The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was born in the home of two illustrators in 1983. Self-published comic books soon led to toys, television series, and feature films. Decades later, the four anthropomorphic turtles are still saving New York City from bad guys—but they’ve gotten the reboot treatment from the guy who Paramount calls the “perpetual teenager”—Seth Rogen. Rogen along with Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit co-wrote the TMNT film while Jeff Rowe, with credits in Gravity Falls and Mitchells vs. the Machines, directed. Mutant Mayhem sells itself as a classic coming of age story, but it’s anything but trite.
By focusing on the teenage aspect of the TMNT, the four voice actors, shine the brightest. Micah Abbey (Donatello), Shamon Brown, Jr. (Michelangelo), Nicolas Canto (Leonardo), and Brady Noon (Raphael) all talk over one another in most of the scenes in what feels fresh and authentic for four teenage boys. These adolescent reptiles are super into Beyoncé, have snuck out to crash an Adele concert, and long to have hair like Ferris Bueller. There is only one man standing in their way of total pursuit of a normal teenage life: their father.
Splinter, voiced by the incomparable Jackie Chan, takes great pains to introduce this new generation of viewers to the turtles and their backstory. He explains how he found the baby turtles and loved them instantly. Seeing their attraction to the human world through the sewer grates, he attempts to bring them up to their world, to Times Square. After being mistaken for a character in a costume, humans suddenly realize Splinter is a real, full-sized rat; so, they shudder in fear and try to hurt him and the turtle babies. Vowing never to return to the surface, Splinter shelters the turtles and spends his days teaching them ninjutsu, which he learned from video tapes, ruining their dreams of being real teenagers.
However, fate prevails, and through a series of events the four turtles named for Italian Renaissance painters meet a newly conceived April, voiced by Ayo Edebiri, and realize their father’s ninjutsu training has paid off. After rescuing April, the quartet no long wish to live in the shadows and begin planning how they can be accepted by society, hoping to one day enroll in high school.
Besides Splinter, another obstacle remains in their way—there are other mutants. Most notably, Superfly (Ice Cube), the original mutant, who seeks to destroy humankind as he believes mutants can never be accepted by society. The boys must thwart his plan if they ever hope to experience things like first dates, joining the improv club, or having a locker.
The art style of Mutant Mayhem draws inspiration from notebook sketches, much like the originators of the characters. The fight scenes are incredible, and the voice acting is top-notch. More impressive is the portrayal of authentic teenage life and their modern references, such as a significant shout out to a TikTok famous Brooklyn bodega. This makes the protagonists feel like real teenagers—reenacting silly videos, making fun of each other’s pretend human names (since they have no last names), and hoping to simply be accepted by other kids.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem reboots the series in a thrilling way, bringing heart, comedy, and immediate charm to the characters for a new generation. Many adults will love the killer soundtrack that leans heavily on East Coast hip hop, and teenagers will find the references relevant and maybe see themselves in one of the turtles. Younger children, meanwhile, will fall in love with four quirky kids with eye masks. Our heroes in a half-shell are back!