‘TMNT: Mutant Mayhem’ continues lasting legacy of Turtle Power9/6/2023
Based on the 1984 comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the Ninja Turtles were originally meant as a spoof of other superheroes. Rather than flying gods in tights, these were sewer-dwelling reptiles mutated into anthropomorphic crime-fighters under the paternal guidance of Master Splinter, a mutated rat who learned the ways of ninjitsu from Hamato Yoshi.
However, it wasn’t until the animated TV series “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1987-1996) that the characters came into mainstream living rooms and became household names.
The latest revamp of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise keeps the story simple: The turtles are rebelling against the overprotective love of their humanoid-rat father figure, Master Splinter (Jackie Chan), while also attempting to win the approval of the human world. “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem” is a surprisingly sweet, heartfelt and earnest film that explores something that other iterations have only briefly touched on: what it feels like to be a teenager, let alone one who must be afraid of what the rest of the world thinks of you.
The plot focuses on the turtles and their interactions, maintaining a light-hearted tone and capturing the essence of the 1990s animated series. Additionally, the well-timed humor adds in plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that both children and adults will appreciate.
The film has a rough, unpolished look that is gloriously chaotic: a scratchy, glitchy, scrawling onslaught that maintains a pleasing messiness to it all. The animation style intentionally looked less than perfect and would remind audiences of their own doodles they might have done in a notebook while listening to a boring class lecture in high school. The animation really came alive during the inventive and energetic fight sequences that are matched by the jostling, overlapping voice performances.
You can tell when actors are having a ton of fun with the material, and it shone through in every frame of this movie. Each voice of Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), Donatello (Micah Abbey) and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) are perfect. Raphael’s sass, Michelangelo’s goofy charm, Leonardo’s leadership and Donatello’s geeky enthusiasm create a perfect blend of chemistry that drives the story forward.
It’s not totally a spoiler to say that it’s mutants behind the crimes, but this is where the new TMNT truly shines: embracing the weirdo offshoot characters from the old TMNT days that mainly showed up as toys — characters like cyborg alligator Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), über-1990s skateboarding lizard Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd), the bizarre Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress), the impossibly land-based stingray Ray Filet (Post Malone) and the inimitably strange bat Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou), among others.
Ice Cube’s Superfly was another piece of superb casting, seamlessly blending charisma, humor and menace to create a new villain worthy of our attention. He also drops the perfect one-liner whenever you kick in the door (shout out to Ice-T).
This was further helped by a frankly amazing soundtrack. The nostalgic 1980s and 1990s hip-hop is a perfect mix of tunes to get you hyped. Like the feeling you might have gotten while playing (and listening to) Tony Hawk Pro Skater, the playlist is an inspiring collection of east coast hip-hop — it has that same energy and spirit.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is a triumphant ode to the enduring legacy of these heroes in a half shell (“Turtle Power!”). With its captivating storytelling, well-developed characters, stunning visuals and a seamless blend of nostalgia and innovation, the film stands as a testament to the turtles’ timeless appeal.