On August 2nd, Paramount Pictures released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, marking the seventh theatrically released film starring everyone’s favorite heroes in a half-shell. As of this writing, the film has been a success, surpassing $150 million globally and touting a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%, over double the rating of any earlier title. Is there some sort of lighting in a bottle here that was lacking before? Let’s dive into the data and see for ourselves. Shouting “Cowabunga!” is optional, but encouraged.
Like a good pizza, the right balance of ingredients can deliver a memorable experience that keeps people coming back for more, and that’s what we have when we look at the franchise as a whole. Typically, they’re family-friendly action-adventures with fantastic and sci-fi elements set in New York City, powered by an active and energetic mood with hand-to-hand combat and situational humor sprinkled throughout like a hearty shake of parmesan. These films also tell the story of siblings, an eccentric family overcoming life’s obstacles together and guided by a powerful leader.
As much as Mutant Mayhem has in common with its predecessors, there are also many traits that set it apart. One of the biggest differences is that the film really emphasizes the “teenage” in TMNT, telling a coming-of-age story of self-discovery, acceptance, and confronting a moral dilemma through an adolescent lens. It’s only one of two films in the theatrical franchise that are completely animated, benefitting from a unique and defining directorial vision and sophisticated filming and editing along with a frenzied, head-spinning script. Another major component, lacking from other installments, is a sophisticated and distinctive techno-based score, whereas the others leaned more orchestral or early 90’s synth, as well as an impactful song-based soundtrack comprised primarily of East Coast rap.
Though Mutant Mayhem shares many traits with other stories of our favorite pizza-loving reptiles, it might be what it doesn’t share that’s catapulting it to the top of the franchise. By tackling relatable and grounded themes in addition to the typical action/sci-fi fare accompanying their stories, they’ve injected heart into the canon to a degree that hasn’t been done with these characters on screen. In addition, the approach by the filmmakers – a standout animation style, a script loaded with pop-culture references, and a music-rich experience – is sure to cement its success with audiences, both longtime fans and first-time viewers.