Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

2015 #159
Randall Lobb | 99 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

This informative documentary uses interviews with all the key players to tell the story of how a small indie comic, created incidentally and published almost on a whim, became a true cultural phenomenon.

And, despite how daft it all seemed (well, to adults — kids lapped it up), it really was huge. At first, co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird managed to scrape together enough money for a limited run of the first issue of the comic; three years later, it was outselling The Avengers, and they had deals for a toy line and animated TV series. Both of those were massive hits too… but it nearly ended after just five episodes and the first few action figures: toy manufacturer Playmates were so happy with the sales figures that they didn’t care about doing more. Seriously. Can you imagine that happening today? “We’ve made tonnes of money on this! Right, let’s stop it and think of something else.” It was the series’ producer who fought for more episodes, which must have made Playmates giddy with glee in the end: at its height, the toys shipped 100 million units a year, cited in the film as being probably the largest amount for a single toy line ever. I confess, I had a fair number of the toys; mainly early ones too, so there’s plenty of nostalgia-inducing focus on them here.

The film traces the story beyond that to the first live action film, which broke records for an independent production. There are some nice bits of behind-the-scenes trivia in this section, like how they shot dialogue scenes with the Turtles at 23fps, and action scenes at 22fps, so as to make the movements of the slightly-clunky suits crisper when played back at the regular 24fps. It’s around this point that the Turtles phenomenon began to wane, however, so it’s somewhere between a shame and unsurprising that the documentary stops shortly after — the sequel films were not very good and didn’t do very well, and it wasn’t long before the rights were sold on anyway, at which point the story of the creators’ relation to their creation essentially comes to a close. Is it right to gloss over this, or would it have been better to explore it in more detail? Both points of view have their merits, probably depending on how much nostalgia you hold for the property.

As for this documentary, it nonetheless finds an almost emotional conclusion with Eastman and Laird today talking about the chain of chance and coincidence that brought them together three decades ago to accidentally create something that transformed their lives, and which continues to endure in all kinds of media (no one liked that Michael Bay film, but it’s still getting a sequel; while the current animated series is apparently very good, for people who like that kind of thing). It makes for a surprisingly engrossing behind-the-scenes story, too.

4 out of 5

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