by Chris M. P.

Well dudes and dudettes, there’s hope for us yet because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are set to head to the big screen once again. I feel like we did this not too long ago, right? 

This time we’re headed into animated reboot territory. Nickelodeon is partnering with Point Grey Pictures’ with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and James Weaver producing. Jeff Rowe (Gravity Falls) directing. Brendan O’Brien will write the screenplay. Paramount will be handling global distribution on the film.

This makes the TMNT’s 7th journey to the big screen. And their second animated theatrical film. I can only speak for myself when I say that I was a bit taken back by an “animated” reboot. I know many fans, myself included, were hoping for a live action reboot featuring the rubber suits with some CGI touch ups. The fact that we’re not getting that really bakes my pizza yet, with the right people, we could be in for a real treat. Those disappointed with the 2014 and 2016 films could take this announcement alone as a possible upgrade. With the Marvel films running their course and Rise of the TMNT not finding an audience…the new TMNT reboot could fill in a certain gap comic book and TMNT fans have been craving

Or it could be terrible. 

But it’s best to remain optimistic. Either way the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are about to be in the spotlight once more…and I’d like to keep them there this time around, wouldn’t you? As a huge fan, I’ve spent countless hours in the tub with my Super Shredder figure daydreaming about the next TMNT movie. Well, it’s time to put thoughts-to-action and circulate my two cents into this big nasty cyberspace we call the internet. 

So grab a slice of pepperoni and marshmallow pizza, because here’s 5 directions I hope the new TMNT movie will take…

Take Note of The “Spider-verse” 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Concept Art by Alberto Mielgo

Sony Animation’s Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse gave us a visually unique look and narrative when it came to the big screen adventures of Marvel’s wallcrawler. It was a departure from Marvel Studio’s formulaic superhero films and stylistically distinctive when it comes to typical animated features. With this formula, Spider-Verse not only proved to be a big moneymaker among Sony’s recent Spider-man slumps…but critics and fans alike praised the film for its heart, humor, and action. 

The new Ninja Turtles film being announced as an animated reboot creates an opportunity for the production team to truly present our heroes in a fresh and stylish way. We don’t need another animated film mimicking Pixar’s cutsie fondant-looking visuals. Spider-Verse created an animated visual style that cannot be mistaken for any other animated feature. The Ninja Turtles don’t need to reinvent the wheel, they just need a visual style of their own that screams “Turtle Power”

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Concept Art by Alberto Mielgo

2007’s TMNT is often praised within Turtle fandom, yet animated films (and superhero films) have evolved in those 13 years…leaving TMNT visually bland and basic. Do we head in a direction where the animated aesthetic becomes a character in itself? A film that plays like a living comic book with halftone visuals, bold graphics, and meta references? Perhaps the Turtles would benefit from a hip hop soundtrack. Or do we settle into more of a retro 80’s universe to pay homage to the Turtle’s roots? 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Concept Art by Alberto Mielgo

Whatever route we take, most important of all, it needs a production team that understands the heart of our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A team that realizes the importance of these characters to their fans young and old. As well as the rich history that makes the TMNT as popular today as they ever were. 

Nod to Nostalgia, Not Dependence 

Listen, all us old folks are here because we grew up during Turtlemania. We all love the ‘87 cartoon theme song. We spent our days creating our own adventures with the Playmates action figures or dropping countless quarters into the arcade games. Heck, I still do that. But I don’t need to be reminded of those things in every new piece of Ninja Turtle media. The 2014 Ninja Turtles reboot and it’s sequel relied heavily on nostalgia, to the point where my arm started to hurt from the constant fanboy elbow nudging.  

2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a mindless cash grab that brought nothing new to the table aside from terrible character designs. The sequel, 2016’s TMNT: Into The Shadows, felt like an apology with many fans calling it a “live action version of the old cartoon!”. That doesn’t mean it’s a good movie though. We got the long awaited big screen debut of Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, Krang, the Party Wagon, and the Technodrome. But that couldn’t even save the film from being a chore to get through. It’s cool to see big budget CGI renditions of some of my favorite childhood characters and memories, but without heart it was like looking at the world’s largest rubber band ball. 

I don’t need Shredder to say, “Tonight I dine on Turtle soup!” or hear the ‘87 theme song to be satisfied with a new TMNT film. I don’t need the act of them eating pizza to be hammered into my brain. Some of the most revered renditions of the Ninja Turtles are from the 2003 animated series, 2012 Nickelodeon series, or IDW’s 2011 comic series. Those incarnations respected what came before them yet crafted a unique and intriguing story by their own standards. I’ll always appreciate a nod of nostalgia here and there, but it can’t be used as a crutch. Create your own identity. That’s what makes these characters so adaptable to begin with. 

