When it comes to fandom, I think many can recall asking or being asked, what fictional hero would you most want to be? The common answers are usually Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Goku, or Wolverine. Inevitably, somebody says Gambit because they really need you to know they’re a Gambit Stan. But perhaps many of us are sleeping on the Ninja Turtles. So let me get this straight, I don’t need a job, I get to eat pizza whenever I want, my dad teaches me martial arts, and I spend my days getting into trouble with my siblings? Sign me up! The cherry on top? We all wear matching bandanas with our own colors. To put into perspective how cool that is, NBA superstars aren’t even allowed to wear ninja headbands. Lame!

Of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ slacker-by-day/heroes-by-night routine has been the source of their appeal since the 80s. Starting as a parody in a series of gritty black & white graphic novels, the franchise’s pivot to a family-friendly action series targeted towards children has helped turn the Turtles into cash cows that never truly leave the pop cultural sphere. From countless cartoon shows, live-action movies, a beautifully rendered but flawed animated entry in TMNT (2007), and most recently, a couple of live-action reboots produced by Michael Bay. However, like many things associated with Michael Bay post-1996, the less said about those movies, the better.

So, if you’re Paramount Pictures, how do you continue to keep the Turtles relevant and appealing to new generations of kids? Well, apparently, you follow a very noticeable trend and mimic the animation style of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) & Arcane (2021). That brings us to the long-winded title of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. The new film is set up as yet another reboot in the series, but also a re-imagining that plays with some of the character expectations. But these deviations don’t actually take away from the sheer number of characters in the cast, as the synopsis itself is still very conservative and paint-by-numbers for this franchise:

After years of being sheltered from the human world, the Turtle brothers set out to win the hearts of New Yorkers and be accepted as normal teenagers. Their new friend, April O’Neil, helps them take on a mysterious crime syndicate, but they soon get in over their heads when an army of mutants is unleashed upon them.

So yes, not exactly reinventing the wheel here, but at the same time, a synopsis doesn’t tell us exactly how a movie will feel in execution. The film is directed by Jeff Rowe, known for his involvement in Gravity Falls and for co-directing the solid animated comedy The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021). So, he’s apparently adept at combining high-concept idiosyncrasies with fast-paced humor. In fact, his two previous projects I just mentioned maybe even more weird and out there than your average TMNT product. In a crowded summer, Mutant Mayhem still needs a great deal of exposure and uniqueness to stand out from the competition. Paramount’s recent panel at the 2023 San Diego Comic-Con has been our most extensive look at the film, as over 20 minutes of footage was screened for those in attendance. Slowly, clips of that footage have trickled out online, including examples like this:

While the Turtles have always lived under a dynamic of secrecy, it seems like this dilemma will be put under greater stress and scrutiny in this movie. It’s very much a theme that speaks to ideas of persecution and hiding who you are because you’re different. Again, this isn’t new by any means, but it’s an additional flavor to a theme you’re already familiar with. But the film’s criticism of inhibiting children and teenagers who just want to feel free isn’t limited to the outside world but has thoughts on the role parental figures at home play in this worldview:

OK, there’s a lot going on here, but I’m loving the dynamic! Splinter (Jackie Chan) has always been more than a little uptight, and the wacky energy of the Turtles is not just great contrast but needed to make him (eventually) not such a stick in the mud. Splinter (Jackie Chan) gets to control the narrative thus far because he has the authority and the experience. But it seems likely that Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michaelangelo will prove Splinter’s worldview to be unequivocally wrong, stepping out of the shadows into some form of heroic glory that redeems the mistreatment this family has received in New York City.

The voice cast also includes the likes of Seth Rogen, Ice Cube, Hannibal Burress, John Cena, and Rose Byrne. Quite a deep cast list, combined with a colorful art style, there isn’t much to complain about in these clips. It may be very new packaging, but it’s still the hyper-active, irreverent, and over-the-top gags and action you come to expect from this franchise. One that entertains a new generation of children while hopefully providing enough artful animation, pathos, and humor to keep adults satiated. Or we can just keep it simple and say ninjas and pizza are always a draw.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem hits up theaters on August 2nd, 2023.