As a child from the 80s, I had the good fortune of being introduced to the world of TMNT via the comics created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.  Their personal story of sharing an apartment together, nearly broke, trying to figure out how to pay their bills, while enjoying a dinner of pizza and coming up with what would turn out to be one of the most beloved and successful stories in pop culture history still resonates with me to this day.  The cartoon took a more lighthearted approach than its gritty comic origins, but was still immensely fun watching the heroes in a half shell take on the evil Shredder and bail April O’Neil out of trouble, introduce a wealth of new characters both good and evil, all the while making time to eat some tasty pizza.  Soon, merchandise came out in the form of toys, apparel, posters, beach towels – you name it.  The high point for me as a kid during all of this turtlemania was when the 1990 movie came out.  Jim Henson’s company did a fantastic job of bringing the turtles to the silver screen, (with puppeteer technology that was state of the art for its day) Casey Jones surprised everyone as being part of the supporting cast, and the father / son relationship theme resonated with the male dominated audience.  Konami even debuted an aracde game featuring 4 player simultaneous play, which was unheard of back at that time .  It was the golden age of TMNT.  Then, everything took a turn for the worst.  The toys became uninspired, bizarre creations of characters, who were never in the comics, tv show, or movie.  The movie sequels became far too goofy, ditching the opportunity to introduce other meaningful themes, introduce ridiculous ideas such as a “super shredder” (even though we all saw him fall off a tall building into a garbage truck with Casey pull the lever, squashing his carcass at the end of the first film),  they completely missed the opportunity to introduce Bebop & Rocksteady, opting instead to have some werewolf looking creature and a mutated snapping turtle, and don’t get me started on Vanilla Ice.  There was even a rock n’ roll version of the turtles, who toured across the nation putting on shows and wearing cheap knock off suits from the films that made children visibly feel uncomfortable, subconsciously knowing that the atrocity in front of them was a far cry from what made TMNT legit.  Perhaps, I was outgrowing the turtles, but I wasn’t alone as TMNT faded from the limelight, largely becoming the victim of getting categorized as just a staple of the 80s.  Since then, there have recently been minor appearances of the heroes in a half shell; a video game, multiple cartoon reincarnations, a 3D movie, etc.  Despite these attempts to revitalize our beloved lean, mean, fighting machines, all of them ultimately missed the mark at re-harnessing what makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles special…until now.



In 2013, rumors began to swirl about a new live action TMNT movie that Paramount was working on.  You could tell that the fans were cautiously optimistic about this announcement as it sounded like it was the first time in decades that serious money was being put up to make the movie.  It didn’t take long for Michael Bay’s name to be leaked as being attached to the project, which caused a lot of folks to automatically assume he was directing it (causing a firestorm of dismay).  For the record, he was a producer on the film; Jonathan Liebesman was in the director’s chair.  Subsequent announcements perpetuated this emotional roller-coaster ride for fans (Megan Fox as April?  YAY!  William Fichtner as Shredder?  NO!  Turtles done in CGI?  YAY!  Turtles faces look terrible?  NO!) and even the initial teaser trailers had lackluster appeal.  This is just my hunch, but I think the marketing team was conflicted between pushing well known Hollywood names / antics that normally work for other films versus sticking to the spirit of the Turtles.  They began using the former, attempting to create a sense of mystique by intentionally misleading the public with half baked nuggets of info such as the aforementioned throwing of Michael Bay’s name out, but omitting his role on the film.  By the time the second teaser trailer was released, a feeling of dread overcame me as it seemed as though Paramount wasn’t backing this film very much with just how “meh” the presentation was.  Well, someone in the Marketing department must’ve ate their proverbial Wheaties before churning out trailer number 3 because it single-handedly caused a 180 degree turn from fizzle to sizzle.  I mean this trailer NAILED IT.  The web instantly stood up and took notice with prominent entertainment sites featuring the trailer on their respective home pages along with words such as “Epic” and “Awesome” sharing the same space.  The pacing, music selection (playing “Reptile’s Theme” from Mortal Kombat was a brilliant choice), motion graphics, and editing style were flawless and together harnessed what fans have been clamoring for: the spirit appropriately and properly realized of TMNT.  As a motion graphics / trailer designer myself, I have a special appreciation for well done movie trailers as I can tell you that the biggest challenge is to encapsulate the essence of your subject matter over the course of 1 – 2 minutes that will compel the viewer not only to want to pay to watch the movie, but will formulate a very strong emotional conviction to spread the word and say “have you seen this?!  It looks REALLY good!” to their friends & family.  This emotion can just as easily sway in the opposite reaction with the viewer, causing them to hate the trailer and avoid the movie altogether.  One thing is for certain – when folks watch a trailer, they either love it or hate it.  I certainly tip my hat to whomever created it – well done:

Needless to say, I went opening weekend with my wife to see it.  I’m going to let it be known now:  This movie ROCKED.  It was like the director somehow was able to combine elements of the comic book, cartoon series, arcade game, and the original 1990 live action movie classic – basically all of the beloved iterations of TMNT back in its heyday – into a cinematic experience.  Was it perfect?  No.  Was it better than the 1990 movie?  No.  Liberties were taken with regards to the story origins being changed, which I never understand the logic of (if it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it), I didn’t care for the voice of Splinter, their face designs are ugly as sin (especially Mikey and Leo), and Mikey’s incessant flirting with April bordered on uncomfortable / creepy, which is ironic considering he identifies during his first encounter with April that how he mockingly echoed Leo’s sentence, it was in fact, “creepy”.   Despite these issues, there was A LOT to like about this film.  The CGI is breathtaking.  I felt like I could reach out and feel the various textures of the Turtles, it looked that tangible.  Shredder thankfully ended up actually being Japanese and his suit was menacingly delicious, visually speaking:

