Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem manifests a fresh variation on the pop culture phenomenon. Despite being the franchise’s third reboot, the turtles are still kicking. By now six full-length films have featured the heroes in a half shell. Though the bar each set may be debatable, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem clears any hurdle while climbing to heights all its own.
The film follows four teenage turtles, raised in seclusion by their overprotective surrogate parent turned martial arts teacher, Splinter. Living in the sewers beneath New York City, the young isolated ninjas long for nothing more than to have some kind of social interaction with the larger world. However, prior bad experiences have left them understandably warry of humanity. Yet, when a mysterious crime lord known only as Superfly arises, the turtles believe by being heroes they might earn the trust of the city that fears them.
Long-time fans of the franchise can expect familiar beats alongside some inventive takes which help the story feel fresh. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem alters established characters, changing them just enough they won’t seem predictable to TMNT enthusiasts while making them the movie’s own version. In other words, characters have familiar traits but personalities and appearances unique to this film.
A lot of these changes help develop individuals within the story as well as the plot. Not to mention make it more inclusive. I liked how Splinter’s protective inclinations resulted in the turtles’ ninja training, so they can better hide and protect themselves from humanity. It’s an example of how fresh spins on familiar faces result in more character depth and organic development. This keeps the story flowing at a pace preventing boredom. Add a playful sense of humor and the result is a delightfully unserious adventure with relatable genuine emotions and some satisfying messages.
The themes of isolation and longing to connect with a world that seems inches away will likely resonant with most post-quarantine kids. Whether intentional or not, there’s a metaphorically relatable element to the titular turtles secluded sewer dwelling and desire for human contact. But even without that connective context, audiences are bound to appreciate the overarching dilemma of wanting to belong somewhere. Plus, what it means to be a hero. As such, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem isn’t simply an origin story showcasing where the turtles came from, but more importantly, why they are the way they are.
That isn’t to say this is a heavy melodrama about the existential crisis of teens growing into individuals. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a goofy adventure. Cartoonish in ways clearly intended for kids, the movie is never so heavy it crushes the lighthearted vibe. But neither is it pandering gibberish that feels more like a toy commercial than an engaging narrative. This is an enjoyable comedy fit for families.
While the Spider-verse films clearly inspired the animation in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, the movie manages to go its own way. Director Jeff Rowe expressed a desire for this production to resemble sketches in a teen’s notebook, and in that respect, the latest TMNT succeeds. It’s rough without being amateurish and lively without being lifelike—exaggerated expressions, effects lines, pencil sketch impressionism.
Backgrounds and cityscapes are great at conveying atmosphere without drawing attention away from events. Meanwhile, action sequences allow for highly stylized martial arts mayhem without sacrificing the cartoon quality that keeps it far from feeling too gritty. Though not the first living comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem manages to stand alongside its influence not just shine in its shadow.
Cinematographer Kent Seki helps that achievement by employing clever camera choices. When things center on the teenage turtles, there’s a looser handheld quality to events on screen like teens filming with smartphones. However, serious matters get steady shots. These subtle touches aid the visual storytelling nicely.
Finally, though I’m not one to advocate for 3D, this is one of very few films I honestly thought gets something out of the gimmick. Though that said, the animation in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem will be just as dazzling in standard. Still, 3D is, in this one instance, worth the price.
These captivating visuals, however, wouldn’t mean much without a stellar voice cast. Each of the talents behind the turtles (Micah Abbey, Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, and Shamon Brown) makes them feel individuated. It’s more than just accessories and varied mask colors differentiating these characters. Leo, Don, Mike, and Raph all have distinct personalities and charms.
Ayo Edebiri may be better known for her role on The Bear, but her take on April O’Neil cements her as the character. Jackie Chan as Splinter is heartwarming even when silly. Yet, while no one does a bad job, it does seem like some talents, who only really deliver a line or two, were chosen more for marketing than contributions to the performances.
On that note, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also composed a bit of music for the movie, but nothing that stands out other than as background tones. While their compositions fit the mood, no one is going to remember those tunes. Still, there are some pleasing, albeit predictable, needle drops.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an exhaustingly long title for such a breezy film. Unique animation sets this movie apart from its predecessors, but so does a whimsical, relatable story. Yes, it employs a sprinkle of nostalgia, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem manages to be a film on its own. Whatever easter eggs may satisfy old fans, this movie can stand alone—nostalgia is just an extra bit of flavor not the whole meal.
In many ways, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem may be nothing new. Yet, it manages to feel fresh through impressive animation, quality comedic voice acting, and interesting new takes on familiar faces. Older fans may call it blasphemy, but this is the best TMNT film so far.