On the heels of what will probably be a relatively successful new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film, Paramount is releasing a documentary that takes the entire franchise back to its roots. And what humble roots they were during the mid-1980s when the competition to coin the next big children’s toy/entertainment line was uber competitive.
Make no mistake, things in 2014 are competitive too, but, c’mon, back then, you couldn’t just super glue a smart phone into your child’s hand and allow modern technology to entertain him or her relentlessly. You had to physically buy toys, games and other tangible items made in foreign countries out of materials we didn’t have the technology to figure out were extremely dangerous to come into contact with. The diversification of the characters themselves, their adventures and their ever so charming personas quickly added multiple important layers on top of the fact that these were talking turtles walking on their hind legs rather than all fours.
“Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” takes its audiences behind the scenes and beneath the streets to discover the real origin story of four of pop culture’s most enduring heroes in this captivating look into the minds and methods of those who crafted the time tested characters. Written and directed by Randall Lobb, the film chronicles the birth of a franchise and reveals the remarkable journey of four of the most unlikely super heroes of all time.
At a short but crowded 98 minutes, “Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” lays all the franchise’s cards on the table. We get to know the original creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, as they reflect on their crude but important sketches crafted by tiny Mirage Studios in 1984. Designers, writers and concept developers like John Schulte, Karl Araonian, Michael Reaves and David Wise came to the table sooner or later, and most of these names who so often exist behind the camera open up, as do the cast members of the motion pictures and animated television series over the years.
Of course, it doesn’t take a media genius to figure out that, despite presenting something completely fresh, innovative and unique, the whole thing should have fallen flat. And while it didn’t skyrocket to fame within 24 hours, it eventually lifted off and hasn’t really found its way back to Earth since. It’s pretty fascinating to hear the creators talk about their perspectives on the franchise over a 30 year window (that’s right…can you believe it?) Most of them, including Laird and Eastman, step back and wonder how and why their quirky, non-traditional ideas took flight. How do you make four totally different personalities mesh together successfully to not lose their individuality but also to demonstrate they understand they are interconnected? How do you give them skill sets with their minds, mouths and hands? How do you transition characters from sketches to graphic novels to animated kiddie programs to live action?
Most, if not all of these questions are answered during “Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Hearing the methods to the madness behind naming each turtle (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael…if you’ll remember, during “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze,” Mikey informs everyone that “All the good ones end in O!”), developing villains, allies and supporting roles, plus the occasional friendly banter that can happen when you have one too many cooks in the kitchen, is eye opening and entertaining at the same time. This so-called “happy accident” has essentially defied every naysayer to become one of the most popular and beloved comic, toy, cartoon, live show and film franchises in the world.
Above all else, I think the TMNT franchise has succeeded in bridging the gap between child fan and adult fan successfully. Those behind the films and the marketing were able to pull their brain power together and devise antics, problems and solutions that would broadly appeal to more than one audience. And they did it over a period of time that without a doubt illustrates longevity, humor and creativity. If the one-liners connected to this franchise don’t rope you in, the wise cracks probably will!
“Go ninja, go ninja, go!”
“God, I love being a turtle!”
“I made a funny!”
The standard definition DVD boasts little to be impressed with visually. It’s your widescreen enhanced 16×9 image that leaves me wanting HD ever so badly. The coloration is fine, but it’s grainy and clearly not as clean as it probably could be. Some of the stock footage actually looks better than the current documentary footage (some of it doesn’t, of course).
The documentary’s English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is completely adequate. It doesn’t blow you away with audio prowess, but given the fact that we’re watching a film about the franchise and not one of the films itself, this isn’t a big deal. Not problems hearing the humorous reflections or the fun history at all. Subtitle choices are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Shockingly, there aren’t any. How unfortunate.
A Final Word:
It’s a fun, enlightening look at a popular franchise I still enjoy every so often. If there’s more to the story, and it isn’t here, it’s probably not relevant.
“Ninja, ninja rap!”