At last, we’ve reached the Turtles’ latest feature film—Mutant Mayhem! I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for so long. Ever since the first images of the movie came out, with that crazy new art style, I have been beyond stoked for this film. For the first time, the Turtles really feel like teenagers! They’re definitely mutants, but are they still ninjas? Let’s find out!
Speaking of the art style, let’s just say this: I know it’s not for everyone. I totally dig this style, though. It has a very hand-drawn look to it, everything looking like it’s made with colored pencils and markers. Clouds of smoke, electricity, and blaster effects all appear as if they were scribbled in with crayon. I know that doesn’t sound impressive, but trust me, it gives the movie some really dynamic animation.
The character designs are the real highlight. Each of the mutants, and there are a ton of them here, have such unique looks to them, while still being instantly recognizable. Their builds are so distinct from one another that they all stand out, leaving the turtles almost to be the blandest of the bunch. Of course, they need to have that trademark look, and that’s not to say they’re boring. The Turtles all have their own look between different sizes, colors, and clothing…? The masks and belts, whatever you’d call them.
Unfortunately, it means the designers weren’t able to have as much fun with their looks. Of course, we can’t ignore April’s new look. I know people will not like that she’s not a thin adult redhead, but I have no problem with her new look. I like the fact that she’s so close in appearance to her depiction in Rise of the TMNT design.
To be expected, the looks aren’t the only changes to the Turtles. Every iteration in TMNT’s history has always made a few changes to their original; swapping Splinter’s original form from a human to a rat, changing the source of the ooze that mutated them, making them different species of turtles. Mutant Mayhem is no exception. This time, TCRI is still the company that produces the ooze, but this time it’s a concoction of Baxter Stockman’s, intentionally made to create mutants. Instead of Baxter turning into a fly himself, he creates the first mutant — Superfly. The rest of the mutants in the film besides Splinter and the Turtles are all his creations. I like the idea of making Stockman an employee of TCRI, and I can’t remember if that has ever been the case before.
Like always, the ooze makes its way into the sewers and mutates Splinter and the Turtles. Splinter in this continuity is just an ordinary New York rat this time. After a disastrous trip to the surface with the Turtles as babies, he teaches them ninjitsu from self-defense videos and somehow gets his hands on some actual weapons. He lets them go to the surface for shopping trips where they steal food from convenience stores but forbids them from any other contact with the human world. They stop to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in a park, and it’s great to see the turtles wishing they could be normal teenagers and go to high school, thinking all kids can take over parades.
In fact, the Turtles have never felt so young, and some of that comes from them being portrayed by actual teenagers, something writer Seth Rogen has made an integral part of promotion. And it works. They sound so young, particularly Donnie, whose voice is the highest pitch of the quartet. When they speak, they sound unsure and naïve. When they argue, it feels immature. When they think about being normal, they have that dreamy quality that youth gives us all. The cast also recorded a lot of their lines together, allowing for a lot of improvisation, which really comes across between the four Turtles.
They meet April after accidentally hitting her helmet with a throwing star, distracting her enough for someone to steal her scooter. They give chase, running into a chop shop full of unsavory individuals, and have their first fight. After a rocky start, they find their rhythm and kick some ass. The animation during the battle is fantastic, the action is quick-paced, and the humor is there through it all, yet not distracting. As a journalism student following the Superfly story, she’s instantly interested in the Turtles, and brings them to her high school, where their daydreams of being normal kids reach a high point. She shows them her leads in the Superfly story, which starts a great montage of the Turtles beating up criminals all across the city. They finally get a way to meet Superfly and his band of mutants.
I have to say; I love that Mutant Mayhem showcases not just the big-name mutants like Rocksteady and Bebop, but Mondo Gecko, Leatherface, Ray Filet, Wingnut, and Genghis Frog are all here. I would have preferred all the Punk Frogs to show up, but hey, there’s always the next movie. Even Scumbug makes an appearance. Originally accepting the Turtles into their group, Superfly turns on them after telling his plan. And it’s a doozy—turning every animal on Earth into a mutant, and unfortunately for the Turtles’ new friend, humanity’s got to go.
I won’t go anymore into the story, but I was extremely satisfied with the ending. It leaves the Turtles on the highest point they’ve ever been and teases something big for the next movie or the upcoming series coming out next year. I admit, I’m one of those people that gets all teary-eyed and lumpy-throated at the end of movies, particularly superhero and animated ones, and this one did not disappoint at all. The post credit scene, while not a surprise, had me yelling “Oh shit!” at the screen. In short, I loved the hell out of this movie.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything bad about the film. There are a couple of running jokes that fall a little flat for me. I’m not a music guy, so some of those references went over my head. While a lot of the casting was great, some of them were a miss—If I didn’t know Paul Rudd played Mondo Gecko going into the movie, I would have never guessed it was him. Seth Rogen as Bebop was pretty obvious, but I wouldn’t have guessed John Cena for Rocksteady either (playing his second Ninja Turtle role after Rise of the TMNT!). Jackie Chan as Splinter gets a lot of funny lines, but only sounds like him about half the time. And the anime and K-Pop references were hit and miss for me as well.
Overall, if this is the direction the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is going over the next few years, I’m completely happy with it. The art style and animation are all together new, taking some cues from the Spider-verse movies, but mostly doing stuff I’ve never seen before. The characters are great, the story tries out some exciting things, while keeping the story familiar enough, and I can’t wait to see more of it.
If you want to see more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle goodness, check out my blog, where I’m reviewing each cartoon series, from the original through Rise. If you want even more mutant mayhem, why not check out Old School Evil, my books inspired heavily by the original Turtles cartoon.