Title: Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Randall Lobb
Plot: Documentary charting the history of the series from its early beginnings as an indie comic book to worldwide phenomenon
Review: Back when I was growing up I had two favourite cartoons, the first being “SWAT KATZ” while the other was “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles” as it was known here in the UK as censors were kind of twitchy about the word ninja. While both shows were popular it would be the turtles which would truly blow up with the show ultimately running to 193 episodes as well as spawning as we probably all remember a popular toy line, several feature films and two further TV series. Unquestionably there was once a time were you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing some form of turtle inspired merchandise.
This year the franchise celebrated its 30th anniversary, which is honestly quite astonishing for a series which started as joke between series creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird when Eastman showed him a picture he’d drawn of turtle wearing a bandana. The unrelenting popularity of their creation the documentary only further highlights over its examination of the series from the first comic book and ending with the shudder inducing “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour” with the later years of the franchise only highlighted on various character timelines which break up the various eras the documentary covers.
Shot over four years and comprised over 200 hours of interview footage with nearly all the major players who were involved in the series during the golden years of their meteoric rise in popularity and featuring extensive interview footage with both Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird who provide most of the commentary tying the footage together due to the lack of any kind of narration. The pair also provides a fair amount of behind the scenes footage via their home movies especially from the early days of Mirage Studios.
The pair are unquestionably still humble about their creation and frequently admit throughout the film that its success was really as much a surprise to them as it was everyone else and much like their original meeting the result of blind luck than anything else. This is no better highlighted than the fact that in the first issue of the comic that they killed off Shredder never expecting that there would be a call for a second issue. This first issue is frequently returned to over the course the film, as time and time again it proves to be the key to opening the door to the next evolution for the series.
Unsurprisingly the bulk of the film is dedicated to the classic cartoon series, which came out surprisingly of the Playmates Toys Inc looking to produce an action figure range based on the characters and needing a good promotional vehicle teamed up with Fred Wolf and his animation team to produce the special which would soon after turn into the long running series. It is really at this point that the film really goes into fanboy heaven as the whole of the original voice cast are reunited to share their experiences of working on the show. Bizarrely though Rob Paulsen who voiced Raphael is strangely missing from the reunion, but this is unquestionably made up for by the cast members they do assemble including the now sadly departed James Avery (aka Uncle Phil from “Fresh Prince of Bell Air”) who voiced Shredder and here fondly reminists like all the cast about his time on the show, while even going as far as to compare it to doing Shakespeare which he then proceeds to do in the voice of Shredder in just one of the many great moments of this scene. This scene is especially fun as each of the cast go into their method for creating each of their character voices complete with demonstrations from each of the cast which really is really blew my little fanboy mind, best of all though has to be Pat Fraley comparing his portrayal of disembodied brain Krang to a Jewish mother!
Thankfully everyone involved in the series have seemingly kept everything from the production of the series as the interview footage is frequently accompanied by animation stills aswell as character design sketches which help to highlight the gradual evolution of the characters from their dark comic route to their more recognised lighter form which also saw them donning their trademark colour bandana’s in favour of their uniformed red bandana’s which they had worn in the original comic. Aswell as this we also get to see design sketches for characters which didn’t make the final cut. The production materials also really come into effect when showing the sheer scale of making the live action version, which also serves to remind you of a time when the studios weren’t eagerly buying up every comic book property they could. The interviews with those involved in the making of the film also serve to show just how much of a nightmare the film was to shoot, especially with the Turtle effects which is highlighted with some nice test footage from the Jim Henderson archives aswell as interviews with Brian Henderson and Kevin Clash (he of Elmo fame) the latter who was responsible for the Splinter puppetry.
Unquestionably this documentary will delight the fans who it is essentially aimed at. More so when it is an overwhelmingly positive picture that it paints here, with no one seemingly having a bad word to say, which might also explain why the “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour” is not discussed by any of the major players. For those who’ve yet to witness how horrible it I would highly recommend watching the analysis by Phelous. Even the eventual parting of ways of Eastman and Laird being seen by both as a mutual decision and a result of growing apart and desires to work on other projects, which fans of Eastman’s work will know saw him creating the cult comic “Heavy Metal” (his appearance with his wife Julie Strain in “Return to Savage Beach” is sadly not mentioned). The film ending on a positive note for their relationship as after two decades they are shown reuniting for the thirtieth anniversary.
Despite the title claiming to be the definitive history of the Turtles, only half of the history is really covered here which will no doubt irk some fans looking for more background on the spin off’s like the live action “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” which saw the turtles being joined by a fifth female turtle Venus De Milo or the two cartoon series which followed it or either of the last two films, which no doubt may have taken away from the sunny one that we get here. This however is still an essential watch for turtle fans while still accessible enough so that even those unfamiliar with the show can still enjoy it. Now where's my new SWAT KATZ??