Even after over 30 years, it turns out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still alive and kicking.
Directed by Seth Rogen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an energetic reboot that breathes neon-green life back into the beloved franchise. Funny, fast-paced and furiously animated, Rogen’s vision is a gleeful celebration of youth that pops visually as well. Offering a unique visual style that feels like a blend of watercolor, claymation, and CGI, Mutant Mayhem is an absolute treat for the senses. Because of this unique visual style, the film never allows its lines to be too clean or it’s lighting to be too bright. As a result, there’s almost a tactile nature to this iteration that pops off the screen.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem re-introduces the world (again) to the famous Ninja Turtle brothers – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and, of course, Michelangelo. Hidden away from the human world by their father, Splinter (Jackie Chan), the teenaged Turtles have grown antsy in the sewers of New York. Their hearts yearn to be part of the human world but they also want to honour Splinter’s wishes. When they accidentally cross paths with young reporter-to-be, April O’Neil (Ayo Edibiri), they decide to win the hearts of the people by helping bringing down the brutal supervillain, Superfly (Ice Cube) but soon find themselves in over their head.
Marketing himself is a ‘permanent teenager’, Rogen manages to tap into the youthfulness of the characters and bring them to life in ways that feels entirely fresh. In fact, despite all the various incarnations of the series over the years, this may be the first (re)vision of the Turtles that actually emphasizes their lives as teenagers. Voiced by youth in their teens themselves, these turtles may be ninjas but they’re struggling with normal issues for their age. They want to be able to go to a regular high school and attend prom. They want to be able to go to the movies and visit grocery stores without hiding. To these Turtles, heroism is secondary.
What they really want is acceptance.
By focusing the film on their age, Rogen also allows Mutant Mayhem to focus more on the Turtles’ relationships as a family unit. Whereas other incarnations have spent more time on their martial arts training, Mutant Mayhem allows us to see what the turtles are like at home. No longer merely their ‘master’, Splinter takes on the role of a father who is struggling to keep his relationship with his boys. Fighting with them to stay close to home, Splinter fears what will happen to them if they step into the human world. (After all, having entered their world once before, he has seen first-hand the damage that human hatred can cause.)
In this way, Mutant Mayhem taps into the cultural fear of the other. Although the human world despises criminals, there’s also a certainly level of acceptance for their behaviour. But, for the Turtles, they are hated and feared only because they aren’t seen for who they really are underneath the shell. In this world, differences make someone a monster—and the Turtles realize that that’s far worse than being seen as a villain.
But this is the greatest challenge for the Turtles of 2023. While Rogen’s film absolutely brings the Mayhem that the title promises, the real magic of it is how grounded these mutants are. In fact, Rogen uses this setting to tap into the anxieties of youth that all of us have experienced at one time or another. Yes, they still may be ninjas but really, these Turtles just want to be loved.
And, after the pure joy of Mutant Mayhem, the love is back for the franchise as well.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is available in theatres on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023.