Under the direction of Michael Bay, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is a CG-laden glossy action flick. It feels slick and commercialized, which is ironic given the franchise's indie roots.
The story of the Teenage Mutant Teenage Turtles begins in 1984. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird launched a small print run of a black and white comic book featuring the adventures of four mutant reptiles. Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and Leonardo were drawn in a sharp, angular style and went on escapades that were surprisingly violent in comparison to the later interpretations of the characters. In fact, the foursome actually appears to kill Shredder at the end of the very first issue.
The earliest TMNT comic books, which are highly prized as collector's items, have been described as a dark fusion/parody of elements from several other comics, including Cerberus, a Canadian series about an anthropomorphic aardvark, and The New Mutants, a spin-off of the X-Men franchise detailed the exploits of five teenagers with mutant powers. The original TMNT weren't opposed to occasional curse word and preferred booze over pizza.
In 1987, David Wise created an animated series based on the original TMNT comic. To appeal to younger children, the storyline became less gritty and more family-friendly. This is when popular catch phrases like "Turtle Power!" and "Heroes in a Half Shell" came into use. The TMNT each received a signature color at this time to move away from viewers using their weapons as identifiers -- blue for Leonardo, orange for Michelangelo, red for Raphael, and purple for Donatello.
The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated cartoon series ended up running for 10 seasons, complete with "Turtle Tips" between the episodes that sought to educate kids about the environment and other important issues. After the end of the original animated series, the TMNT were introduced in a short lived 1997-1998 live action series and a second cartoon series running from 2003-2009. A fourth season of the current computer animated series on Nickelodeon was ordered in June.
In the early 1990s, fans were treated to three live action feature films showcasing the TMNT: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). These films were just as campy as the 1987 animated cartoon series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) has been criticized as feeling too much like a Transformers movie to be true to the spirit of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Instead of being seen as lovable young ninjas, the turtles feel like militarized weapons of destruction. The normal teenage thoughts and feelings that made the '90s TMNT so appealing have been replaced by lots of shots of things blowing up as Megan Fox watches.
Several parents have complained that the film feels too violent for young children. It's the first of the TMNT movies to receive a PG-13 rating, although one could argue that the rougher, more aggressive TMNT are in fact truer to the original incarnation of the characters than the cute and cuddly version those of us who grew up in the '90s best remember.
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Photo courtesy of PictSaw.