“Humans are the demon scum of the earth; avoid them, don’t say ‘hi.’ They lust to murder that which is different from them; to interact with them is to die.”
That’s what Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael, four mutant turtles, have been taught by their adoptive rat father, Master Splinter, as far back as they can remember. And yeah, he’s got good reason to think that: The few times he’s tried to peaceably reveal himself to the general public, they’ve chased Splinter off the street with attempts on his life. As it turns out, humans don’t take too well to mutant animals—which is why Master Splinter has trained the boys up in the art of ninjitsu.
That ominous, rhyming phrase kept the four brothers scared enough to stay in the sewers for a decade or so. But it’s been 15 years since that strange green ooze that fell into the sewer turned them into their humanoid forms. Despite the constant warnings, they’ve fallen in love with the human world. And more than anything, the quartet of teens wants to be accepted by it.
But then one day as the teens are goofing off during one of their secretive errands in the human world, they distract a girl named April when they unintentionally embed a ninja throwing star in her bike helmet. It distracts her long enough to let someone steal her bike. And that’s when the turtles spring into action, swiftly taking out a gang’s worth of criminals in order to return it to her.
Despite their turtle features, April’s not afraid of them.
“The reason I’m not scared of you is because you helped me,” she tells them. And that’s when the Ninja Turtles hatch an idea.
“What if everyone saw us as heroes?” Donatello wonders.
How will they manage that? It’ll be easy! They’ll just capture Superfly, the criminal mastermind behind a recent string of deadly thefts that has the city running scared. Once they turn him in, people will realize that the Turtles aren’t monsters—they’re heroes!
But hold your cowabungas, because there’s a problem: Superfly isn’t just the criminal’s name. It’s also a descriptor.
You see, Superfly is their mutant cousin.
Mutant Mayhem is an animated coming-of-age origin story for the Turtles. Not only do they step into their collective crime-fighting role as a superhero team, but they also grow more confident individually.
Leonardo is the most responsible of the four, but it takes him some time to grow into his role as the group’s leader. He often compels the other Turtles to act when someone commits a crime (because a couple of them are more inclined to avoid conflict). Each Turtle brings his own unique attribute to a fight, and they work best when they work together.
Their heroism is ultimately realized in their fight against Superfly. The villain ultimately wants to kill as many people as he can and subjugate the rest. But even though the Turtles haven’t been treated well by humans, they still fight to protect them.
Superfly, we learn, wants to carry out his evil plan because humans violently rejected him when he attempted to peacefully assimilate into society. That’s exactly what happened to Master Splinter, who was chased off the street during his own attempt. The two characters are juxtaposed against each other. So when Master Splinter hears Superfly try to rationalize his actions using an argument that Master Splinter once used, he realizes that his overstrict protection of the Turtles has caused more harm than good.
Master Splinter voluntarily adopts the four Turtle boys and raises them as his own. April commits to helping the quartet become accepted by society. Plenty of people—both humans and mutants—risk their lives to protect others and stop evil.
In order to instill fear of humanity into the Turtles, Master Splinter has forced the quartet to memorize a lesson, part of which states that “humans are the demon scum of the earth.” One Turtle thinks that an Adele concert was “transcendent.” After a fight, Superfly says, “See you in hell, Turtles.”
When the Turtles enter a high school, they stop by a bulletin board. On it, we see multiple posters, including “LGBTQ+ History Month” and “Pride Awareness” flyers as well as a transgender flag. At an outdoor movie screening, two guys sharing popcorn look like they could be on a date together.
Master Splinter tells the Turtles that he checks every day to see if there are any mutant ladies around. Later, he meets a mutated cockroach woman whom he says he’s very attracted to, and he passionately kisses the cockroach woman.
When Leonardo first sees April, he is visibly struck by her beauty. One Turtle jokingly thinks “all of [Leonardo’s] hormones just kicked in at once.” On a couple of occasions, Michelangelo twerks. When we’re first introduced to the mutant warthog Bebop, the camera pans across his pierced nipples.
Part of Superfly’s plan to subjugate humanity includes “fat-booty boy races.” A running joke throughout the film is Master Splinter’s fear that if the humans catch them, they’re going to milk them. The Turtles object to this odd fear, pointing out that they don’t even have nipples.
