The Ninja Turtle Renaissance

By Gen Terblanche30 April 2024

The Ninja Turtle Renaissance

Once upon a time, long, long ago (ie 1987) four tiny turtles came into contact with radioactive ooze in the sewers of New York City. They mutated into humanoid creatures and were taken in by a wise mutant rat named Splinter, who named them after Renaissance artists and trained them in the art of ninjutsu. 

Now some chopping-edge animation is bringing them back to the screen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (TMNTMM), complete with a punched-up script from comedians Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) and the team behind Bad Neighbors and Neighbors 2, along with Annie Award-winning writer Jeff Rowe. Prepare to see how one patient rat dad raised his four turtle sons, gave them education and purpose, and taught them to use their individual strengths and character to bring justice to a strange world. 

Stream Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem now.

Turtle style

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

The TMNTMM creative team really wanted to lean into the teenage element in the title, to tell a coming-of-age story, rather than one focusing on established heroes. The idea carries through to every aspect of the story, from production design to camerawork. 

Writer-director Jeff Rowe, production designer Yashar Kassai, art director Tiffany Lam Almack, and lead character designer Woodrow White worked with artists around the globe, from South Korea to Scotland, to bring a sketch-like style to the film’s 3D animation, partly inspired by the rough and exaggerated drawings that Jeff made in the margins of his own school notebooks. They encouraged the art team to draw with the punk passion and intensity of their 15-year-old selves, and not to fear being cringey or emo. And as colour references for the New York backgrounds and characters, the artists drew on the vibrant 1990s TMNT toy range, which leaned into the grosser aspects of a story about mutant sewer creatures fighting crime. The result is character and set design that has more in common with graffiti tagging and the rad designs you’d scribble on your shoes and skateboard, than it does with the rounded perfectionism of mainstream 3D animation. 

To match this energy, head of cinematography Kent Seki wanted the audience to feel as if they were riding along and goofing off with the turtles, so he kept camera angles low and made it feel as if it was handheld and operated by someone in the group, whether they’re fighting, or scampering through a bodega getting their groceries. In contrast, scenes that are set in the more adult world, away from the turtles, are shot in a more formal cinematic style. 

Father & sons

The focus on teenage life carries through especially strongly in character design, with all the Turtles longer limbed and ganglier than we’re used to seeing them, each still growing into their body in a different way. Check out Donatello’s glasses and Michaelangelo’s braces! And think of their mentor Splinter as a tired father of four rowdy teens, forever in his work-from-home dressing gown and tracksuit pants. Influences for Splinter’s look and build include actor Danny DeVito, and The Dude (Jeff Bridges) from film The Big Lebowski, but with months-long observations of real, live rats thrown in the mix. 

The art of voice

In keeping with the film’s sketchy punk style, instead of recording their tracks separately, the voice cast was allowed to work in groups and to improvise, which worked especially well with the four teenage actors who voice the Turtles – Micah Abbey (Donatello), Shamon Brown Jr. (Michaelangelo), The Fabelmans’ Nicholas Cantu (Leonardo) and Boardwalk Empire’s Brandy Noon (Raphael). 

And take a peek behind the mask of the rest of the voice acting cast – you’ll spot some pop culture fan favourites, including John Cena (Peacemaker) as mutant warthog Rocksteady, Seth Rogen as his idiot henchman partner in crime, Bebop the mutant rhino, and Ice Cube (Fist Fight) as the villain Superfly. Comedy delights Maya Rudolph (Sisters) and Hannibal Buress (Baywatch) voice ruthless Techno Cosmic Research Institute exec Cynthia Utrom and Genghis Frog respectively. And Ayo Edebiri (fresh from an Emmy Award-winning breakout role in The Bear) voices turtle ally and intrepid reporter April O’Neil, while martial arts comedy great Jackie Chan (Heart of Dragon) voices Splinter.

Stream Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem now.

Also watch

Grab your cereal bowl and your blanket, it’s time to get back that Saturday morning cartoon feeling! Check out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles S1-3, Avatar: The Last Airbender S1-3, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, DC Legion of Super-Heroes, Twende S1, SpongeBob SquarePants S1-5, and The Patrick Star Show