IDW Comics Serve as a Blueprint

IDW put out a “new” version of the TMNT debuting in August 2011 with the initial creative team consisting of co-creator Kevin Eastman (who collaborated on the plot and the page layouts), Tom Waltz (who scripted the series) and artist Dan Duncan. As of this article, we’re currently at issue 105 with no plans of slowing down. The IDW series has been highly praised since it’s debut and regarded by many fans as their favorite rendition of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

In my personal opinion, the series has blended old and new into a near perfect formula for consumption by Turtlefans. Characters and storylines seem familiar, with a hint of nostalgic nods throughout, but the presentation is fresh and innovative. Characterization is stronger than ever with layers being added that we haven’t had the opportunity to see when it comes to our Turtles on the big or small screen. It also brings the relationship between Splinter and his four children and the theme of “family” to a deeper and more meaningful level I have yet to see in other TMNT mediums. 

If we’re going to put pen-to-paper to create a fresh alluring chapter in TMNT history, there’s no other blueprint needed by your side other than IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And with co-creator Kevin Eastman working so closely with the series itself, it’s safe to say it has his approval from a creative standpoint. 

Friendly Film Rating

The original three TMNT films (as well as 2007’s TMNT) are rated PG. The 2014-16 live action reboots have a PG-13 rating. For whatever reason, there’s always been a slew of Turtlefans that think a new film should be based on the original Mirage comics and be R rated. I don’t know how many of those people actually read Eastman and Laird’s original Mirage comics, but they’re not as “R-rated” as many seem to believe. The Ninja Turtles are not Deadpool. And if you take The Dark Knight, for instance, you’ll see the dark, violent, and gritty aspects a PG-13 rating is willing to let you have. And, to me, that’s about the level of the first few issues of Mirage’s TMNT. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appeals to children. It always has and it always will. And with Nickelodeon being behind this new film, I believe a PG-13 rating might be difficult enough to get. Films need to be profitable. The studio wants families to go see this new TMNT movie together. They want to sell toys and games based on it. They want you to pick up a pizza at the tie-in chain promoting it. The Ninja Turtles (even with the amount of mud they’ve been dragged through) are still a very profitable brand. An R rated movie drastically cuts profits, which means a sequel may be in jeopardy and could very well damn the Ninja Turtles IP. And, personally, I don’t think that’s worth it so some 30-something could chuckle seeing Leonardo decapitate a foot soldier. 

I believe the Turtles need some grit and edge. Afterall, they’re trained in the art of ninja brandishing dangerous weapons. But there’s also a lot you could imply to get that point across without risking 8 year old Timmy using nunchucks on his little sister. And I don’t mean to replace the nunchucks with a grappling hook. The 1990 film, 2003 series, 2012 series, and IDW comic series all presented us with pizza eating, surfer lingo’d Turtle teens…yet the stories they told had a certain aura of maturity and growth to them that all ages can appreciate. 

Classic Character Design

(Left) Art by Ruben Valente (Right) Art By Guilherme Duarte

Probably one of the most important aspects of promoting a Ninja Turtles film has to be the design of the Turtles themselves. The 2014 film received serious backlash from fans (both casual and devoted) simply because they replaced our Ninja Turtles with four overly designed hulking Shreks. Even if we received a great layered story (we didn’t), it’s hard to overlook such downright grotesque character designs. And judging by pre production concept art, they seemed to want the Turtles to look gross. 

Personally speaking, I wasn’t a fan of Nickelodeon’s 2012 character designs when they were first revealed. But the show itself was so solid and layered in Turtle history that they grew on me to where I wouldn’t have them any other way. So when it comes to design I believe “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The Turtles should be under 5 feet tall (small to sell the ninja aspect) and wear their colored bandanas (though them starting with all red would be a cool nod). I don’t think they should be hideous mutant freaks like the Toxic Avenger. One of the most surprising cameos debuted in March of this year in a UK Phone ad

Donatello as he appears in a “Direct line” phone ad in 2020

It features a CGI Donatello on call to do machines. This is a solid direction to head in design-wise for the animated reboot. The Ninja Turtles should be recognizable after all. In a live action film I understand the want for having scaly, slimy looking creatures to stand alongside dank sewers and dirty alleyways. But we don’t need to be repulsed by stark “realism”. The name alone tells us otherwise.  

The announcement of a new TMNT movie turns fan speculation to an all time high as Turtle fans far and wide come together to discuss what they want most out of this newly slated depiction of our cherished heroes-in-a-halfshell. And, as fans, all we can do is speculate and hope for the best. For many of us the 1990 film is the gold standard. And it’s way too early in the game to start thinking if this will steal the crown. I don’t believe we’re going to get another shadowy, grainy, and gritty Turtles adventure. Yet the announcement of a new TMNT project still gets my blood flowing. It’s safe to say I’ll be there, midnight showing, with my Ninja Turtles PJs on…hoping for the best.

What would you like to see in the new TMNT film? What direction would you like for them to go? Any specific baddies? Perhaps plan a trilogy? Or a new film and animated series based on it? Make sure to comment below and get a dialogue going! Cowabunga, dudes!

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