TMNT 2012: Nickelodeon Series Not All Cowabunga, Dudes
Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Rafael is cool but rude, and Michelangelo is a party dude. For an entire generation addicted to Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this small list of traits was all the character development necessary to make Splinter’s children a household name. Nickelodeon, in the process of heavily promoting their upcoming series based on the franchise, seems intent on recreating that magic for a new age. However, the new series is not looking too impressive and for those who remember the days when Turtles were like Twilight, it is worrisome to think of one’s childhood heroes starring in something as sub-par as the trailer implies. With an inherently ridiculous story, failed attempts at humor and sloppy animation, the upcoming series seems destined to mar the good name of the Turtles franchise.
The story of the turtles, as can be seen in the aforementioned video, is not something amazing. Four turtles come in contact with ooze and transform into anthropomorphic reptiles that live by the code of the ninja. If it sounds ridiculous, understand that the franchise was originally meant to parody numerous comic books from the 80s. Therefore, this series was never meant to be something like X-Men or Batman, shows that made up for lackluster animation with deep, meaningful storytelling that dealt with issues such as violence, segregation, and hate. Clearly, the deepest thing the Turtles deal with is a villain that sounds like something you buy on sale at Staples, and that is part of their charm. Changing that nonsensicality, as the 2007 film attempted to do by introducing darker themes, only results in a compromised version of what is really a fun but mindless tale.
That having been said, everything from Nickelodeon’s champion Spongebob Squarepants to the original Turtles’ series was ridiculous in premise. Yet, these shows were made watchable because the creators were always aware of the inherent stupidity of the concept. The original Turtles played up the cheese factor with storylines such as Michelangelo gaining too much weight from eating pizza, even earning him a fat joke from Donatello. The fact that the creators knew of the insanity behind their story and indirectly addressed it in the show meant that the series had a charm to it that worked not in spite of their kooky premise but because of it.
However, as can be seen in the trailers, the humor is the new series is poorly written. Whereas the original made viewers cringe, and eventually smile, at how bad the plot was, the current version can only induce a groan. When Michelangelo makes too much noise and is collectively hushed by the others, the only result is a moment where adult viewers will place their head in their hands and cry over what they have lost.
The other option for series creators not too interested with realism and fantastic narrative is the route that The Spectacular Spider-Man went, focusing mostly on flashy action animations. The terrifically detailed fight sequences more than made up for the cartoony look and feel of the show while the strictly tolerable storytelling genuinely became enjoyable as viewers realized that each corny line of dialogue was going to lead up to a fantastic battle. However, Nickelodeon’s show does not have that either, with the very movements of the characters looking disjointed. One look at the opening sequence for the Xbox game Mutant Nightmare demonstrates what good animation can do for the Turtles franchise but this show does not have that. Therefore, as is it is currently lacking a compelling narrative, self-referential humor or even quality animation, the series has nothing going for it.
I am not some kind of purist when it comes to the Turtles franchise. While truly die-hard fans were yelling at Michael Bay for changing both the look and the origin of the ninja team, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, it was backed by Kevin Eastman, contained two classic villains, and ultimately meant that I would get to see Leonardo and company on the big screen. However, fan reactions were truly negative and that likely played a role in the studio’s decision to shut down pre-production for the film. Still, even if this piece proves to be the reason I may not get another series based on my childhood heroes, it must still be said that the fans deserve better than this. Sure, the show has energy and actually seems to be winning me over as time passes, but it needs more than that. Either give us a compelling story (which in itself betrays the campy nature of the franchise), a sense of humor that allows us to laugh at the insane premise, or fight animations that Yuen Woo-Ping would be proud to call his own; the legend of the ooze deserves as much. If Nickelodeon cannot do any of these, than it is best to leave the Turtles as they are: beautiful and unscarred, if only in our imagination.