way the world moves adds a layer of excitement to the world that only animation could bring to life. The lights are active. The walls have seen decades of wear. The turtles move through the city that seemingly moves with them. Nothing is a straight line. Explosions show scribble marks layered over layers of paint strokes because this feels like an art project. I felt the inspiration taken from Peanuts comics,Rocco’s Modern Life, and Van Gough Paintings.
The movie will get comparisons to the “Spider-Man: In to/Across the Spiderverse” franchise, but I don’t know if Mutant Mayhem would exist without it. But where the experimental animation gets it’s rightful homage, “Mutant Mayhem” turns into it’s own imperfections head on. The Spiderverse movies are gorgeous, and look to be taken right from the comics. Where Spiderverse feels like a punk-rock world of comics come to life, Mutant Mayhem takes a more “Industrial Thrash Metal Hip Hop” feel and cranks it to an unapologetic level. “Spiderverse” feels like Descendents and Post Malone, where Mutant Mayhem feels like Run the Jewels and Nine Inch Nails.
I’m saying this as the biggest compliment I can- this movie is dirty. It’s bright and colorful, but somehow it’s just as gritty as the comic. It’s no wonder the score is done by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The music adds an intensity to the action scenes and a nostalgic tone to the family scenes that stands out from most other animated films. Licensed music was rare and always appropriate. “Needle Drop” moments were rare, if any. I stayed in this world the entire time, thanks to the score.
I’ve followed lead character designer Woodrow White for a while. Some of his paintings showcase iconic characters with exaggerated, outlandish features that are somehow instantly recognizable. His style is all over this movie. He doesn’t shy away from imperfections, and the characters here are weird. The citizens here are lumpy. The characters show off tiny legs, huge snouts, and oblong heads that shouldn’t make sense, yet isn’t questioned once. The turtles each have their own shape that makes them identifiable, even without bandanas. Each Mutanimal is so interesting that you want to see more from each of them. They have details that explain their character a bit more. And each one has something that adds to their backstory, or highlights the joke. Living in New York is weird and every character here highlights how unique this city is.
The story itself is a new one, even featuring a new villain, Superfly (Voiced by Ice Cube). Superfly wants to mutate the world’s animals and destroy humans. I get that. The story is about two theories on acceptance, and how to take rejection. While Leo’s story shows him trying to find his path as a leader, the overarching theme is figuring out how to navigate rejection and finding your “tribe.” How can you find people who think like you while still being yourself? How do you handle it when the people you seek acceptance from reject you? Superfly is a definite threat to the city and to the turtles. There is a sense of danger around him which raises the stakes and the tension at every scene.
The movie did a first for the franchise. It finally explored the first “T” in TMNT. It cast real teenagers as the lead roles and each of them leans into each one’s personality. I think it’s been the missing element for the franchise. Plenary of scenes show the brothers doing what young brothers would do. They instigate each other, they talk over each other. They argue and cheer each other on. This is a world where they’re not only familiar with Adele and Batman, but love them as well. Even the story has elements that are unique to the high school experience. It’s never been done in the franchise and it immediately set this apart from the rest of what has come before it.
April and Splinter are huge standouts. These versions are wildly different from the versions that came before it in personality, but not in essence. Splinter is a fantastic single father who clearly just wants what’s best for his boys. April still wants to be a reporter, but a certain on camera ailment is preventing her from fulfilling her dreams. Both are hilarious and awesome counterparts to the turtles.
The villains in this, or as I’ve been calling them, the “Mutanimals”, are so great. They absolutely didn’t hold back, but there are still some characters who have room to make an appearance. Each voice actor understood the assignment and while each steals the show in their own way, no one overstayed the welcome. The cast was perfect and just made me want to know more about each. I want to see more of their dynamic. I’m excited to see where everyone is at in the sequel.
The movie does it’s own thing. It feels like the biggest inspiration for Mutant Mayhem comes from from the Toy line.
This felt like playing with your action figures after a trip to the toy store. The way the characters interact was loose and natural. Nothing felt manufactured.Again, nothing felt toned down. There were actual threats, not just “ways to feature the turtles”. And there was a lot of weirdness. This is also one of the first films to get into even more weirdness, not just the idea that the Turtles are weird. Everyone here is weird. Even Puke Girl.
Given that this is a reboot of a beloved franchise, I expect certain people to look for things to dislike about the movie because it’s “Not what they grew up with.” The thing is, I don’t care. And I don’t think anyone out there does. No one cares what your version of April looks like, how much you wish the 90’s TMNT would be remade, or how badly you want an “adult” Ninja Turtles. This version is different, and stands on it’s own as a great new addition to the franchise.
Like with any good comic or movie, this one left a ton of open ended questions begging to be answered in the sequel. Thanks to an enticing mid-credits scene, we can already guess what direction we’re headed with the next installment. But whoever the main villain is, or what ever threat is trying to milk them, these teenagers will have their brothers, and the city of New York, at their disposal.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Franchise has needed a lift recently. It seems that while toy lines and video games are capitalizing on the nostalgia the TMNT bring for certain fans, TV shows and movies are struggling to find a new audience. Being in a theater and head excited kids laughing, cheering, and getting excited when the Turtles were on screen gives me hope that the movie will do what it needs to and bring in fans. It’s interesting that the movie is going to be labeled as “made for kids” but doesn’t feel like it. Nothing feels dumbed down, it just doesn’t feel overly bloody or graphic. Nothing made me think “this is for kids” and I wholly appreciate that.
I obviously love the franchise, and Mutant Mayhem made me hopeful for what’s to come. I have a ton of questions, but i only want 1 answer…What do I have to do to voice a character in the sequel?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is in theaters August 2. Go see it. It’s a welcome addition to the franchise, and the next mutation is looking great.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem hits theaters August 2. Grab your tickets now!