After reviewing that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film from last year, which has the odd distinction of being a film that “didn’t make me angry”, I pledged to review the older TMNT films at some point. I still haven’t done that. But I have watched the documentary about the creation of those Mutant Turtles and my review of that is right here… so… that let’s me off, right?
This documentary, directed by Randall Lobb, purports to be “The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. It isn’t quite. It’s more a definitive history of the rise to fame of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Once the success of the first live action film has been covered the history just kind of stops. We get about 10 minutes of discussion of the split of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the creators of TMNT, and how the license was sold on and that’s it. No coverage of the years where the popularity waned. No coverage of the mess that was the third film. No coverage of the various reboots and variations over the years. So in that respect the film is a little disappointing.
I look at TMNT in much the same way as I do Transformers. I am a fan but I fully get that there’s some terrible version of the characters (See last summer’s Transformers film) and I’ve always been interested in hear the creative decisions that led to those car wrecks happening, and how they avoided those issues with following iterations. I would have quite liked some talk regarding the Imagi Studios 2007 TMNT film which I think is a pretty decent entry for the whole series. So yeah, the definitive history part isn’t entirely accurate. But that’s OK, because what is here is definitive and is really a very good example of pop culture documentary work.
The film extensively uses interviews from both Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird which keeps the focus on the actual story of how the Turtles were created and how their popularity grew from a first hand accounts point of view. There really isn’t too much in the way of fan interviews here, which is actually quite rare for a pop culture focused documentary. That isn’t a detriment. We’re looking at how the characters were developed, embraced and grew rather than the fandom. Interviewees are regularly introduced at the various milestones in the franchise’s progress as we see how the cartoon, playmates toys and first film were developed. This results in a laser focused approach to progressing the film’s narrative without distractions. Compare this to that Video Games: The Movie which kept losing focus as it jumped back and forth through history whilst relying on unfocused nostalgia of celebrity guests and you’ll understand why Turtle Power is an excellent example of a focused story being told in documentary form.
There’s a lot of interesting anecdotes surrounding the creation of the late 80s cartoon and the toys that came with it. This is the period where the Turtles went through their first real creative shift in tone as the direction was moved towards something a lot more family friendly. Seeing some of the rejected toy designs reminds you of just how silly some toys and cartoons were around that period and leaves you pretty thankful that at least a few people working on the cartoon had enough sense to nix these ideas. I don’t think the cartoon would have benefited from a sewer base with some sort of giant God’s face stuck in the wall, for example. Although the bogey firing gun wielding bad guy would have been right up my 8 year old’s alley. That sounded rude.
What was really nice to see was a moment spent with the voice actors of the original show. Partly this is because I’m a huge Cam Clarke fan. I love his performance in Metal Gear Solid despite having no idea what accent he was going for. Best of all though is the fact this contains one of the last times we’d see James Avery, the voice of Shredder and Uncle Phil in Fresh Prince of Bel Air, speak on camera. If you go take a gander at his IMDB page you’ll possibly be amazed at how many voices he did for cartoons in the 80s and 90s. He was Junkyard Dog in Hulk Hogan’s Rock n’ Wrestling ferchristsake! Including the voice cast was a great addition as they’re so often overlooked. The film even made time for the guys that performed in the TMNT live stage shows. You know, the ones where they were a rock band. Yeah… that happened. The lack of Rob Paulson, the voice of Raphael, is a little disappointing but you can’t get them all I suppose. Probably shouldn’t forgive them for not including the Super Shredder himself, Kevin Nash, when they briefly discussed the sequel film though.
Overall Turtle Power is a fine documentary detailing the creation and rise to fame of a franchise without dipping too far into nostalgia drenched fandom. These sorts of documentaries don’t need a hundred head parroting the same line about how much they love the thing. They just need a the right people talking honestly about how the thing came to be. Unless you’re doing a fandom focused piece like The People Vs George Lucas though, of course. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this documentary and hope that the people behind this maybe tackle some other aspects of pop culture in a similar way. They have the format down and He-Man and Transformers need this attention too. The film could have been more comprehensive regarding the entire franchise but what is here is all radical or something. Cowabunga?