“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is one of the latest animations with artistic styles similar to the Spider-Man Spiderverse series to hit theaters. The movie was a hit with the critics, which made me, and anyone else who’s been paying attention, hesitant to begin with. Usually, when the Rotten Tomato scores are that high that early, it means that disaster is on the way, with some woke agendas attached and in-your-face political mumbo-jumbo. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with the mutant ninja family that we’ve all grown to love.
As mentioned before, the art style was unique, even compared to the Spider-Man animations. It mixed 3D and 2D art styles to create something that had never really been seen before. In the Spider-Man movies, the animation leaned lightly on 2D but incorporated layered 3D to maintain a dynamic picture on the screen and avoid becoming completely stagnant. “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem” flipped things around. The animation prominently featured 2D elements, and the 3D layer was used more to suggest that the images on the screen could potentially burst into action. It was a spectacle to witness and intriguing to see the animation manipulated in that manner. At times, it proved distracting because certain parts of the screen teemed with characters in motion, while other areas remained still as if they were drawn in place. One instance that stood out to me was a scene where I found myself scrutinizing every hand-drawn light bulb in the film. I observed a clearly hand-drawn light bulb with lines sketched out beside it to create the illusion of light spreading. Simultaneously, that same light bulb emitted light in certain areas, which felt a bit peculiar and diverting. The positive news is that my boys (aged 12 and 6) remained entirely engaged and surprisingly stayed fixated on the screen. In conclusion, the presentation was impressive, and I attribute my slightly befuddled reaction to being an older individual experiencing something new for the first time, combined with my inclination to analyze movies from the outset.
The story itself was both good and meh for me. It was a movie that was clearly geared towards children. For those who’d like to argue, it wasn’t always aimed at the kids. TMNT’s conception was an extreme for those who don’t know the history. The OG TMNT’s would curse, make lewd comments, and had some questionable hobbies along with many, many other things. Not to mention they were definitely the real definition of teenagers at the time. Since the 80s, TMNT has jumped back and forth from being made for kids to “kids can watch, but we have some adult stuff in here too.” TMNT: Mutant Mayhem” made it clear from the start that this wasn’t going to be one of those movies. The tone was set that this was to be a silly, enjoyable, kids-related re-introduction to the TMNT family. All around, it didn’t disappoint. The adult in me wished there was more for me in it, but the Dad in me understood the assignment.
SPOILERS: As good of a story as it turned out to be, there were still a few things that didn’t quite sit well with me. I wasn’t sure who the main bad guy was in the movie. Maybe he was a one-off, or maybe I’ve just been out of touch with the Turtles for so long that this one is just lost on me. He reminded me of a classic character from the early cartoons, but I couldn’t put my finger on who. I know, however, that much like Superfly, the character wasn’t meant to be the leader of any group and was more of a henchman, like the familiar Bebop and Rocksteady. A creative choice, I assume, put in place to ease into the franchise that celebrated its success before the release of the film, with the announcement of a sequel and a television show to follow. Obviously, their hunch turned out to be correct, making this nothing more than an observation. Superfly set off a crime wave with the help of a behind-the-scenes woman who seems to have a severe case of TMJ. When the time for the final battle came, it was almost too soon and too easy. Most of the mutants switched sides immediately, making the fight more of a discussion about right and wrong when it came to the hatred of humans. This was clearly a metaphor for something much deeper we face today, but I doubt the young audience it was designed for will catch that.
As for the TMNT family, I have plenty I could say, but those are all just personal preferences when it all comes down to it. I do have a few complaints about the origins of Splinter, the lack of actual Japanese influence (why use the word “Ninja” in this case?), and exactly how the rat-turned-father and the Turtle teens would learn how to defend themselves. It stripped away the connection between Splinter and Shredder (shown in a post scene) and used a silly side door to explain why the self-defense was needed in the first place. Aside from most complaints being about the changing of the iconic April O’Neil, I had no issues with the choice to change her character. Some claim that she was made to be ugly, and I would argue that nobody in that film looked anything other than ugly to me. Race swapping being a big issue to some these days is just not where it’s at for me, especially seeing as April O’Neil is not, and never was, a real person.
The breakdown of what I didn’t care for was mainly based around Splinter and his history, being nothing more than a NYC rat who found some turtles in ooze one day, mutating him into a rat the size of a human. Some minor things about the turtles themselves bothered me as well. When Splinter decided to take the young turtles, who were obsessed with the outside world, out of the sewer and into the crowds of people, he ended up having a terrible experience from the shock of those noticing them, and one of the turtles almost got run over by a car. The chaos sent Splinter into a panic and made him hurry back to the sewers below with the kids in tow. This also made him bitter and angry towards humans. He worried so much about their future that they began training in karate by watching old martial arts movies, shows, and instructional videos. Splinter was relatable in how he wanted to protect his children but also confusing for his rash decisions based on very little. Not to mention, Jackie Chan voiced the character of Splinter, and nobody stopped to ask why this didn’t make any sense, seeing as he had a Chinese accent when he was quite clearly a rat from NYC. Also, Ninja are Japanese, but who’s really paying attention here?
Lastly, the turtles didn’t hold up to their personalities, and that was a bit disappointing. For starters, Leo wasn’t anywhere near a leader. It was like an “everyone for themselves” type relationship. You can claim this is just the beginning, but you can’t take away the bumbling, didn’t-quite-know-what-to-say, tripping-over-himself-in-love-with-April, and extremely unsure-of-his-choices personality we were presented with. Raph, my absolute favorite TMNT since childhood, was broken down into a shell (pun or no pun, who knows?) of his former personality. He was still a bit of the rough-and-tumbler type with a touch of attitude, but nothing like any of the Raphs from the past. He was reduced down to a meat-head with nothing more than a destructive and strong-arm style of fighting. At moments, we had glimpses of the old Raph, but the carpet would be pulled out quickly with a “happy to be here” line from Raphael as he stacked up baddies like he was stacking chairs. I saved these two for last because they are the most confusing in my personal opinion. Mikey has always been the goofball with a few screws loose. Sure, he was chill and not one to get in beefs with anyone, but he always was a little dense and got the turtles into plenty of trouble for being a few slices short of a whole pizza. In Mutant Mayhem, that title went to Donnie, which was a complete surprise to me. Donatello cracked the jokes, made some questionable decisions, and got the turtles into some hot water. He seemed to be the one lacking upstairs even though he was still considered the nerdy tech guy. Mikey was more laid-back and had a go-with-the-flow type attitude. His personality felt like it was given to Mondo the Gecko, who started off bad but ultimately turned to good, as did the rest of the mutants. I missed the Michelangelo we used to have, and I didn’t care for his lack of participation or the parts of his personality stripped down and handed to others.
The movie was still entertaining and a fun ride. Maybe I’m just an old man stuck in my ways. “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem” = 7/10