Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem – Cowabunga time!
Directed by Jeff Rowe
Voices by Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr, Nicholas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ice Cube, Jackie Chan
Animated films have become a shade stale in recent times. Outside of Pixar, most studios seemed to be churning out generic talking CG animal films which, with very few variations, seem to strive towards pushing photorealism with classic Pixar style further with every progressive film. Thanks to the waves made by a handful of films and cemented by 2018’s Spider-man: Into-the Spider-verse, more animated feature films seem to have been freed to take on a more stylised approach.
Jeff Rowe’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem picks up that baton and bolts. Mutant Mayhem has a visual funk that is gorgeously sketchy and raw, whilst elegantly polished with dynamic lighting and flashes of realism. Wasting little time, we get to meet mutants: Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael, who are living a life of strict isolation under their adoptive father, Splinter. Casting Jackie Chan as Splinter could be a stroke of genius.
This allows for a great dynamic mirroring the experience of immigrant or cultural outsider teens being guarded fiercely from assimilation by the alluring popular forces of the Western World. This is also challenged when the youngsters are pitted against the criminal known as Superfly, (Ice Cube) and when they finally meet a gang of other animal mutant hybrids, tempting them to attach themselves to those like them when the isolated sewer life offers little more than longing for belonging with humanity.
It’s a loud, fun, and fantastical time. Characters are asymmetrical and beautifully ugly, and there is a busy-ness to the designs which seems to draw most heavily from eighties and nineties toy designs aesthetics. The underground mutant world is clearly a punk mashup of dumpster diving and kit-bashing found objects from the leftovers of human society and it’s met with some wonderful editing choices and some great kinetic and comedic animation and editing, married with a pumping soundtrack bursting with classic hip hop tracks – which in itself is proof that writing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg completely understand and love many facets of the source materials.
Visuals aside, the biggest strength surely comes from choices with casting, and ensemble voice recording. The Turtles in this outing are voiced by Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr, Nicholas Cantu and Brady Noon, and it’s the first time they have sounded and felt like real teenagers. It’s obvious that the actors have been allowed to improvise, bounce off-of, and talk over each other during the recording process, and some of the funniest moments derive directly from recognition of real giddy teenage boy behaviour.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has had a strange journey: a dark and gritty indie comic book which was initially made to spoof Daredevil comics based on sketches which creators and friends Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were drawing to make each other laugh whilst living together. Within a short time-frame they had a hit comic which spawned a softened children’s cartoon which still stands as the world’s biggest selling ongoing toy line.
Since then, it seems like every subsequent generation with increasing frequency gets their own iteration made for them varying in tone and lore, and like anything from multi-generational pop culture, there’s always a lot of vitriol spat at each version from entitled fans who never seem to grasp that not everything is made from them. Surely this iteration will please the broadest possible audience, but who can say? Perhaps too contemporary and hyper for more stubborn oldest of film-goers, and perhaps slightly too loud and intense for very young kids, but for everyone in between, you could wager there’s something for most people to love here.