While I am not a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a whole, I have quite enjoyed the various pieces of media I have consumed over my life; episodes of TV shows, various video games, and even the original live-action films.
When the first trailer dropped, I was very much intrigued mainly due to the animation style, continuing the trend of 3D animated films that didn’t feel the need to be realistic to be appealing and weren’t afraid to be heavily styled. That, combined with some great-looking designs for the turtles (and a soft spot for producer Seth Rogan), got me excited, but I couldn’t help but also be concerned.
While the Turtles have had quite a long life as a franchise, they haven’t had much success in theatrical releases when it comes to critical reception. I might have an appreciation for the original 1990s live-action films for their wonky, yet practical effects and their campy one-liners, but they are not exactly what many would call quality cinema.
The same would go for 2007’s TMNT and far worse can be said for the second stab at live-action Turtles in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of The Shadows in 2014 and 2016 respectively which were both a disappointment visually and narrative-wise. Because of this, I was concerned, yet eagerly anticipating the release to finally see what Mutant Mayhem had in store.
After finally watching the film I would say that I liked it a lot. I thought it was both a very cute and sweet story with some fun characters and plot elements that made the hour and forty minutes fly by. It is funny, but also treats more serious moments with care and doesn’t give any tonal whiplash.
The animation was obviously inspired by Spider-verse, but is still unique and it’s own style. It has much more of a drawn aesthetic to it, especially when there is an explosion of other partial effects, and it gives the appearance of a crayon being drawn over it. It was honestly a bit shocking how unappealing and sometimes just ugly they make the human characters in this film especially since it is a family feature (with the only endearing human being April O’Neil making sense as she is both a main character and a child we are supposed to like and empathize with). It was also very darkly lit as most of the film took place overnight, another surprise for a children’s film, but helped suit the tone without going overboard and making it hard to make out what was happening.
I believe that all of the character designs for the main cast in this movie are great, some standouts being Splinter, Superfly, Mondo Gecko, and April, but none stand out more than the turtles themselves. Not many people know that when the first Turtles comic, which was originally a parody of Frank Miller’s Daredevil run, all of the turtles had the same bodies, skin color, and mask color, red, with the only thing setting them apart being their weapon of choice.
Early on it was changed so they would all have colors of their own and a belt with the first letter of their name on it but they were all still the same body. It’s only recently in series such as Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that there have been big changes in the size and shapes of the brothers.
It is through these years of change that we have arrived at what I believe to be the best designs for these characters to date. I love the designs for the turtles in this film as they all had different body types, skin colors, and various other features to both distinguish them from each other but also show their personality such as Ralph being buffer to show he is the muscle of the group, Donny having glasses to show he’s both more nerdy and introverted, Mike being the shortest and having a wider face to show he’s younger and more laid back, and Leo have the most basic features to show he lives more of the straight and narrow and is the most mature. Overall I love the character design and how grateful I am for the many years of progress it took us to get here.
The plot of Mutant Mayhem was exciting and well paced and the villains were a lot of fun. The relationships between the brothers was also very sweet and while there was a lot of comedy based around them not being the best fighters, they had their cool moments too that felt earned. All of the turtles look and act like teenagers which is strange and rare for this series even though it is in the name.
Splitter’s role is also shifted from less of a master and far more of a father figure, with the turtles even calling him “Dad”. The main emotional conflict of the film is the teens all wanting to live in the outside world while Splitter wants to stay underground to stay safe. The secondary conflict compliments this by having the other mutants wanting to take over the world by turning every other creature into a mutant and enslaving humans, as they can not be trusted. All of the characters’ motivations make sense and do a good job of telling the classic story of overprotective parents needing to let their children grow in a fun and fresh way.
Another major aspect of the film were the comedic elements as well as the ways they modernized the turtles and the world they lived in. I believe the film did a good job of incorporating modern slang and culture without it being too cringy, which is something I think is very rare.
It was definitely helped by the fact all of the teenage characters were voiced by teenagers and it was all phrased in a way I’ve heard people talk about. It’s still a bit goofy, but it makes sense with how much the turtles have learned how to speak from the internet. The comedy also worked well for the most part and though I believe the “milking” joke was used too much, that was the only time the humor fell flat for me.
The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the film was much better than I thought it would be. It suited the tone of the movie very well and has a retro video game aesthetic to it (the video games of the early 90s when the Ninja Turtles were at their peak). While listening to the tracks on their own I ended up loving the titles of them almost as much as the music itself, some in particular ones that made me laugh include “Murder The Shreks!”, “Eye Of The Tiger, Raph”, “What’s The Worst That Could Happen?” immediately followed by “The Worst That Could Happen”, “Better than Mark Ruffalo”and “Megamind, Gru-Type Sh*t”. At times it even reminded me of the Splatoon’s series of games style of music especially during the track “Goochie Goochie Goo” which is always a good thing.
As far as voicing, I think that the whole cast was great. I mentioned before that I greatly appreciated the fact the children were voiced by children, but many of the adults did very well. I thought that Ice Cube did a really good job of voice acting and his comedic timing was pretty good, especially for someone who is primarily known as a rapper. Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd were great as always too.
In all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutant Mayhem is a delightful, silly, and fun adventure. Aided by its excellent animation, loveable characters, funky tunes, and bitesize runtime by today’s standards, it brings a great time with these beloved characters that manage to feel modern and fresh. I am looking forward to a sequel and hope to see it soon.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutant Mayhem is currently available on digital platforms and still in theaters.