Most people know the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for their several TV shows and feature films, but some of us remember that they began as a gag between two cartoonists, doodling late into the night, as so many of us cartoonists do. The story goes, Kevin Eastman drew the most unlikely thing he could imagine — a “ninja turtle” — and his chuckling roommate, Peter Laird, added nunchucks and the words “teenage mutant” to its moniker, accidentally yet fortuitously making history.
So, whenever a new iteration of these blessed Turtles comes to the big screen, I cross my fingers and hope for the best, because they’re truly more than cultural icons. They’re the promise that a few friends’ silly drawings can see print, at all, let alone celluloid, making an impact that transcends comics to film for multiple generations. The question is, does Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem honor this legacy?
The short answer is, most definitely yes. With an animation style that rivals Sony’s recent revolutionary Spider-verse films, Mutant Mayhem presents the Turtles at a definitive 15-years-old, voiced for the first time by actors in the same age bracket. When I saw the trailers, Micah Abbey’s Donatello sounded almost TOO young to my ears, but I quickly acclimated to his higher pitch, especially in his comedic despair for simply having “a big stick.”
Indeed, the Turtles are at their most adolescent-angsty in Mutant Mayhem, lamenting their isolation from humanity as the world’s seemingly only mutants, though, as the title implies, not for long. In the movie’s cold open, longtime TMNT fans will recognize stalwarts like Baxter Stockman, TCRI, and, if you listen carefully, a certain brain-shaped alien race, in a sequence that incites the inevitable mayhem.
The first act of the movie does what most first acts in a new Turtles story do — recaps their oozy origins, introduces the gang to April, and proposes a plot that threatens the city. The Turtles are truly precarious teens, but they evoke an empathy for their loneliness like we’ve never seen before. Jackie Chan as Splinter is inspired, playing the overprotective father afraid of his inevitable empty nest. His arc is perhaps the most poignant, and any parent taking their kids to see their childhood half-shell heroes might relate. There’s something here for the four-, fourteen-, and forty-year-old.
The film’s second and third acts are a Playmates Toys action figure commercial in the best way, featuring characters I STILL have on my shelf from the early ’90s. I WISH movie studios kept SOME secrets close to the vest — because I saw all of these mutants on promotional posters a few weeks ago, and my mind would’ve been blown if I hadn’t. I question some of the voice actor choices for these Mutanimals (as they’re better known in the comics), but seeing them on the silver screen was a spectacle 12-year-old me never expected.
Minor critiques: The Turtles’ origin lacks a component I think is crucial to their character, and though this story doesn’t suffer for it, a sequel might, if the mid-credit’s stinger is any indication. Also, the screenwriters seemed to anticipate their most successful punchlines, and they absolutely MILK them. It teeters on obnoxious, but stays on the safe side of repetitive callback JUST enough. You’ll see what I mean.
I’m anxious to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem again. Sure, the laughs were hearty, but the fellas deliver in what matters most — awesome action, and their heartfelt brotherhood. Mutant Mayhem truly takes them places we’ve never seen before, while holding fast to the spirit of that first sketch by Eastman and Laird, in all of its quirkiness. As a lifelong fan, the final scenes filled me with a weird paternal pride. I’m watching my boys grow up, even as they remind me of the childhood awe that draws me to them still — pun completely intended.
Turtle cosplayers took pictures with families at the press screening in Tempe on Saturday, July 29.
A hardcore fan, with a hardcore prop from his extensive TMNT collection!
Bandanas were distributed at the press screening in Tempe on Saturday, July 29. Your Nerdvana Media correspondent scored a blue one, but wanted a red one.