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Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)

Directed by: Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears

Premise: An animated film. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live in the sewers of New York City and want to have a normal teenage life. They investigate a series of robberies linked to a villain known as Superfly and uncover the secret of their own mutant origin.

What Works: There have been several cinematic incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles including the fully live action films of the 1990s, the fully animated film from 2007, and the mix of digital animation and live action released in the 2010s. Mutant Mayhem distinguishes itself with a distinct visual style. Perhaps taking a cue from the animated Spider-Verse films, this Ninja Turtles movie has a unique visual texture. It doesn’t aim to look real or polished in the way of a Pixar or DreamWorks Animation picture. Like the Spider-Verse films, the style of Mutant Mayhem is reminiscent of comic book illustrations but it is even rougher. This feature looks a bit like a studio-produced student film or a video that a teenager might make using their Ninja Turtle toys. The visual style has a charm similar to stop motion animation and it suits the tone. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were always a bit of a joke and the filmmakers of Mutant Mayhem get the joke. They aren’t being obnoxiously self-aware but they do get the inherent goofiness of the premise and have fun with it while taking the characters and the drama seriously enough. Mutant Mayhem is the funniest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film and a lot of the comedy comes from the adolescent awkwardness. This is the first Ninja Turtles film in which the titular characters genuinely feel like teenagers, giving Mutant Mayhem a fresh approach to the material while also tapping into the themes of alienation and family so often found in stories about adolescence. The turtles and April O’Neil (voice of Ayo Edebiri) want to be accepted and respected by their peers and by society. That theme runs through the movie and effectively pulls together the various characters and subplots.

What Doesn’t: The visual style gives Mutant Mayhem a unique look but the animation is sometimes detrimental to the action. The set pieces are very kinetic and franticly edited and it is sometimes hard to follow the action especially when viewing the film in 3D. The focus on adolescent angst and teenage culture is to the movie’s benefit but the characterization of the individual turtles is lacking. We don’t get much sense of them as individuals nor do each of the turtles get opportunities for character growth.

Bottom Line: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a fun romp. At times it is a little too kinetic for its own good but the humor and action make it a pleasure to watch. Mutant Mayhem is a distinct entry in this franchise and it opens up the cinematic possibilities for comic book movies.

Episode: #960 (August 6, 2023)