First off, the animation of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ is just exquisite. Reading up on it, the creators were going for a more exaggerated design and wanted it to feel like a comic book, taking its inspiration from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.’ They wanted the film to feel like a sketchbook of a teenager and it works. The colors are vibrant and rich even if most of the film is situated at night and in dark, cramp spaces (like the sewers where the ninja turtles live). The motion is smooth and looks really good when the turtles start their ninja moves and acrobatics. It’s a visual feast that’s very gothic in a neon urban cityscape type of setting.
It matches the new tone and approach that director Jeff Rowe and producer (and co-scriptwriter) Seth Rogen takes for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For this movie, they put in full focus the fact that the turtles are teenagers. They look, talk, think, and act like teenagers. They’ve even played a bit with the history, telling the story all over again to be able to reimagine the turtles and their adopted father Splinter, who has become a recluse that is scared of humans and the outside world. It’s the perfect set up for a story that has shades of teen rebellion from a restrictive parental figure and discrimination for just being different (in this case, though, they are mutants and so the discrimination is believable and fair).
The film has a very youthful energy and is probably the most GenZ story and script I’ve ever come across. The language, the humour, the storytelling, they are all so akin to the distracted, self-proclaimed low attention span of the youth today. The plot moves along at breakneck speeds and never lingers, though it hits home when it has to. It never lets a story beat settle and build but rather hammers it in with a punchline or a visual snap.
‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ finds the ninja turtles – Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo – as well-trained ninjas that are living in the sewers of New York. Trained by their father figure Splinter, a mutant rat, so that they can hide from the world and never interact with humans, as teenagers, they are starting to dream and wish to be a part of the bigger world that they can only watch from a distance. It’s the nature of being a teenager to want to know their place in the world and, like any teens, they start sneaking out and disobeying Splinter’s orders to just have a taste of it.
When they are discovered by April O’Neil, a high schooler who has dreams of becoming a reporter, her kindness to the turtles inspires a plan. The ninja turtles plan to capture the criminal mastermind Superfly so that they can be regarded as heroes, and they can go out into society and even go to high school.
Except, Superfly, is a mutant and he has a whole band of mutants with him, and this complicates the story even further as the corporation that created the mutants in the first place is also after Superfly.
Aside from being action-packed and extremely funny, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ is also unpredictable and manages to bring the story in places I wasn’t expecting it to. What I appreciated most about the film is how – despite the foundations of any good versus evil comic book narrative that it initially takes – is that it manages to pull back, switch directions and realigns itself with its core message about family, about discrimination, and about what it really means when one decides to be a hero.
For all of its great visuals, comedy, and action, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ is more than anything a coming-of-age story dressed up as an origin story as well. By focusing on the fact that they are teens rather than that they are mutants, which is important, or ninjas, which is just silly, the film finds a tone that it can operate on in a very comfortable level. It can get wacky, zany, and even grotesque and never loses its emotional punch.
The voice acting is incredible with actual teens and kids voicing the four turtles: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr, Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon. The youthfulness really sells it and then they are supported by the likes of Aya Edibiri (as April), Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogen, John Cena, Rose Byrne, Ice Cube, Paul Rudd, and an inspired choice of casting Jackie Chan as Splinter. Splinter even gets a whole fight sequence that is inspired by some of Jackie Chan’s own stunts from his old movies.
Highly irreverent, wonderfully youthful and energetic, and surprisingly touching, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ was a huge surprise for me and I enjoyed every moment of it.