I’ve been thinking a lot about the Ninja Turtles lately. A couple weeks ago Alex and I were talking with our coworker John and somehow the old turtles cartoon came up and we all started reminiscing about our childhood favorites. Like virtually every person born in the 80s I lived for Saturday morning cartoons, the king of which was the mighty Turtles. It’s funny, this is an instant connection I can find with nearly anyone born around the same year as me, 1983 by the way. Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters that is. Well, our nostalgia led to some fun times watching YouTube clips and mash ups, focused primarily on Bebop and Rocksteady. Well, after that the Turtles were stuck in my head. This prompted me to re-watch the 3 live action films (yes, I suffered the 3rd one) and the CGI movie with my wife and son. Oh, I also happened to be playing the new Turtles Smash Up game for the Wii from my Game Fly. So that was good fun.
Then this Saturday I did something rare, I decided to check out the current crop of Saturday morning cartoons. To my shock I stumbled upon Turtle Forever, just as it was starting. I had never heard of it before, but I was very excited when I saw what it was. In case you don’t know, here’s a trailer.
Pretty cool stuff. In case you don’t know the old show or the new incarnation these intros should give you a pretty good idea of what they are about.
So the premise of Turtles Forever involved the turtles from my beloved childhood crossing path with the turtles of today, which is a show that I am vaguely familiar with. I had stumbled upon the world premiere of this new made for TV/DVD movie. A few thoughts on it. As an old school fan it was really strange and fun to see these characters I grew up with in some new material. They did a good job of making everyone look the same and capturing their feel. They made all the elements from the old show a bit too silly though. They over simplified and exaggerated how goofy the old show was for the purpose of juxtaposing it with the tough, serious tone of the new show. It wasn’t terrible, but a bit disappointing that the 80s show served mostly as comic relief here. I know this movie was targeted towards today’s youth, so I can see why the current show was the main focus. People my age who grew up on the old show are probably the minority in this audience, so I probably have a very different take on this movie than a modern child would. The overall plot was good, and I like how they worked in all the different incarnations of the turtles. The inclusion of the comic book turtles was really cool too. I’ve never read the comic books, but I’ve always been aware that the exist and are quite a bit more serious in tone than the cartoons. The most important thing I know about them is that they represent the peak success comic creators can achieve with self publishing and adapting content for commercial endeavors and wider mass appeal.
Basically this movie was the dissection of the major cultural icon the turtles have become. The plot cleverly works this into a cohesive story that examines the essence of what makes the turtles, both intrinsically and extrinsically. There’s a lot of subtle brilliance there, hidden underneath what I’m sure most will write off as a simple bubble gum pop, overly commercial cash in attempt. It’s not without flaws, but definitely worth viewing.
Funny, the old show that I look back so fondly on was an obvious “half hour long commercial” for action figures and toys, but it’s never bothered me. Hell, it’s made me want the toys! This may have been the most effective show of this nature of all time. The show spawned countless imitators, none of which saw anywhere near the same kind of success. It has remained endearing and never presented itself to its audience in an obnoxious manner. The fact that there has been so many incarnations, and that the turtles still produce regular new content today, some twenty plus years later, is a testament to the quality behind the characters and stories. It’s interesting to see how they’ve attempted to update themselves to stay relevant to the times, since their original popularity was such a phenomenon of a specific period in pop culture. I doubt they’ll ever achieve that same level of popularity, but it’s nice to know they are still around.
In my youth I watch the show, played the games, drew the turtles, bought the toys and even created my own costumes and weapons so I could go out and pretend to be the turtles with my friends. I was Michaelangelo, in case you were wondering. Some of my friends still are able to remember specific plots and quotes from the old show. That’s not really how I work though. My memories from childhood aren’t so specific, more I remember how things made me feel and they’re general overall tone. I’m able to recall the essence of something and tap into the same emotions that I originally felt when I experienced it. This is also true of the 80s TMNT. I’m amazed at how detailed these characters and plots are documented on Wikipedia, I sure as hell don’t remember all that. I also don’t remember when or why I stopped watching the show, but the turtles eventually stopped being a part of my life. I saw the new incarnations, but it wasn’t the same and never hooked me in the same way.
Something happened in my teenage years, Hot Topic was created. Suddenly many of my beloved old shows from the 80s were popping up on clothing and key chains and a bunch of other things. It still seems really weird to me, and I don’t quite understand it. It doesn’t feel like a true or genuine portrayal of things like TMNT or Nintendo, but rather some cheapened bastardized version. I’ve never been able to really embrace the whole revamping and repackaging of the culture of my youth. I can’t tell you exactly why, but Hot Topic’s mere existence and popularity has always troubled me. Perhaps it’s all the posers I see working and shopping there, or the young kids wearing T-shirts they don’t even understand like Che or 80s shows that they were too young to even experience. I don’t know exactly, but I do know that I don’t like it. I’ve also never really liked people that cling too much to the past and talk about it adnaseum, which Hot Topic seems to inspire.
In a final note I’d like to talk about the importance of embracing your inner child. This is critical for multiple reasons, but especially so in creative endeavors. Children aren’t afraid to try new things, explore new areas and test there limits, and these are all admirable qualities when trying to create something new. I consider myself to be a fairly well rounded person, that displays many facets. I can be serious, intellectual, goofy, a lot of fun and a million other things. I have both very adult and childlike tendencies. I drink alcohol, pay my taxes, create and organize spreadsheets, balance my budget, manage employees, follow the news and a plethora of other adult things. I also draw, play video games, watch cartoons, play with my son, keep pets, get really into celebrating holidays and a bunch of other more childlike things. It’s important to find a good medium ground, as leaning too much either way is not a good thing. To be really creative you must be able to tap into the childlike mentality of doing something simply because it is fun, not for any other altruistic goals. Not to succeed, or to profit or anything like that. That’s something I’ve really had to remind myself and come to terms with while working on Black Snow. It’s not always the way of thinking that comes naturally, but it is important.
I bring this up because in many ways the Ninja Turtles represent my childhood. The original cartoon captured what felt like it was a simpler, more innocent era, both in my life and culture as a whole. Things didn’t have to be edgy, they could just be fun. Wholesome didn’t seem lame, it was something to embrace. Of course this might not be true, but it’s the way it felt to me. The turtles were simple fun. They weren’t judge harshly or demonized for being too commercial or too violent. They just entertained me, and apparently an entire generation. That makes it all the stranger to see them appear with the current turtles in Turtles Forever.
You may ask yourself if the Turtles have inspired anything in Black Snow? Of course they have. I’m sure much of it on an unconscious level, as I learned to draw by copying the cartoons I watched as a child. So yeah, they’ve undoubtedly had an impact on my style. More overtly their eye masks were a direct inspiration for Black Snow’s. At one point I toyed with drawing it with the knot in the back and the ends hanging down over the shoulders, but opted to make it a simple wrap around the head in the end. April O’Neil was also a direct inspiration for Mary Summerhall, both as a character and in the way she’s drawn. I’m sure there are a few others, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
To close I’d like to say thank you to the Ninja Turtles for providing me with countless hours of entertainment over the years, and here’s hoping for many years to come as well.