Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles DVD Review
There’s no denying the incredible cultural impact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had since their creation in 1984. Just in time for TMNT’s 30-year anniversary, Paramount has released Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a fascinating documentary that explores every facet of the history of one of pop culture’s most iconic franchises. Written and directed by Randall Lobb, Turtle Power documents TMNT’s rise from a small indie comic to one of the most successful and fan-beloved franchises ever created.
Turtle Power has interviews with just about every important person who ever worked on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles product over the years. From creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, to the people who created the original toys at Playmates, to the director of the first live-action film, the entire original voice cast for the cartoon and even the performers for the musical, Randall Lobb has left no stone unturned.
It all began with Kevin Eastman finding one of Peter Laird’s comics on a bus ride home from his job at a pizza shop. Eastman desperately wanted to be a fantasy artist, and so he hunted down Laird and the two quickly became good friends. The pair formed Mirage Studios — named for fact that it wasn’t really a studio at all, but just the two of them in their tiny apartment. One night while joking around and watching TV, Eastman drew up the first concept of what would become the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After refining the idea a bit more, they decided that they had to come up with a story for how these intriguing characters came to be. Soon after, they created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, obtained a loan and printed 3000 copies. Eastman and Laird clearly had no idea how popular the comic would become, as they actually killed off the main villain, Shredder, in the first issue. By the third issue, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was selling more than The Avengers.
The toys and cartoon merchandising soon followed, and though it wasn’t an easy sell at first, it soon became obvious that anything with the TMNT name on it was essentially a license to print money. As Kevin Eastman explains in Turtle Power, back in the 1980s you had to have a partnership between animation studios and toy makers to cross-promote the property and get kids talking about it. One interesting piece of trivia learned here is that Bebop and Rocksteady were actually designed by Playmates as toys first, and then inserted into the animated series to sell them. The guys at Playmates show some of their early drafts and 3D concepts for the turtles, the sewer lair, and some aborted characters who didn’t meet Eastman and Laird’s expectations.
The entire voice cast for the 1980s cartoon reunited for Turtle Power, and reminisce about their experience, how they came up with the voices for their characters, and more. Cam Clarke (Leonardo), Barry Gordon (Donatello), and Peter Renaday (Splinter) all voiced multiple characters, and shed light on the different approaches for each. It’s especially cool to see the late James Avery showing off his Shredder voice while holding his action figure.
After the toy line sold out everywhere and the cartoon became a raving success, it was decided to pursue the first live action film. As the producer for the film makes very clear in Turtle Power, studios in Hollywood were completely uninterested. It’s funny, watching this documentary now, seeing the creators stonewalled at every turn by detractors thinking that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a terrible, worthless property. Of course, all the studios who turned down the first live action film were phoning the producer after it premiered to a massive audience, begging for the sequel.
Turtle Power then takes a look at the impact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had, interviewing lifelong fans about the video games, the hilarious musical (which somehow escaped my childhood TMNT fanatic radar), the comics, merch, and more. Eastman recalls his and Laird’s partnership and friendship coming apart — the two hadn’t seen each other in 20 years before reuniting for a convention appearance in 2014 — and the sale of TMNT to Viacom in 2009. Little did they know, the 2012 show would make the property red hot all over again. If there’s one thing that Turtle Power is missing, it’s coverage of the 2012 Nick show and the upcoming Michael Bay-produced film. While this film is obviously focused on the history of TMNT, it winds down talking about Eastman and Laird selling off the property, making it seem like the turtles’ best days are behind them.
Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an incredible, captivating documentary; the story of two guys with some borrowed money and a crazy dream who managed to make that dream a reality. It’s truly amazing how Randall Lobb managed to track down all of the people behind the myriad pieces of TMNT history for this inspired documentary. Any fan of the turtles owes it to themselves to give this film a look.
- + Extremely detailed
- + Fascinating interviews
- + A ton of interesting trivia