I remember going to see the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie back in the ‘90s. Having never read the comic or cartoon series it inspired, all I really knew beforehand was that it involved four mutated reptiles and a rat.
I also remember leaving the theater largely unimpressed. The movie itself was kind of clunky and hampered by bland production design. As for the titular heroes…not only did they lack distinctive personalities, the only noticeable difference between these guys in turtle suits was the color of their masks. I didn't give the franchise much thought since.
Fast forward 30-some years and my youngest daughter is a huge TMNT fan…not of that original movie, but the various TV shows and movies that have come out since. Being a skilled artist, she was especially impressed with the aesthetic of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, going as far as assuring her cynical ol' dad (suffering serious franchise fatigue) that he might at least appreciate how the film looked.
She was right. Mutant Mayhem is a visual knock-out, its unique style resembling a mash-up of traditional animation, CGI, stop-motion and artist sketches. There isn’t a single frame that isn’t bursting with color and creativity. Like his previous film, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, director Jeffrey Rowe and his crew have made something that looks refreshingly different from any other animated movie out there. That alone makes it worth seeing, even for those who don’t know Donatello from Leonardo.
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There’s a plot, of course, one that (surprisingly) doesn’t involve longtime nemesis Shredder, instead introducing a new crew of disgruntled mutants led by Superfly, who plans to use stolen technology to mutate every living thing on Earth. But the conflict is perfunctory and not as engaging as the coming-of-age elements or the turtles’ friendship with budding high school reporter April O’Neal.
Ultimately, however, the overall aesthetic is what makes the film really pop. It takes a lot of creativity to successfully use a brand name product as an artistic canvas. Animation fans (of any age) shouldn’t allow cynicism or franchise fatigue to prevent them from checking it out, because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a visual treat.
FEATURETTES - TEENage Mutant Ninja Turtles (interviews with the voice cast and a look at some characters); The Mutant Uprising (a focus on secondary characters); New York, New York: The Visual World of Mutant Mayhem (concepty art, animation & production design).
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