Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a strange comic book world. Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the heroes in a half-shell were originally conceived in 1984 as a parody of superhero comics. However, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became such a cultural phenomenon that’s it’s been seen in plenty of comics, animation, and movies. When it comes to the cartoon version, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo fit those worlds like a glove. After all, they’re ninja turtles fighting crime in New York City. Animation allows artists to make vivid imagery that compliments the four ninja turtles. It’s odd that talking adult-sized turtles never feel out of place in animation or comics, but that’s because animation allows for such rules to take place.
Shrek features a talking Ogre and Donkey in a world full of humans. Toy Story is about toys! Ratatouille is about a professional chef and his rat companion excelling in the cooking world. Animation allows for the weirdness to shine, but of course, it all depends on how the world is presented overall. However, when it comes to live-action, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never feel right. There have been two live-action incarnations of the popular heroes and they both are out of place in the real-world spectrum. Animation allows your imagination to go wild, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do that with live-action features or television. Guardians of the Galaxy features a talking tree and a gun-crazy raccoon. The Suicide Squad has a humanoid shark and a giant starfish. As odd as those elements are, they fit into the world presented. So why do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feel so out of place in their own live-action movies?
Well, the biggest thing is the costume designs never feel appropriate. The 1990 version looks like a bunch of fans cosplaying as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The latest version is a bit better, but they look way too big and overpowered. Understandably, the film is about talking turtles doing karate, so it wasn’t always going to be the smoothest transition. However, that’s not the biggest problem. The underlying issue is the fact that these turtles are taken seriously in the movies. To be clear, both incarnations wisely inject humor into their films. Given the personalities of all four turtles, a dead serious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just wouldn’t work. But the original vision for the comic book heroes were a parody of superhero films. The live-action versions don’t particularly have that sly humor or cleverness that makes them veer into a satirical comic book feature. For the most part, they’re just giant butt-kicking turtles who have to deal with foes like the Kraang or Shredder. It all equals to a generic superhero film that you’ve seen dozens of times before. When you get use to giant turtles saving a crime ridden New York City, that single novelty doesn’t particularly carry the franchise forward. In theory, a live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film can work.
The Turtles themselves are always going to look weird. That’s just the way it’s going to be, but if the movies continue to present a straight-forward superhero flick then they’ll never stand out. We live in the age of superheroes and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don’t have to be out of the box or insanely weird but playing to the strengths of the original comics are vital for the success of the franchise. The filmmakers tend to get the characters right more often than not, though having sexy April O’Neil wasn’t necessarily the best idea in the latest versions. Of course, I’m no fortune teller, so the next live-action TMNT could be simply perfect but bomb at the box office. However, given how successful the 2014 feature was, there’s a clear target audience that would love to see these heroes in a half shell in theaters, but the failure of the sequel strongly indicates that audiences just weren’t into the action-focused series that captured the personalities of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo, but didn’t understand the spirit of the comics. There will be another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. The brand isn’t so tainted that Paramount won’t give the series another go. Hopefully, the filmmakers for this feature understand the past mistakes of pervious versions and present one that’s highly identical to the television show or comics. As I previously stated, a live-action film can work, but the true question is, will a filmmaker be able to make it work?
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