The film succeeded in conveying an underlying pulse that taps into the nonstop vibe that the Big Apple is known for.  Attention was given to explore the personalities of each Turtle in this film, which I appreciated.  The 1990 film mainly focused on the character development of Leo and Raph, leaving Don and Mikey to be comic relief, which was fine, but we ultimately couldn’t properly enjoy the attributes that were exclusive to each Turtle.  This time around, we can see that Donatello is the tech / inventor, Leonardo is the disciplined team leader, Mikey is the bonafide party dude, and Raphael is the intense maverick of the group.  The showdown between Splinter and Shredder was also a delightful surprise and served as a bit of a mini climax in the middle of the movie watching the two masters square off on the silver screen for the first time.  Megan Fox is always a treat for the eyes as she is seriously one of the most beautiful women EVER and I felt like she did a decent job as April, although I still think that Judith Hoag retains the crown as she had the spunk / embodied the spirit of April O’Neil that makes the character so fetching:

All of these qualities interweave around three complimentary pillars that perhaps ultimately is at the heart of what makes this film and the world of TMNT over the decades so special.  The first pillar is humor.  One of the most endearing traits of the Turtles is their ability to find a joke in anything.  No matter the conflict, moment, or threat, they always manage to find a way to inject humor into it.  As teenagers, they are in the midst of an awkward transition from childhood to adult, which is partly what makes them so lovable and easy to relate to.  It is this residual childlike innocence that makes for picking out and focusing on seemingly random things to have fun with, such as this example showing a close encounter with the Foot Clan and then a ride up an elevator:

The second pillar is family.  TMNT is a rarity in that it’s one of the very few stories that center around a father / son(s) relationship.  At the time of this writing, only one other film comes to mind, which is “Finding Nemo” and a large chunk of that story focuses on the Marlin / Dory relationship.  I’m sure there are other examples, but they are few and far between.  The dynamic between Father and Son are exclusive in that Sons aspire to win their Father’s approval and respect as they make the transition of becoming a man themselves while Fathers seek to instill qualities that equip their Sons and ultimately teach them what it takes to become a good man.  We see this with Splinter and the Turtles as he balances strict obedience with love.  The scene where Splinter squares off against Shredder resonated with me as it was Splinter’s first and only priority to protect his sons.  Making sure they were securely out of harm’s way, he willingly places his sons before him.  When Raphael discovers his father badly injured, Splinter implores Raphael to go save his brothers as opposed to tending to him.  This repeated act of selflessness is part of what makes a true man and father.  As brothers, the Turtles behave how you’d expect any group of male siblings to interact and that’s part of what makes them so endearing; they aren’t your stereotypical one dimensional bad ass characters that are invincible to harm and execute everything flawlessly.  They make mistakes, reveal their fears, have petty arguments, play practical jokes, behave awkwardly around girls, eat pizza together as a family, and so forth – attributes that are universally accessible to all males, who can easily identify with the Turtles.  At the core is their complete undying brotherly love they have for each other.  It’s actually a great example of what happens when a family is threatened and how they put their issues on the shelf to focus on protecting what really matters: Each other.

“The dynamic between Father and Son are exclusive in that Sons aspire to win their Father’s approval and respect as they make the transition of becoming a man themselves while Fathers seek to instill qualities that equip their Sons and ultimately teach them what it takes to become a good man.”

The third pillar is duty.  I love how there is a strong desire for the Turtles to perform their civic duty as unofficial citizens of New York City.  It is a noble thing to be passionately driven to want to participate as watchful protectors when you have next to nothing and no one knows you exist.  They go so far as to disobey their father (which is a BIG deal in Japanese families) because they want to help so badly and can’t stand seeing the injustices inflicted upon the innocent.  To a large degree, I think being vigilant is a component to the American spirit regardless of where you or your ancestors originally came from.  As a viewer, it is gratifying to see them celebrate doing a good deed, considering the risk they incur every time they do it.  I think the most unique aspect regarding this pillar, is their eagerness to want to do the right thing.  Having strong convictions to take action and prove oneself in a servant capacity is an admirable trait – one that newer generations seem to be waning as of late.

“It is a noble thing to be passionately driven to want to participate as watchful protectors when you have next to nothing and no one knows you exist.”

Overall, the filmmakers did a nice job of representing TMNT.  They were diligent in reaching back to what makes the heroes in a half shell special and brought something to the silver screen that taps into the inner 10 year old, which itself is no easy task.  Being mindful of various successful elements from past experiences including the comic, arcade game, and television series paid off handsomely and registered on a sub-conscious level as homage throughout the film.  There were certain creative decisions I didn’t agree with that ultimately acted as detriments, but thankfully those are few and far between.  Personally, I am looking forward to the sequel and hope that the creators choose to introduce Krang, Bebop, Rocksteady, and the Technodrome.  The films from the early 90s squandered this opportunity, so let’s hope they’re aware of this and give us the goods.  While we’re at it, adding in a thunderous Party Wagon action sequence as well as introducing Casey Jones and Usagi Yojimbo would be stellar

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.  It is also important to give a special nod to Brian Tyler’s score, which aside from the original 90s television theme song, adds A LOT to the film and really pushes the visuals.  The main theme in particular is a rousing, heroic piece.  I give TMNT 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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