How ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ went from in-joke to blockbuster

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently the number-one movie in America – a development largely viewed like it’s a plot by the evil Shredder himself. Technically directed by Jonathan Liebesman, this blockbuster reboot bears the stamp of its superstar producer, Transformers maestro Michael Bay.

Garnering bad reviews from both film critics and nostalgic fans, it nonetheless displaced its direct competitor, the much, much better-liked Guardians of the Galaxy, to seize control of the box office.

Most of the action-figure/kids’-cartoon juggernauts of the Eighties were developed the old-fashioned way: by corporations. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe began in the design department of toy behemoth Mattel. Its rival Hasbro teamed up with Marvel Comics to revive its old GI Joe concept, this time making its toy soldiers the same size as the smash-hit Star Wars action figures to which Mattel had passed up the rights several years earlier, with their “Real American Hero” relaunch.

But a closer look at TMNT history reveals that the film’s success is less of a surprise than you’d think. Like the Turtles themselves, the franchise began as something simple, then mutated into something much bigger and bolder. Money, not mutagenic ooze, was the catalyst. And in capturing the hearts, minds, and allowances of yet another generation of kids and tweens despite their parents’ chagrin, these ninjas are doing exactly what they were trained to do.

By contrast, the Turtles literally started out as a joke. Co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were comic-artist wannabes when they spent a November 1983 evening doodling the masked, weaponised reptiles to entertain themselves. Each adjective in Turtles‘ title represented a hot superhero-comic trend at the time – mutants were the stars of Marvel’sUncanny X-Men; DC’s New Teen Titans had teenage protagonists; and future Sin Cityimpresario Frank Miller had stuffed his groundbreaking run on Daredevil full of ninjas.

By throwing it all together atop a funny-animal framework – which, from Carl Barks’ Donald Duck to Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck, had long been a route to comic-book gold – Eastman and Laird simply obeyed the Spinal Tap doctrine of cranking it to eleven.

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Posted by on Aug 18 2014. Filed under Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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