Pizza: A Bite of Humanity in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
by Chantel Gillus
Pizza. A lot of humans love it, and turtles do too. Especially teenage mutant ninja turtles by the names of Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) who reside in New York City, New York where pizza is a staple food.
In the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Jeff Rowe, 2023), the four turtles are found in the sewers by a rat named Splinter (Jackie Chan) who becomes their father. He finds them covered in green “ooze” which he also touches, and it turns them all into mutants. In turn, they grow miraculously, gaining a human-like form with increased speed, strength, agility, and heightened intelligence. Splinter raises and trains them in the sewers, sheltered from the human world to keep them safe from the dangers, rejection, and discrimination of society.
When the turtles become hungry while living in the sewers, Splinter feeds them pizza for the first time. When the pizza box opens, a golden light emanates and the turtles say “Woah!” with wide eyes as if they’ve just opened a treasure box and discovered gold. In the picture above, this is when they feast upon the pizza, enjoyment showing in their faces. For the turtles, eating pizza for the first time is almost like taking their first steps. It’s a coming-of-age moment as the turtles begin to consume this hot, cheesy, and pepperoni-filled pie that derives from the human world. It is a stepping stone into their inquiries about mankind.
As stated earlier, pizza is a principal dish in New York. Although pizza originated from Italy, when you think of all-American food, pizza is most likely one of the first dishes to come to mind. Splinter and the turtles are all deemed outcasts because they’re different, but they desire to be accepted. Pizza is their favorite and only food throughout the film, and this can be a metaphor for how badly the turtles want to be a part of humanity. They want to be true Americans.
Most of what the turtles know about the real world is from the media, movies, and their dad who tells them that humans will never accept them, but harm them instead. Despite their dad’s horror stories, they desperately want to fit in and be a part of society by going to high school and being typical teenagers. This is the American Dream for the turtles: to be normal. Assuming that the turtles consume a lot of media featuring humans eating pizza, they probably infer that this is the way to be regular. Pizza is a dish that almost everyone likes. Therefore, if the teenagers like what everyone else likes, then maybe that’ll help them assimilate into the in-crowd.
Not only does pizza connect the turtles to the real world, it keeps them grounded in their inner world; it is their comfort food. Pizza is one of the only ways Splinter will allow them to associate with civilization. They feast upon the pizza in the sewers as a family where they are safe and can be who they are without judgment. Essentially, pizza links them together as a family, creates a safe space, and offers a taste of reality.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Dir. Jeff Rowe. Perf. Micah Abbey, Shamon
Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Jackie Chan. Paramount, 2023. Streaming.