A couple months ago a video was posted featuring a conversation between Jon Favreau (director/writer of Iron Man, The Mandolorian, Elf, and countless other films) and Kevin Feige (MCU architect and most successful producer of all time) celebrating the 15th anniversary of the release of the first Iron Man film. The most interesting bit is where they both reveal their belief in the power of intellectual property (IP) to not only get their creations seen, but also using IP to get to tell the stories that they want to tell.
We live in the age of IP, where it’s becoming extraordinarily rare for a non-IP/original film (i.e. a story NOT based on some other medium such as comic books, novels, or even toys) to be successful at the box office. So filmmakers like Favreau have decided to focus on telling stories within the confines of existing franchises in order to have a modicum of success. With the success of Barbie, Beyond the Spiderverse, and others, it’s becoming clear that the combination of quality and originality within the bonds of IP is the way to go. Nowhere is this more evident than with the new film, Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, which is one of the best animated feature films of recent memory.
Mutant Mayhem is a new take on the exploits of the mutant turtles Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) in their adolescence. The story begins with a secretive organization trying to track down an eccentric scientist named Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) and his mutation science. They do catch him but some of the mutagenic ooze makes its way down to the sewer where a rat and 4 turtles are anthropomorphized in both body and mind.
Skip to 15 years later and the turtles live with their adopted father, the mutant Splinter (Jackie Chan) and only leave the sewers when they need to get supplies. This limited time outside has caused them to feel cooped up and end up taking more risks when outside, which leads them to run into a human named April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) and eventually concoct a plan to push the plot forward. The theme of the film is the theme of our age: acceptance of outsiders. The turtles are outsiders and crave acceptance, yet Splinter is, rightly or wrongly, afraid of humans.
The script of this movie is so very good. It was written by several people, but most notably Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and the director, Jeff Rowe. Rowe has done incredible work over his career, including the amazing Gravity Falls, and that pitch-perfect mix of humor, heart, and mystery definitely translate here. The third act was both exhilarating and moving in a way that are reminiscent of Pixar films of yesteryear. I both pumped my fist AND teared up within the span of 10 minutes.
The voice cast is really incredible, with some cameos that are almost unrecognizable. Paul Rudd and John Cena are both in it, but I couldn’t pick out which characters they were until credits rolled. They also got Ice Cube to play a character and I can’t believe how well he sells his role.
The animation style is a variation (or mutation, as it were) of the style that was pioneered by the Spider-verse films. It feels hand drawn in parts, claymation in others, and almost every shape is non-symmetrical, symbolizing how the turtles themselves are ‘off’ and yet yearn for acceptance.
The music feels like Stranger Things, but in the 90’s. In fact, every song used when the synth score isn’t present is a 90’s hit. The film feels like a love letter to the the decade that most of us who grew up with the Ninja Turtles toys and TV shows experienced them in the same way that Stranger Things is to the 80’s, despite being very much set in the present (They even got Ice Cube to play the villain!). The score was done by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame, as well as scoring several films like The Social Network), which feels apt to what the filmmakers were trying to do here.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is one of most inventive, funny, and beautiful animated films in recent memory. It’s like the 90’s, Stranger Things, and Spider-verse combined their powers to write a love letter to the Ninja Turtles.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem