Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a brand-new entry and reboot of a franchise that existed before cell phones and the internet. What you may be surprised to know is that TMNT was NOT created in Japan. It is actually the product of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, two Americans. They weren’t professionals when they created TMNT, they were amateur nerds who wanted to write their own story. It’s an origin story I totally relate to.
TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is a refresh of the series without sacrificing the integrity and intent of the original series. Those of us who grew up on the cartoon know that there should be ooze, mutated animals, four teenage turtles and a giant rat. All of these elements are present yet different.
This time the TMNT are actual teenagers.
In the cartoons the TMNT called themselves “teenagers” but they were more like super athletic adults. They fought like veteran masters and made adult decisions with the exception of eating a copious amount of pizza.
The reboot doubles down on the teenage aspect and makes them actually behave like teenagers. They have hormones, develop crushes, have a desire to rebel, and think they’re invincible. They screw up and make mistakes caused by inexperience rather than skill. Whereas the original cartoon put level-headed teenagers in goofy situations. TMNT: Mutant Mayhem has them think and act like teenagers who are trying to figure out who they are.
Donatello plays video games and loves anime. Raphael still has a temper but it’s portrayed as teenage hormones rather than legit anger. Leonardo still plays the leader even though he’s unsure of his decisions, and Michelangelo is surprisingly not as loud or attention grabbing as he used to be. He’s the turtle that wants to be friends with everyone but isn’t the “party” dude like he was in the cartoons. He’s everyone’s friend.
April O’Neil is no longer a sexy adult in a yellow jumpsuit. Now she’s an awkward teenager who’s made friends with fellow outcasts. Which makes more sense considering how old the turtles are supposed to be.
Old TMNT villains come back but it’s not who you think it is.
If you had any of the TMNT toys, you’ll be happy to know that Wingnut, Leatherhead, Ghengis Frog, Bepop and Rocksteady all make an appearance. The villain however, is not who you’re expecting. No, it’s not that one either. Nope, still wrong because Baxter Stockman no longer turns into a fly.
TMNT: Mutant Mayhem introduces SuperFly as the new villain. Superfly was raised by Baxter Stockman and given ooze so he could mutate into humanoid form. Superfly is hilariously voiced by Ice Cube who manages to make the character both intimidating and humorous. Whenever he had to say certain words with an S or Z sound he would say, “Let’s get down to biz–Zzz-zzzz-ness,” which just sounds funny when combined with the character design, animation, and Ice Cube’s voice.
The creative team made the wise decision to save Shredder for a sequel. I know Shredder is an iconic TMNT villain but the focus on Superfly made more sense from a story perspective. I can’t go into too many details because of spoilers, but let’s just say that in a different life, Superfly and the turtles could have been friends. His inclusion drives home a theme of belonging that wouldn’t be possible with Shredder. I personally hope Superfly and Ice Cube come back because that character was a wonderfully fun addition.
Let’s talk about the TMNT: Mutant Mayhem art direction.
One of the main draws for me was the art style. Although you could compare it to Spider-man: Across the spider-verse, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem has a much more muted color palette of greys, greens, and oranges from the New York City streetlights. It has a gritty texture that is hand drawn and at times looks like claymation. The turtles are expressive, and the lighting can be very stark and industrial, just like the city itself. Everything has a hand drawn book that looks like it was ripped straight from a sketch pad rather than a 3d program.
The artwork reminds me of classic Nickelodeon cartoons like Ren & Stimpy, Rugrats, and even has a Tim Burtonesque exaggeration to the vehicles and machinery. It’s not clean like a Pixar movie but it’s also not as eye-dazzlingly stylish like Across the Spider-Verse. TMNT: Mutant Mayhem finds its own voice and sticks with it.
The art style of into the spider-verse: https://www.polygon.com/2018/12/11/18136056/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-movie-art-animation-style-visual-effects
Is TMNT: Mutant Mayhem any good?
The answer is a resounding YES!
TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is a cute coming of age movie that manages to find an audience with both children and adults. There is a decent amount of action mixed in with the funny antics of the turtles. They can be annoying, childish, immature, but that makes the turtles all the more endearing.
Personally, and I say this as someone who collected the action figures with my cousin and watched the show with my mom. I like this version of TMNT more than the original cartoon. Although I will always have a fondness for the original, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem actually manages to make the turtles teenagers without insulting the source material.
The story they chose was perfect for the reboot. I do not think this movie would have worked with Shredder, especially with it being an origin story of sorts. They kept the story simple but managed to hit an emotional beat they couldn’t have hit with Shredder or Krang as the main villain.
My only complaint was that Jackie Chan’s Splinter was under utilized. He appears throughout the film and has an important arc, but I can’t help but feel there could have been more dialogue for him.
I give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem 5 stars.