Hype for films these days is always a fascinating experience to observe. As a critic I try to go into any film with an open mind and as minimal of expectations as possible but sometimes it is hard to not be impacted by the buzz- both good and bad- before stepping into the theater. Initially when I heard about another TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) movie I wasn’t that interested. I’ve enjoyed the franchise over the years but is has never a favorite of mine or one I’m particularly passionate about. Then I heard the co-director of Mitchells vs the Machines (which I adored), Jeff Rowe was the director and it was receiving a new and exciting animation style I became intrigued.
Once the trailers came out and I heard about some of the creative decisions they were making like having an all-teenage vocal cast for the turtles my excitement grew. When an unfinished screening received a standing ovation at Annecy Film Festival in June TMNT: Mutant Mayhem solidified itself as my most anticipated film of the year. High expectations…
Fortunately for this film this is a case where high expectations have actually been met and then some. I loved this film! What an authentic, thrilling, innovative, exciting animated experience at the theatre. Nothing will probably topple Across the Spiderverse’s artistic achievement but I do think this TMNT: Mutant Mayhem has a tighter script with a unique and fresh art style all its own (those worried this will be Spiderverse-light can rest assured this is raw and edgy in a way Spiderverse isn’t. They both stand on their own as wonderful animated films.)
My favorite part of this film is the our 4 main turtle characters. All voiced by actual teenagers the banter is written naturally and their relationships feel authentic to the teen experience, which is something we have never gotten in this franchise. The dialogue by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jeff Rowe is funny, charming and again authentic to the way teens today talk. It was so refreshing to teen characters that aren’t the sullen miserable specimens we so often see in film but that have highs and lows appropriate especially to these teens that are so isolated from others.
The story in this film is also solid with Ice Cube voicing a convincing villain and Maya Rudolph as Cynthia Utrom. It’s not a new arc but it was executed well and the design of the Superfly as he morphs and changes is extremely clever and inventive. The animation in general has a roughness to it that I loved with the feel of pencil sketches mixed in with CGI 3D realism. The mixture of styles and how it ebbs and flows dazzled me!
The only miss is in the character design of April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri.) She’s supposed to be a lonely high school student but she looks a lot older than that in my opinion. The character was fine just didn’t look like a teenager to me.
I also love the pacing of this film. How refreshing to go to a superhero movie in 2023 that isn’t bloated and over-long- 99 minutes! The design of the various mutants is a lot of fun as well even if the celebrity voice cast for those characters is unnecessary. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross added just the right mixture of nostalgia and modernism to make the film work perfectly.
If they give it a chance families and moviegoers should love TMNT: Mutant Mayhem. It is charming, energetic and artistically exhilarating. A thrilling time at the movies! I think they’ve made something special in a very solid year for animation. Let’s make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle!
9 out of 10
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