By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
In recent years, animation has grown exponentially in the estimations of the general public. What was initially and erroneously viewed as a kids-centric format has since become an incredibly popular approach to storytelling that has gripped audiences across the lifespan. As movies like this year’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse have proven, animation can be an excellent way to tell a gripping and emotionally riveting story.
Sony’s acclaimed Spider-Verse films have been a big part of the positive progress made on the perceptions of animation, and the effects of the groundbreaking success of those movies are seen clearly in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, the latest reimagining of the classic group of crime-fighting New York mutants. Co-written and produced by Seth Rogen, who also has a minor voice role as Bebop, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem follows the beloved sewer-dwelling turtles as actual teenagers, who are are desperate to be accepted by the human world, despite their father figure Splinter’s insistence that humans cannot be trusted. This desire to be accepted by humans sees the teenage mutants try and win popularity from the public by taking down a group of rogue mutants whose plan will see the elimination of humans altogether.
The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles focuses heavily on and excels in its exploration of the ‘Teenage’ part of these mutant ninja turtles. Unusually, the emphasis on the title characters being teenagers has been glossed over in the other theatrical adaptations of the turtles in a manner not dissimilar from how the Spider-Man movies until Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t really lean into the fact that Peter Parker is a teenager. In adopting a ‘coming-of-age’ approach to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, director Jeff Rowe and his team of screenwriters find their greatest success. The turtles talk, act, and feel like actual teenagers, which allows the film to have plenty of moments of heart and humor. Following the turtle teens, the film’s story is genuinely touching as the turtles’ quest to be liked and simply seen by the humans is as relatable as it is gripping. The last big screen iteration of these characters were the Michael Bay-produced films that, while fun and entertaining, didn’t have the same sort of heart that this new movie does. All of the characters have substantial arcs, even Splinter, the mutant rat father of the turtles. More broadly, the themes of the film, which relate to a sense of belonging and fitting in, are especially relatable for the kids, adolescents, and young adults that are the film’s target audience.
In addition to exploring the ‘Teenage’ part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the film focuses more on the ‘Mutant’ part of these characters and their story (this must be the first movie in history to feature the word ‘mutant’ twice in the title). This focus on mutants sees the film introduce a number of lesser known characters from TMNT lore. Shredder is the main enemy of the group, and while he is sure to come in sequels in the future (assuming they’re made), this story hones in on a largely novel assembly of faces, which helps to keep the proceedings fresh and new. Some of the standouts are Superfly (voiced by Ice Cube) and Mondo Gecko (voiced by Paul Rudd).
The animation of Mutant Mayhem is another highlight. It has a hand-drawn style that adds a homey, personal feel to the film as if it was sketched in a teenager’s art notebook. The visual approach to Mutant Mayhem is again reminiscent of the Spider-Verse movies in not aiming for exact realism, but, rather, a more stylized aesthetic. The key difference between the two, however, is that the Spider-Verse movies lean more into the abstract with their visuals, often foregoing traditional backgrounds and instead choosing to showcase bright and vibrant colors or flashing lights (much like a panel of a comic book would be). Mutant Mayhem’s visuals are more easily digestible, and land in a good middle ground that solidifies the uniqueness of the visuals without going too far in a certain direction.
Not only heavy on its ‘teenage’ and ‘mutant’ elements, Mutant Mayhem is also heavy on action. This proves entertaining in the first act but becomes tiresome as it goes along. Come the final battle, the action has scaled up to a place that feels a little too big, which, iin turn, impedes upon the more intimate feel of the film. That being said, the action is always done well, particularly with its integration of genuinely funny one-liners and some great voice acting throughout. Indeed, more generally, the film film excels with its humor. There’s a combination of pop culture relevant comedy alongside classic teenage jokes that make Mutant Mayhem a fun watch. If nothing else, this film is bound to keep audiences entertained throughout.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a fun, heartfelt, and faithful adaptation of the iconic pizza-loving, New York crime fighters. Fantastically and refreshingly touching upon the characters’ coming-of-age potential, the film stumbles with a little too much action and too much of a focus at times on the mutants (the fact that the word is in the title twice says it all). Nonetheless, the arcs of the teenagers are touching and relatable, which, coupled with beautiful animation and plenty of great humor, makes this a perfect summer movie for younger audiences.