‘Mutant Mayhem’ is the new blueprint

More children’s movies should aspire to be like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

Art of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
(Miranda Davila / Daily Trojan)

I heard the word “rizz” multiple times in a major studio movie.

And I wasn’t mad about it.

While “rizz” — short for charisma — is not at all new to any frequent internet user attuned to the quick-changing nature of online memes and lingo, it was only in June that Today made an explainer article for parents.

Yet, somehow, the writers behind the animated film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” managed to work it into their script, with the movie being released in early August.

The movie also features the four iconic turtles — Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Leonardo (Nicholas Cantu) and Raphael (Brady Noon) — singing a rendition of BTS’ “Butter.” The turtles chat about “Avengers: Endgame” (2019), “Attack on Titan” and “Despicable Me” (2010). YouTuber MrBeast even gets a cameo as a background New Yorker in a flashback scene.

What I’m trying to say is “Mutant Mayhem” tested fate. With the overload of modern references, the film risked falling into the trying-to-be-hip category of Netflix teen movies or seeming like a brand page horrifically failing at meme marketing.

But, that didn’t happen. And the movie was practically perfect — aka I rated it 4.5 stars on Letterboxd. There’s only one word that can truly describe the Ninja Turtles: epic. “Mutant Mayhem” was so good that I (almost) didn’t even care that the child next to me most definitely had an accident in the theater.

I was laughing; I was crying; I was crying from laughing too much.

The movie follows the four turtles who dream of living in the human world and attending high school. However, their father figure, Splinter (Jackie Chan!), tries to keep them sheltered, thinking that is what is safest for the mutants.

“Mutant Mayhem” also furthers the agenda of the year of Ayo Edebiri, with her serving as the star human role — a student journalist named April.

The script, co-written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit, who are all (respectfully) past their teen years, manages to realistically capture the young teen experience. At least, as much as possible with mutant turtles.

I believe that “Mutant Mayhem” will be fun forever — for me. Work on the film started in 2020, so I am truly amazed at the quick turnaround of the animation.

I commend the writers on their good judgment of internet culture references to include: They managed to pick long-lasting ones in a world that can lose interest within a week.

However, the film isn’t timeless. For a kid in 10 years, the jokes and references will become flat and (for lack of a better word) cringe. But that’s okay. Sure, there are themes of friendship, trust and being true to yourself that can last forever, but the film overall will also serve as a relic of this moment in time. There’s a small possibility that in a few years, I will rewatch “Mutant Mayhem” and think back to this article with regret, realizing that I was wrong and the modern references ruined it. But, at the moment, I don’t care about the longevity of the film.

It’s perfect for right now. And I’m happy with that.

Still, there are aspects of the movie that will undoubtedly remain incredible for generations to come. It would be criminal for me to not laud the animation. With a sketch-like look to the movie, “Mutant Mayhem” breaks away from the recycled CGI realism of many American-made animated movies that became the norm during the 2010s.   

We undoubtedly have “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) (the greatest movie of all time) to thank for this new wave of artistic and unique animation, which was confirmed by co-writer and co-director Rowe.

“Artistically, [the animation style] was a reaction to a 30-year trend in 3D CG animation to push towards photorealism and hyper-realistic lighting and texturing,” he told Variety. “Then, a few years ago, ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ happened, and that showed that a movie can look like the concept artwork and can be critically and financially successful.”

This change of Western animation can be seen, to a slightly lesser degree, in movies like “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (2022) and “The Bad Guys” (2022).

Not only was the movie hilarious, but the soundtrack was simply delectable. Featuring iconic ’90s tracks like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” and Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything,” every aspect of this movie seamlessly worked together to make “Mutant Mayhem” the masterpiece it is. Plus, it’s fun to think that my Spotify friends can see me listen to the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Inspired By Official Playlist.”

I’m writing about TMNT in my column because it has lost timeliness for a review, a possible indication of the future of this movie. But to me, the animation, nostalgia, soundtrack and even the jokes are still worth my much sought-after praise.

And, because I know all major Hollywood executives rifle through the Arts & Entertainment section of the Daily Trojan every other Friday for the latest installment of “Comic Relief”: First, pay your writers; second, please make more movies like “Mutant Mayhem.” It’s okay to make movies for now that will be extra special in the moment. Just make sure to find good (well-paid!) writers to do it.

Even if no other movie can capture the magic of “Mutant Mayhem,” at least I have a sequel to look forward to.

Kimberly Aguirre is a junior writing about comedy. Her column, “Comic Relief,” runs every other Friday. She is also an associate managing editor at the Daily Trojan.

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