Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Mutant Mayhem

If Tom Cruise got rolled over by the Barbenheimer phenomenon, the heroes in half-shells never stood a chance.

The shunned, sewer-dwelling, mutant turtles must save New York City and the humans that detest them from other mutants born of the same ooze that created them.

It seems like every seven years or so, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie is made. They all stem from the original black and white comics, through the multiple kids cartoons, the 1990s trilogy of Jim Henson live-action adventures, through to an all animated feature in 2007 (that only starred Sir Patrick Stewart, Chris Evans, and Sarah Michelle Gellar among others!) and the ridiculed Michael Bay live action movies. Now, we have another fully animated story directed and co-written by Jeff Rowe, with Seth Rogen also writing, retelling the origin story of the most surreal franchise to become so popular.

Humanoid turtles, living in New York, who practice ninjutsu, named after Italian renaissance artists, who are also teenagers who enjoy pizza. Also aliens tend to show up.

Unfortunately, no matter how good this film might be… releasing the week after Barbie and Oppenheimer is disastrous. But how does it fair?

Emphasis on “Teenage” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Mutant Mayhem immediately takes from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in its art style, with a deliberately sketchy, rough animation style that continues the increasing trend of impressionism in Hollywood animation. Only Turtles is far, far darker. While Spider-Verse depicted a New York City that was bright and full of (comparable) optimism, this film depicts the city in almost perpetual night. It would, of course, given the nature of the turtles and their need to hide from humans.

But it is not simply visually dark, it is also quite monstrous in appearance. Ugly, but in a deliberate fashion. Even normal humans are designed in this way, making for the mutants to be almost nightmarish. You might want to watch the trailer before deciding if your very small child should see this film.

But it isn’t all bad. The animation style has a sort of clay-mation vibe to it; as if the characters have been moulded and sculpted. You could imagine seeing the animator’s fingerprints left behind on the turtles’ skin sometimes. It has a very tactile look, and during bigger action sequences, it all looks similar to stop-motion models.
Speaking of action, the film’s strongest point is its middle act, when the Turtles go out of their way to do good. There’s one particular sequence that is lifted straight from Oldboy (2003) which was delightful.

Ya bois are back!

There isn’t a huge amount negative to say about it. Ayo Edebiri brings a great new energy to the character of April O’Neil, and feels a lot more harmonious with the Turtles. There are some very funny “new” mutants (forgive me, there are a lot of characters in the franchise, “new” is most certainly incorrect) but Paul Rudd as Mondo Gecko is fantastic. Huge props not only to the line deliveries but the facial animations going with each of the characters; they are all very expressive.

It feels a little like Batman. How many of these have we had? And how radically different have they been (narratively, at the very least) This film starts poorly. It stumbles out of the gate with a confusing tension scene and results in the ooze falling into the sewers. The film also ends fairly averagely too, not to give spoilers for events.

It feels like a Turtles film that had all the right minds behind the wheel, though! Minds that were raised on the 1980s cartoon and beyond. Heck, some of the character designs are nearly 1:1 the 80s cartoon. So it would be very good to see this get a sequel with the same love and attention.

Ultimately, if your Turtles film is too dark for children, but also another origin story / underwhelming story the fans have seen dozens of times, why not go whole hog (no pun intended) and just throw everything at us. Space aliens. Robot Foot soldiers. Everything.

But in closing: please give us a sequel Paramount. Please.


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