Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
Everybody’s favorite pizza-loving ninja reptiles have been trapped in the cinematic sewers for a while. Sixteen years have passed since they last appeared on the big screen in animated form (and the less said about the Michael Bay produced live-action films that came after that the better). Now they’re back, reimagined for today’s culture. The filmmakers may not land all their kicks, but despite a few gripes, Mutant Mayhem works as a promising reboot.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stories typically emphasize one aspect of the TMNT title. Most focus on the “ninja” or “mutant” parts. Mutant Mayhem seeks a unique identity by elevating the most neglected characteristic. As producer Seth Rogen revealed in a recent interview, “As a lifelong fan of Ninja Turtles, weirdly the ‘Teenage’ part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was always the part that stuck out to me the most.”
Rather than honorable ninja warriors, Mutant Mayhem’s turtles are awkward teens who dream more about attending high school and getting girlfriends than fighting crime, essentially learning their ninja skills for the purpose of self-defense by watching YouTube videos. As a result, Mutant Mayhem is the most of-the-moment Gen-Z take on the characters—for better and worse.
There is a barrage of pop culture references (ex. jokes about whether Chris Pine/Pratt/Eaves is the “best Chris”) and Gen-Z lingo (“that’s sus”). These aspects may help the turtles feel like actual teenagers, but I suspect they will also make the movie feel dated quickly. The contemporary elements will likely be hit or miss for some viewers (particularly those outside the younger demographic). But fear not, because the more classic and timeless aspects of the characters return as well.
The one thing any TMNT story must get right is the turtles themselves, both their individual personalities and their relationships with each other. Mutant Mayhem succeeds on both accounts. The turtles maintain their iconic defining traits (Michelangelo = “party dude,” Leonardo = “leader,” etc.), but they are not reduced to a single characteristic. The brotherly dynamic also feels genuine, with the expected petty bickering as well as love and support. The new take on April O’Neal is a surprisingly welcome addition. She is reimagined as a teenage peer, offering a female (and human) perspective on the issues the turtles are navigating.
Visually, the movie is clearly trying to catch some of that Spider-Verse lightning in a bottle. The hand-drawn aesthetic is not quite as fresh or impressive as those pioneering Spider-Man films (no shame there), but it is still distinct enough to avoid feeling like just a copycat. This film is arguably the best the Turtles have ever looked.
A note to parents: the movie emphasizes the youthfulness of the turtles but aims at an older target audience. It is not necessarily inappropriate for younger viewers (my 8-year-old boys enjoyed it), but tonally, Mutant Mayhem gets a bit dark. There is also some unnecessary language (see below) and other content elements that push the boundaries of what might be expected for the presumed target audience. The aforementioned Spider-Verse films are perhaps the closest comparable (although Mutant Mayhem is not as serious or thematically deep as those movies).
Everything about Mutant Mayhem feels like a pointed attempt to be “current,” from mimicking a trendy visual aesthetic style, to infusing the story with contemporary lingo and recent pop culture references, to exploring the same themes of prejudice and acceptance (see below) that most recent animated movies have tackled. But there is a reason why someone who grew up with these characters, as I did, is now taking my own kids to watch them in theaters. The characters are fun. Despite the hit-or-miss contemporary elements, the archetypal aspects of these heroes continue to resonate. I’m not sure that this is a new definitive version of these characters (and the inclusion of heavier language in animated movies continues to vex me), but TMNT: Mutant Mayhem captures enough of the classic spirit to successfully launch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into the modern world. How long they will remain relevant there remains to be seen.
Engage The Film
Prejudice and Acceptance
The fact that prejudice and acceptance have seemingly become the standard themes for animated films doesn’t mean they are not wholesome and important topics, and the mutant turtle characters are naturally primed to address them.
The movie’s central focus is not on how outsiders are treated unjustly but on how to respond to unjust treatment. Splinter and Superfly are father figures to their families of mutants. Both have personally experienced poor treatment from humans and developed a distrust of them, which they try to pass on to their “children.” Whereas Superfly wants to punish and eradicate humans, Splinter chooses to disassociate from them. Both characters are eventually shown to be in the wrong.
Ultimately, the characters learn that despite their outward differences, they have a shared “humanity” (for lack of a better word). During a scene depicting their initial meeting, both April and the Turtles receive worried text messages from their father figures, and April remarks that seemingly “all dads are the same.”
Mutant Mayhem’s exploration of the theme applies beyond racial prejudice and examines acceptance on a more individual level. Both the Turtles and April spend much of the story trying to win others’ approval (the heroes by saving the city, and April by being a journalist that tracks down the bad guy). They are trying to do the right thing but for the wrong reasons. Jesus preached, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
Mutant Mayhem presents a wholesome message that misunderstandings and differences can lead to anger and hatred or pressure people to try to “earn” acceptance, but that both are unhealthy. Rather, we should simply do the right thing, controlling what we can control and letting outside opinions be what they will.