Well, Master Splinter’s fears are realized: when the boys are captured by a human, they’re strapped to a “Mega Milker 2000.” We don’t see how the process works—they’re just strapped to the machine’s side—but they say that it hurts, and green ooze is extracted out of them.
Superfly has no qualms about killing people, and he succeeds in doing so at times. We’re told that he’s the cause of some “deadly thefts.” And at one point, he kills a few men in a van—we don’t see them die, but we hear their screams get cut off as the van violently shakes. Later, we’re told that Superfly did, in fact, kill them. He also recounts how he beat a man to the edge of death, and how he turned on his attackers and killed them.
We don’t see characters bleed, but they do get bruised in many fight scenes. Most adversaries seemingly get knocked out in those fights. The Turtles’ signature weapons, though some are sharp, tend to stun opponents rather than cut them (in keeping with the PG rating). However, after some chemicals explode, we’re told that it caused the death of a man, and plenty of other guards stay motionless on the ground, though it’s unclear if they’re dead or just unconscious. Also, though the man is likely intended to be unconscious, one attacker’s stun stick looks to be impaled in his face from the viewer’s angle. Someone’s leg is broken after being thrown through the air.
The Turtles get shocked severely, and Donatello is accidentally stuck with one of Raphael’s sai swords. Master Splinter’s non-mutant cockroach friend is stepped on and killed, and Master Splinter eats her. A mutated gecko’s severed tail is pulled from rubble, but the mutant runs off in the distance, saying it’s OK because his tail grows back.
Car chases result in crashes. Some mutants are thrown out the front windshield when a car slams on its brakes; they’re annoyed but otherwise unharmed. A baby Superfly attacks his father’s assailants, dragging them around a room and seemingly knocking them out.
[Spoiler Warning] Superfly gets transformed into a massive mutated amalgamation of animals, and he storms into the city like Godzilla, destroying countless buildings (presumably some with people inside).
We hear at least seven instances of “h—” and three of “d–n.” We also hear a couple uses of “crap” and “bloody,” as well as one use of “p-ss.” God’s name is used in vain at least 16 times. And, because this film is for kids, we’ll also point out some less crude language, such as “This sucks,” “dang” and “screw this up.”
A man chugs alcohol.
The Turtles steal groceries. Because Leonardo wants to respect Master Splinter’s wishes, the other Turtles mock him, saying his head is “up dad’s butt.” An extended gag shows April vomiting due to stage fright. April comments on seeing a cockroach floating on a piece of excrement. A mutant frequently covers others with her goopy saliva.
The crime-fighting turtles are back. And as far as origin stories for these reptilian adolescent vigilantes go, Mutant Mayhem does fairly well. Prospective viewers won’t need prior knowledge of about these characters, who’ve been around for almost 40 years now. That makes this animated film a newbie-friendly entrance into the lore of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.
There are other boons that help the film, too: The Turtles not only act like teens, but they’re also voiced by them as well. And their humorous crime-fighting banter is exactly how we’d imagine a group of somewhat reckless 15-year-old fighters to behave. We also get positive messages about standing up against evil on behalf of others—even when those others might still reject you after the fact. And the fact that it’s rated PG will certainly draw some families.
But that PG rating misleads a bit, too. It belies the film’s surprising quantity of crude language that many parents may not want their kids hearing. Some sexual content is played for jokes, and a couple violent moments can get pretty intense. (See the relevant sections for details.)
At times, Mutant Mayhem has some pretty dark moments (roughly comparable to a Spiderverse movie) that may frighten or upset young viewers. After all, hearing a creepy mutant horsefly declare his desire to devour a bunch of humans may cause the youngest in the family to hide in their shells.
But, then again, despite the film’s dark moments, I spoke with one parent at the prescreening whose 10-year-old boy described Mutant Mayhem as “cool” and didn’t think it was scary. And in terms of an overall story, Mutant Mayhem’s is funny, enjoyable and bombastic.
So, where does that leave us with these crime-fighting teens? Well, I’d counsel caution here. I think Mutant Mayhem’s PG rating might invite some families to let their guard down too much in terms of content. Because even though that 10-year-old thought the movie was cool, his father was, like me, a bit surprised by some of the darker moments, too.
With that in mind, while we’d always recommend reading our reviews before taking the family to a flick, that’s especially true here. Because although the Ninja Turtles might be fighting crimes on the street instead of in the sewer, there’s still a bit of stink that might surprise families.
Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”