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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Comics, Film.

1. A team of four pizza-loving humanized turtle troubleshooters created by US artists Kevin Eastman (1962-    ) and Peter Laird (1954-    ) in a self-published black-and-white Comic book from May 1984. Initially seen as a Parody of martial-arts Superhero team-ups, they became so enormously popular that the franchise has earned back the original $1,000 the duo borrowed to print their first issue many millions of times over. Following the series' success, a veritable tsunami of imitators was rushed into print, including Adolescent Radio-Active Black-Belt Hamsters and Naive Interdimensional Commando Koalas.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was published bimonthly from 1985, and within 18 months sales had reached 100,000 copies per issue. The original story, under the now-distant influence of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers (1844), concerned four turtles living in New York's sewers who become engulfed in radioactive mud which causes them to become humanized and very considerably enlarged Mutants. The characters' names are shared with artists of the Italian quattrocento: Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michaelangelo [sic]. In 1987, Archie Comics (see Archie Adventure Comics) began publishing a children's version of the strip in colour, and four untitled Graphic Novels (numbered I-IV) were published by First Publishing 1986-1988, the first of numerous reprintings of this material. The series maintained a long run under Eastman and Laird's Mirage Studios (eventually owned by Laird alone after Eastman sold his half of the property in 2000) as well as shorter, less successful series from Image Comics and other publishers until 2008. In 2009,Nickelodeon Studios purchased all rights to the characters.

A hugely successful US animated television series was spun off from the comic in the late 1980s, which was followed by a live-action series and two further animated versions. [JP/RT]

2. Film (1990). Golden Harvest. Directed by Steve Barron. Written by Todd W Langen, Bobby Herbeck. Cast includes Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas. 93 minutes. Colour.

After the comic, the television series and the marketing campaign came the film. This was the biggest independently made hit in film history, though in fact production had been planned before the success of the television series. The surprise was that it was good. The splicing of live action with puppetry from the Jim Henson workshop – Henson died just after the film's release – is seamless, the direction is clean and purposeful, the script is amusing and succinct. The four teenage outsider Superheroes, the mutant turtles, are junk-food-eating vigilante good guys up against a Ninjutsu Villain who plays a Japanese Fagin to the teenage pickpockets of New York. The martial-arts fights are excellent (their violence, the subject of many parental complaints, is nominal and stylized); the affable turtles' shabby Rat father-figure, Splinter, is as tatty a Zen master as ever seen on screen.

The sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991), directed by Michael Pressman, played it much safer. Sales of Turtles were falling off, and the blandness of this movie, intended to reassure the family market, renders its story of the discovery by a villain of more mutant-creating radioactive ooze almost without interest. The second sequel was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1992), directed and written by Stuart Gillard, 96 minutes, which has the turtles time-travelling back to seventeenth-century Japan (see Time Travel) in a conflict involving Japanese samurai, innocent villagers and English pirates. While the creators of the original comic, Estman and Laird, had more to do with this third film – which was touted in advance publicity as "more hard-edged" than number 2 – the critical consensus was that it was a mess, strictly for the younger children, and not hugely enjoyed by them. [PN]


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