Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  Mutant Mayhem

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem (Rated PG)

By: Adam Freed

Five years ago the animated film landscape exploded into hyperdrive with the arrival of Sony’s moving art installation Into the Spiderverse (2018).  Like so many landmark moments in film history, Spiderverse and its hybrid hand drawn 2D images layered over 3D landscapes raised possibilities and expectations.  This type of creative progression drives the arts into a brighter tomorrow.   A brighter day now dawns with the arrival of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:Mutant Mayhem, a slick and impressively modern reimagining of once familiar ground.  This quasi origin story never weighs itself down with the familiar, instead following the decades old trail, blazed by John Hughes in allowing the depths of the teenage characters themselves to drive emotional investment. The nod to Hughes is presented humorously as the turtles take in an outdoor screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) from a Brooklyn rooftop, one of many warmly nostalgic additions to the fabric of this memorable film. 

While some TMNT “purists” may bristle at the redesign of the titular characters,  the updated design proves close to the source material while now giving each character individual physical characteristics, and realistic teenage voices.  Casting teens to play teens is a novel concept that will surely irk some generationally loyal fans.  The final result of these production decisions is a coming of age teen story delightfully dripping with modern pop culture awareness. The teenage protagonists are lovably realistic and oddly human, which makes their relationship with human high school reporter April O’Neil feel not only realistic, but probable.  The teen wannabe reporter, voiced to perfection by Ayo Edeberi (The Bear), finds common ground with the titular turtles in their shared desire to belong in a world less than receptive to their existence.

Lovingly influenced by the omnipresent backdrop of New York City, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem provides what is debatably the year's best soundtrack, an ode to cross generational East Coast hip hop.  In addition to the gorgeous visual fabric of this film is the distinct vocal talent on display.  Beyond Edeberi’s April O’Neil, the  distinct vocal authority of Ice Cube's Superfly and Jackie Chan’s over protective father figure Splinter strums heartstrings and humorous chords alike.  Ultimately Mutant Mayhem is protected from a somewhat formulaic 3rd act because it develops characters that leave room to feel that their outcomes actually matter. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have never felt more fresh or alive than they do at this moment, paving the way for what is sure to become a reptilian renaissance.    

Target Score - 7/10  A coming of age action comedy featuring state of the art visuals and an outstanding soundtrack.