Review: The New Animated ‘TMNT: Mutant Mayhem’ Movie is Fantastic

by Alex Billington
August 4, 2023

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Review

Cowabunga!! What a year for groundbreaking animation. Not only is there already Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (read my full review) breaking box office records, pushing the boundaries of storytelling again with psychedelic and mind-blowing visuals – but we also have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, which is just as mesmerizing and entertaining to watch. Ever since Sony’s Into the Spider-Verse changed the animation industry forever in 2018, every animation studio has been rethinking how they make movies and what they look like. It’s time to rethink the style in order to craft edgier, more dynamic visuals. DreamWorks Animation has been trying something new with the look of their latest hits including The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. However, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is the first big movie since Into / Across the Spider-Verse to live up to the potential of what’s possible with animation when you really think outside-the-box with regards to visual storytelling. To sum it up: this movie kicks butt! The Turtles are back.

One key reminder which I shouldn’t have to reiterate, but I will anyway: animation is not just for kids. It’s a storytelling technique, it’s a visual style, it’s an art form that any filmmaker can utilize. It’s not just a genre, and animated movies aren’t only for children. Any of any age can enjoy animated movies made for everyone.

Like many geeky kids in America, I grew up loving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m a huge fan of both original live action movies – Steve Barron’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Michael Pressman’s campier sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991). I had the toys (including the Pizza Van that shot out plastic pizzas), watched the cartoons, had the t-shirts, and my grandma once made hand-sewn homemade Halloween costumes for my brother & me to dress up as Turtles. As much as I loved them, I fell out of love with the Turtles over the years growing up. Then they tried to bring them back to the big screen – starting with the 3D CGI animated film TMNT in 2007, a hybrid-live action film in 2014 and the sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. None of these were that memorable. While everyone should already knows this, the TMNT were originally created for a comic book by the artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It’s quite nice to seem them finally embrace that origin story and give Mutant Mayhem a comic book look with sketch lines and pencil marks visible all over the animated footage.

This movie, directed by Jeff Rowe, and co-directed by Kyler Spears, is a Nickelodeon Animation Studios production at Paramount. Somehow the creative team convinced the studio to let them do something new and the result is awesome. This is one of the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies ever made, living up to the excellence of the original 1990 live-action movie, introducing us to yet another beautifully distinct animation style. I also love what they did with the characters. Similar to how Marvel gave us an actual high school Peter Parker with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Mutant Mayhem give us actual teenage Turtles. The voice cast they chose for this is perfect: Micah Abbey as Donatello, Shamon Brown Jr. as Michelangelo, Nicolas Cantu as Leonardo, and Brady Noon as Raphael. These four really sound and act and vibe like teens, and it makes a huge difference in carrying this story. Mutant Mayhem builds upon the idea that these boys are different, thy don’t fit in, and they want to be a part of the world they’re not allowed to be a part of – the human world. So they hatch up a half-baked plan to become “heroes” so everyone likes & accepts them.

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Review

It’s clear as day that Mutant Mayhem wouldn’t exist without Into the Spider-Verse, and the connection is obvious. Starting with the glitching logos at the beginning, continuing with the comic book-y art style, along with everything else about it. And that’s totally okay! Rowe and Spears, and all of the animators/artists that worked on this, are not at all ashamed about admitting and borrowing from Into / Across the Spider-Verse, allowing this inspiration to enhance what they’re trying to do – which is reinvent the Turtles and, hopefully, give us a rocking new TMNT movie that captures the spirit of the original comic book characters. They have certainly done just that. Chris Miller, one half of the Lord/Miller duo that produced & created the Spider-Verse movies, took to Twitter to add his $0.02 to the conversation and give this movie the stamp of approval continuing the trend they started. He reiterates it’s the studios that have been preventing animation styles from evolving. “The Spider-Verse films were an attempt to show the breadth of visual possibility in a major studio release,” Miller says. “This year has been a bonanza of animated films with distinct, interesting looks. #TMNTMovie pushes theirs farther than most. It’s a bold bet that should be rewarded.” I agree completely.

While I enjoy Mutant Mayhem immensely, it’s not without a few problems, knocking just a half point off of my rating. It’s greatest issues lie in the absurdity of its fun-yet-bonkers screenplay (written by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg & Jeff Rowe and Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit). Most of the story is clever until they veer off course and drift into wonky “why not?” territory with the Superfly villain turning into a mega-monster kaiju. The storyline with April O’Neil also needs some work. She’s an important part of the movie, and has always been an important part of Turtles lore, however her plot in this one felt a bit unauthentic. It feels like the filmmakers were forced to work in her whole “young journalist” plot, rehashing the unexciting concept of her using the story of the Turtles to get her big break. But she’s as young as the teenage Turtles, too. It’s not her time yet, and it doesn’t seem to work well, with all of her social media-ing and puking feeling like they just had to add it in so younger viewers might have something to connect with. All that said, these are minor complaints in the grand schemes of things. And I chuckled at the Superfly finale, wondering if this is a fun nod to the gigantic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man finale in the original Ghostbusters – also a NYC movie.

As a life-long TMNT fan, Mutant Mayhem is the triumphant Turtles return I have been waiting to see for a long time. They got me all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia again. It may have taken an extra 30 years since Secret of the Ooze for them to find the right formula to make the Turtles kick butt on screen again, but I’m glad they found it eventually. I was happy laughing throughout the entire movie at so many of the jokes and the camaraderie between the four Turtles. It’s so clear the filmmakers love them as much as everyone else who grew up with them. Their boundless creativity and ingenuity is worked into every frame, much like the two Spider-Verse movies, and there’s so many Easter Eggs and details to pick up on with repeat viewings. The Hip Hop soundtrack is totally rad, complimented by the groovy Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross score (they got these two guys to score it?! So cool!!). It’s so much fun that anyone will enjoy it – adults and kids and teens and maybe even grandparents. And yes there’s plenty of pizza, always pizza. When the Pizza Van shows up, I knew this was in the right hands. More outstandingly distinct animated movies like this, please.

Alex’s Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing

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