Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
The pizza-loving, bar-grinding turtles have had a rough time over the last two decades. The 2014 and 2017 live-action movies have Michael Bay’s singed fingerprints all over them, despite him only being a producer. In both instances, the heroes in a half-shell were less like carefree teenagers and more like four giant hulks roaming around New York City. One of them even picks up and throws an entire shipping container at one point! It feels like the multiple attempts to bring TMNT into the modern day have focused too much on the mutant ninja side and not enough on the teen aspect of their characters – until Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg & Jeff Rowe came along.
Boasting a cast of actual teenagers (finally!), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem feels like flicking through a 15-year-old’s sketchbook and Spotify playlist (in the best of ways). There’s a wonderfully imaginative concept art/Claymation hybrid style that feels fresh and gorgeous – it’s the same feeling many felt when watching Into the Spider-Verse for the first time. There’s a deceptive simplicity to every frame of Mutant Mayhem, where every inch of the screen feels like it’s just been finished, and yet when you look closely, there are so many tiny hand-crafted details from scribbles around twinkling lights to chaotically shaking movement lines. It feels like the best possible homage to the Turtles’ comic-book roots.
The quartet of Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu and Brady Noon as the heroes in their half shelves have such potent chemistry you’d think the producers had walked into classrooms all over the US and just started recording whatever they heard. There’s a remarkable naturalism to how each of them speaks, trading quips about Attack on Titan, who’s the GOAT, who’s rizzing up and failing to rizz. This dialogue likely made many people nervous on the page – ‘what if this just falls flat?’ – but each teen’s delivery completely sells you on every word that comes out of their mouths. Nicolas Cantu especially shines as a comedic diamond, dazzling all the way through – his bashful repartee with Ayo Edebiri’s April O’Neill creates a white-hot supernova of comedic hilarity that feels effortlessly funny.
It helps that the film has one of the most head-bopping, foot-stomping soundtracks you’ll hear all year, thanks to the dual wonder of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, and a soundtrack filled to the brim with hip-hop classics from A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Vanilla Ice, Dr. DRE and so many more. This musical symphony of hip-hop classics and Reznor & Ross’ electronic-infused jazz beats create this bridge between the TMNT of the ’90s and that of the modern day.
It’s no surprise that Rogan and Goldberg deliver another project that feels entirely switched on to the current zeitgeist, but it’s Jeff Rowe’s guiding light that cements this as one of the year’s best family films. That familiar entanglement of family, love and relationships found in Mitchells vs. the Machines fuels the engine of Mutant Mayhem. Jackie Chan’s sweet-but-overbearing Splinter fears losing the only thing he cares about, his boys – meanwhile, the boys have become impossibly restless, desperate to learn about the monolithic world above their heads. It’s a classic conundrum that arises in every parent-kid relationship and plays out wonderfully here.
A fundamental quest for acceptance drives every character’s arc – for the Turtles, it’s to be accepted by the human world beyond their appearance; for April, it’s to redefine herself beyond her tragic ‘April O’Puke’ incident; for many of the mutants we encounter like Bebop, Rocksteady, Mondo Gecko, they all simply want to be able to find a corner of the world which they can make their own. These are also intimately human needs, which makes every character we encounter in Mutant Mayhem so compelling, no matter the age, gender, or species.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is undoubtedly one of the best animated films of the year, but honestly? It’s one of the best films of the year, period. It’s effortlessly funny with a wonderfully imaginative art style that raises the animated bar again, reflecting its work-in-progress coming-of-age heart. Also, let’s put Ayo Edebiri in everything from now on.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is undoubtedly one of the year’s best animated films, but honestly? It’s one of the best films of the year, period. It’s effortlessly funny with a wonderfully imaginative art style that raises the animated bar again, reflecting its work-in-progress coming-of-age heart.