Thursday, March 22, 2012

Notes on the "Ninja Turtle" Situation

It's hard to escape a sense of schadenfreude. Hey young male demographic, you've spent the last half decade paying to see Michael Bay trash the "Transformers" franchise into oblivion, turning those moronic movies into some of the biggest Hollywood moneymakers ever. And now that Bay thinks he can do no wrong, you get to watch him trash a franchise you guys actually care about!

Yes, Nickelodeon has acquired the rights to the "Ninja Turtles," and has decided to put Michael Bay in charge of rebooting it as a feature film. It's almost comical how badly he's getting off on the wrong foot here. The title of the franchise is "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." That's four things that are non-negotiable. And what does Bay want to do? Make the Ninja Turtles aliens. Aliens?! Sure, I guess it doesn't make that much difference if your anthropomorphic reptiles are from an alien race instead of the product of some laboratory's discarded mutagentic ooze. I've already seen some apologists posting up perfectly well-reasoned defenses of the alien angle as a legitimate artistic decision. Besides, why can't the Ninja Turtles be both mutants and aliens at the same time?

I'll tell you why. Because, they're the frickin' "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." I have no idea where the hell Michael Bay got this alien idea from. It adds a totally unnecessary level of complication to an origin story that every 80s and 90s kid knows by heart. Existing Turtles fans should be especially worried because this is really the first substantive thing that Michael Bay has said about the new reboot. Who knows what else he might be considering? April O'Neil is almost certainly going to get sexed up, because this is Michael Bay we're talking about. But what about Shredder and Splinter? If aliens are on the table, why not robots? Or zombies? Or robot zombies? Are the Ninja Turtles even going to be turtles by the time he's through with them? Oh, wait a minute. If they're aliens then technically they're not turtles anymore.

Michael Bay is no doubt confused about the amount of negativity he's getting right now. After all, he thoroughly mangled the Transformers universe and didn't get nearly this amount of heat for it, at least not so quickly. However, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is a much bigger and more well-known property than "Transformers." The first generation "Transformers" cartoon and toys were only around for about five years back in the 80s, and the subsequent reboots and reworkings have often been radically different. The Turtles however, had a Saturday morning cartoon that ran for ten straight seasons, from 1987 all the way until 1996. And concurrently, there were the three popular live action films of the early 90s. As the older sister of a younger brother who grew up during those years, the Turtles were inescapable. I still occasionally find myself humming "Turtle Power" from the first movie's soundtrack.

So I'm not the least bit surprised that they're still around. A second animated series ran for seven years through most of the 2000s, and a third is in development. There was a short-lived and much reviled live action series in the late 90s, but a 2007 CGI animated movie, "TMNT," did very well at the box office. And maybe that's the first mistake that Michael Bay made here. Why would you want to reimagine or reboot a franchise that for all intents and purposes is still going strong? And frankly, I don't see the "Ninja Turtles" story as being a very good basis for a blockbuster movie franchise like "Transformers" anyway. I have no beef with the Turtles, but they never worked that well in live action. I don't think modern kids are going to go for the old character suits, and if the Turtles are going to be CGI effects, maybe the whole film should just be animated.

Right now, though, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the online skirmishes between Michael Bay and the "Ninja Turtles" fandom. Some of the reactions so far have been very entertaining, and it's been nice to see some of the talent from the older Turtles media popping up to add their two cents. Personally, I don't think Michael Bay has ever had any business being anywhere near a kid-centric property, and hopefully this experience will convince him to steer clear in the future. Messing with people's childhood favorites is a dangerous business, especially a franchise that has as many fans as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

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