The new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie is the first feature-length, theatrically released movie in the franchise since 2007’s “TMNT.” It comes after two bombastic live action movies produced by Michael Bay and released in 2014 and 2016. After so much Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles material (including several television series), the creators of “Mutant Mayhem” knew that they had to set their project apart in some bold ways.
For one, the team, led by director Jeff Rowe (who codirected the Oscar-nominated “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”) wanted to emphasize the “Teenage” part of the title. To that end, the production hired real teens to play the characters and developed an animation style that mimicked the doodles that you’d find in the margins of a high school notebook: The characters are asymmetrical, wild lines are scribbled outside of objects’ forms, an artful messiness gives texture and life to flatter backgrounds and sets. Even Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the Academy Award-winning composers of “The Social Network” and “Soul,” embraced their inner teens by crafting a score that felt like the work of an enthusiastic garage band.
“The film is weird in a lot of ways that we’re proud of,” Rowe said. “We took swings with it artistically and with the storytelling and some of the techniques that we use, and even in deviations from ‘Turtles’ canon. It’s always nerve-wracking to take something so beloved and put it out in front of the world. But people have really responded to it.”
If there’s one sequence that captures the creativity, the unbridled, fearless oomph of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” it’s an ingeniously constructed montage of the turtles taking out bad guys, set to the strains of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”
Rowe gives much of the credit to storyboard artist John Jackson. In the script, it was a simple description of a montage and a brief line of dialogue from the last goon the characters encounter. Rowe handed it to Jackson and said, “Here you go, John, board this, don’t spend too much time on it. This will be like 30 seconds of the film at most. Let’s just get through it quick.” Jackson responded with, “OK, can I try something?”
“He had just seen ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ and was really inspired by the match-cutting editorial style,” Rowe said. “And then for a while, we’d been trying to sneak this ‘Oldboy’ hammer fight into the film.”
Jackson came back a week and a half later with storyboards for the sequence. “He pitched almost exactly what it is in the film now and it was breathtaking,” Rowe said.
Not that it was all sewn up. They also had to find the perfect song. They went through several options, including DMX’s “Rough Riders” and Outkast’s “Rosa Parks.” But it really came to life when they put “No Diggity” over the sequence. “It was like, ‘Oh, whoa, oh, it’s taking off. This is great. It’s got to be this.’ We put the song in there and we never looked back.”
This story first appeared in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Awards Preview issue here.