The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has always been a consistent franchise, despite how much of it seemed rooted in the edginess and California surfer vibe of the 80s. It’s continued onward in various movies and cartoons over the decades. While the films always seemed to favor a grittier PG-13 vibe compared to the slapstick eccentricities of the cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem fuses those two tones into a surprisingly sublime mix.
Same Old Turtles
While some modern changes undoubtedly exist, the central characters’ personalities haven’t diverged much. We get the familiar origins of the turtles being mutated by ooze and being taught ninjitsu by their master Splinter (Jackie Chan), a mutated rat. They all have their quirks and strengths, ranging from Leonardo’s leadership to Raphael’s penchant for aggression.
The most significant divergence is that these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feel more like teenagers. They have young voices, teenage mannerisms, and a strong desire to attend high school for the authentic experience. They’re also far more reckless with their actions, where an errand to the store quickly takes a detour for a movie in the park.
The Many Mutants In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
The desire for acceptance remains a firm goal for the Turtles. So when they run across the villain Superfly (Ice Cube) and his army of similar mutants, there’s a kinship found in their plight. Unlike Splinter, Superfly wants to remain above ground and unafraid of humans. He also wants to enslave humanity, so that’s a big dealbreaker in this proposed brotherhood.
Turtles fans may get a kick out of just how many familiar mutants make up Superfly’s posse — the likes of Bebop, Rocksteady, Mondo Gecko, Leatherhead, and more crowd the screen. They’re fun in their fight for screen time but crowd the screen. There’s almost too much mutant mayhem that it drowns out the more unique aspects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.
The Human Element
The overarching plot finds mankind’s tampering and questions why humanity should continue. Naturally, the Turtles find a great reason not to go evil in the form of April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri). She’s posed in this version as a teenage outcast who might someday become a journalist. Like the Turtles, she has hurdles to leap to find acceptance.
While the Turtles feeling like guests on New York City streets was always a constant of the franchise, there’s not as much time for it here. It’s a concerning aspect, considering Splinter’s paranoia and the Turtles being thirsty for adventure drives this entire story.
Amazing Style of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Thankfully, the theatrics of this film are a significant draw and save this plot from becoming mundane. The CGI mixes scribble lines and graffiti-style shapes to create a gnarly style that feels straight out of a 1980s comic book. This style gives Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem its own unique flavor and makes it far easier to tell the four heroes apart besides the colors.
Something worth noting is that the editing is surprisingly creative and compelling. One fantastic sequence cuts together several raids performed by the Turtles on criminal establishments. It’s even got some shades of Oldboy with the framing.
The soundtrack matches the urban framing with a strong dose of assorted rap music. But the best thing about the film is the score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Their moody and driving mix of intense synth is about as stellar as any previous Reznor + Ross collaboration.
The Gross and Goofy
For updating the Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem certainly does embody the vibe of a Nickelodeon movie. Jokes about puking, nipples, and getting pierced with weapons are all present, with gag reflexes kicking in. It feels fitting that Nickelodeon, a kid channel known for its penchant for slime, would favor the grotesque nature of vomit spewing forth.
For longtime TMNT fans, this might be a hard sell if the rose-colored glasses have distorted the past. While the banter does draw out a bit long here and there, the spirit of the characters is still there. The running joke about the Turtles not having nipples also has a solid punchline.
Conclusion: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem doesn’t reinvent the wheel of Ninja Turtles, but it does its best to stick out as a stronger TMNT film than the previous pictures. It moves fast enough, has a great vibe, and respects much of what makes the Ninja Turtles so much fun. More importantly, it doesn’t feel like repeating the past or trying too hard to modernize.
It will also be a big draw for feeling more like a family film and less like a Michael Bay-coated take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. That alone will get the millennial parents out to the theater with their kids to gush about Turtle Power! Thankfully, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem has enough cleverness with the material, so the all-ages appeal doesn’t just mean a PG rating. It’s a light and fun return for the foursome in animated form.
Did you see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem? How was it when compared to the TV cartoons? How about that live-action movies? Let us know in the comments below.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is currently playing in theaters everywhere.