The End Of Turtle Power: From Fearsome Fighting Foursome, to Loathsome Retro Cash Out
by Nicholas Pendergast
What the heck happened to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
It began as a vision for a couple of dudes in Amherst, Massachusetts, who were bored and looking to chase a dream. They decided to spend their tax returns and some borrowed money to print a one issue black & white comic book with animals that poked a little too much fun at Daredevil. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was born and expected to live no longer than it took for Eastman and Laird to sell their original prints.
What was once a hip young adult comic strip made a huge unexpected step first into cult fan phenomenon, and then into cartoon titan in 1987. This was 30 years ago. The overnight transformation to larger than life cultural foundation blew loads of cash all over the marketplace. Everyone wanted to have a piece of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise. The craze was so big, New Line Cinema released its first TMNT film in 1990. It was the highest grossing indie film that summer and remains a classic among fans today. From 1987 to 1993 pop culture shook with the power load of four ninja amphibians who dieted exclusively on junk food. Video games, comic books, pens, pencils, calendars, soaps, cereal boxes, chairs, guitars, pajamas, underwear, socks, and even day time talk shows proved that Turtle Power was everywhere.
Those were different times, before elementary children’s heroes were reduced to health foods and zero tolerance on violence.
In the later half of the fad, it became apparent that Turtle Power was merely a cash grabbing exploitation of the original phenomenon of the late 80s. It died out in the mid 90s without much notice, and new trends like Power Rangers would usurp dominance over the old green fighting machine.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could have stayed dead, but that would not suffice for the retro culture that became popular toward the early-mid 2000s. In 2003 a decent attempt was made to make a new cartoon series. Toys were on the shelves again. Not to the same degree as in its prime 14 years earlier, Ninja Turtles were relevant again. Mirage Studios and 4Kids Entertainment were busting out quality cartoons for a new generation, and an exciting feature length animated film was produced in 2007.
In 2010 Kevin Eastman sold the rights to TMNT out to Viacom. Mirage Studios shut down and the old bones of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were finally put to rest. By then I was a 25-year-old man. I saw more franchises come and go than I had eaten warm meals. It wasn’t a bother seeing Mirage go off into the sunset, and to be honest I was done with the retro phenomena sweeping through the last decade anyway.
2010. That was the year our retro cash crops started to die in the wind. Things seemed stagnant. Terminator: Salvation had just bombed. Transformers in 2007 was a good deal, but its sequel in 2009 was devoured by critics and failed to live up to the hype. A new Karate Kid movie came out, but not many people cared. Toy Story 3 was our swansong, our goodbye to the past and the ’90s, but certain parties didn’t see things that way.
Viacom, naturally, saw an opportunity to make a lot of money off the TMNT franchise and put it on Nickelodeon. I didn’t pay attention. My mind was drifting off into adulthood, and kids’ cartoons were no longer relevant to my life. Somehow the new images of Ninja Turtles I saw while passing through stores no longer affected me.
On a whim, I decided to watch the new films.
The movies are so awful and far removed from the source material that they may as well have been called Teenage Mutant Ninja Hot Dogs On A Stick. Shredder looked like a Decepticon in the first film, a Decepticon with giant knife hands, and his relationship to the turtles’ surrogate Splinter is all but removed from the plot. The turtles have lost all their character and cheer, also, except for Michelangelo. Sure, Donatello’s script is smartey, Raphael is pissed, and Leo is — well, Leo, but it all seems so forced.
In the most recent film, Out of The Shadows, Michael Bay tries to honor the roots of the old Mirage cartoon by dragging out Rocksteady and Bebop from the old lore vault. Krang, the dimensional warlord and master of the Technodrome, also makes his first big screen appearance. Sadly, this was all too little too late. Michael Bay could have played himself as the overlord of Dimension X in this movie, and it would have worked out just as well.
I shut Out of The Shadows off before it escalated into a complete disaster, then threw my blanket over my head, and wondered what was left from my childhood. What is left that has not yet been destroyed with commercial over saturation? Is this a no man’s land? Are we left with no revivals to look forward to?
Power Rangers is expected to drop in spring of 2017, but I’m not at all energized with anticipation for its release. It’s not 1997 and the morphin’ rage just doesn’t feel the same. This is a cash out for some bored revisionists hoping to make a few million nostalgic grownups go to the theaters and reminisce on childhood, and I’m fine with that, but I don’t need to watch something new when the old stuff still pops into a VHS player. Some toys will be sold. Clothes with cool looking logos will go up on shelves and be sold off to the young and young at heart. Today’s generation of children will be almost completely raised on yesterday’s pop cultural hand me downs. Is this normal? I’m not buying it.
Whatever magic was flowing through the current in the ’80s and early ’90s, it’s just not there anymore, and I may never watch another retro film reboot with any wonder in my heart again.