Give Us Back Our Turtles!

I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I was born in 1981. Does that make me an 80s child or a 90s child? I’m not really sure. I guess it depends on which internet meme I come across on any given day. Let me just say that I was very aware of the world around me in 1987 when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon debuted. I remember it like it was yesterday. I watched every episode of that show. I scooped countless piles of dog shit to save the allowance money that would allow me to buy every last figure, regardless of how many times I had to buy the same plastic mold with a different head. I had to have them all. I got my hands on the first few issues of the comics and was shown a wonderful, different side of the turtles. The world was all turtles all the time. I remember the debates in the cafeteria over which turtle was the best. The laid back, cool kids liked Michelangelo. The trouble makers liked Raphael. The jocks liked Leonardo, because they were ass-kissers. And the girls all liked Donatello. Probably because he was so non-threatening. Like, he was the turtle they could go shopping with or something. Whatever.

Anyway, I remember attending all of the Ninja Turtles-themed birthday parties. Going to Pizza Hut because something in the way the logo repeated itself over and over again in the Turtles video games made me have strong, uncontrollable urges for that restaurant. Playing the arcade game in the roller rink while Jane Child’s “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” boomed over the loudspeakers and made me feel that all was right with the world. One hot, summer day I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the local movie theater to see The Little Mermaid. While I stomped around the lobby like the spoiled 8 year old I was, Beethoven’s Hallelujah Chorus could suddenly be heard. The clouds parted, allowing bright rays of the sun to shine down in front of me (how I could see this from inside the lobby I don’t know but this is my story so just accept it). The rays beemed down to a large, glass frame which housed a poster. It was the poster for the yet-to-be-released Teenage Mutant Fuckin’ Ninja Turtle movie!! It was to be released the following March. The month of my birthday! “Hey dudes, this is no cartoon,” read the tagline. I was so excited I almost pissed my pants.

Months went by, and finally the movie was released. It was amazing. I was so entranced by the experience of seeing the turtles alive on screen that I never even noticed their shells folding with movement. Or the shot of the human hand when Donatello’s stunt actor forgot to put on his glove. Or the large wires hanging out of Leonardo’s shell. Or Kevin Clash’s entire body shoved up Splinter’s robe as he threw the Shredder over the roof top at the end of the movie. And if anyone HADN’T noticed those little hiccups before, I’m sorry. You will probably NEVER be able to watch the movie without noticing them ever again. Through the eyes of a third grader seeing that movie for the first time in 1990, however, the movie was flawless. The voices of the turtles captured their individual personalities perfectly. The movie was goofy enough for us kids but gritty and violent enough to at least keep parents awake in the theater. It went on to be the most successful independent movie of all time up until that point. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the co-creators of the Turtles, became the KISS of the childrens’ pop culture world. Breakfast cereals, clothes, underwear, toys, video games, toothpaste, calculators, sneakers, cigarette packs, liqour bottle labels, bongs, and the moon ALL had some likeness of the turtles on them. (Well, maybe not ALL of those). Two more movies were released, each with less popularity and hype than its predecessor. Finally, in the mid-90s, with an aging fanbase and a hostile takeover by some Voltron-ripoff live action TV show, the cartoon was cancelled and the toys disappeared from store shelves. It was time for me and my friends to find something a bit more mature to obsess over. The Marvel Comics Swimsuit issue, of course!! (Look it up, that really happened).

Years went by and we saw all kinds of stupid fads come and go. Furbys, Beanie Babies, and Tickle-Me-Elmo were the hot sellers for years. Then in 2003, the Turtles came back. A decent new animated show was released, and a fourth movie was released in 2007. It was cool to see the boys in green back, but something just didn’t feel right. Times had changed. The turtles belonged to a different time. When Hot Topic started selling Turtles merchandise to masses of ungrateful emo teenagers I wanted to cry. It was probably the same feeling old, British 70s punk rockers felt when they saw Johnny Rotten on a commercial selling butter: happy to see the guy, but also wishing you could revisit the old days for just a little while.

But for the last few years, the Turtles had been a pleasant memory for me. I could look back at those old comics and watch the old movies and could recite lines with my friends during late night coffee binges at our favorite diners. And when news hit a year or two ago that a new live action movie was in the works, I was excited again. I began to imagine what it might be like. Would this new movie be a tribute to the original comics? Would it be a throwback to the glory days of the 80s and bring me back to that day I saw that poster in that dark theater lobby all those years ago? My imagination ran wild. Then I found out who was the mastermind behind this Turtle resurrection: Michael Bay. The man who nostalgia geeks like me live in fear of. The man who gave us one decent Transformers movie but then made two sequels that felt like a jab/cross combination that left our collective childhood reeling. Now, I understand that the Transformers movie franchise has been very successful and accomplished exactly what it set out to do: make shit-loads of money for the studio. And to be fair, I was never a huge Transformers fan, so I had no expectations. But the Turtles were sacred to me. So when Mr. Bay said that they would be part of an alien race of turtles and that the original source material would be ignored (more or less), I then understood what all of those Transformers fans were complaining about. Bay had gone too far. Without going into a comic book history lecture, let’s just say that, to fans, making the Turtles aliens is like having Justin Bieber star as the T-800 in the next Terminator movie. Somewhat interesting, but downright painful to think about. Recently, we were informed that Megan Fox will have a starring role in the new Turtles movie. To put it in perspective, remember that meteor that fell to earth and exploded over Russia a few weeks ago? That’s what happened to my expectations for this new Turtles movie. But I guess the good news is that, like the Howard Jones’ song says, “things can only get better.” Maybe that’s part of Michael Bay’s, um, genius: lower my expectations so much that there will be nowhere else to go but up. Maybe, just maybe, this new movie will be so well-made that even my impossible-to-please nostalgia-addicted self will love it. Maybe I will accept the new Turtles story as truth. All I know for sure is that I’m sure I’ll be standing in line waiting to buy a ticket with a whole bunch of other 80s and/or 90s “kids” and we’ll all look at each other and say, “remember when….”

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