Well, that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trailer is lame.

You know, I was a fan of the Turtles when I was, like, eight. And heck, I’ll still mount a defense of the first six episodes of the classic 80’s animated show, or the first two live-action movies, or about two-thirds of the TMNT animated movie, but my love of the characters is firmly rooted in childhood memories.

Which is totally cool! There’s nothing that says growing up means jettisoning all that stuff. It usually means contextualizing it, of course, but that’s a different thing. That just means I’m not going around arguing that the classic show is superior to the Batman or X-Men shows or something equally bizarre.

Where things get unhealthy is when we force these properties to grow up with us.

Before anybody brings this up in the comments: I know that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got its start as a Frank Miller-skewering comic book. I know that this comic book is grim, violent, and definitely not “kids stuff.”

The reason that doesn’t factor in here is because there’s absolutely nothing about this upcoming movie that looks like grit with purpose. The original comic book was a satire; it articulated the slightly preposterous nature of making a grim ‘n’ gritty comic book about a group of unrealistic superheroes.*


I can’t think of a single appropriate caption to put here.

Besides, we all know that the original comic is not the reason they’re making another movie about these dudes. For one, their masks are different colors, which puts it squarely in cartoon territory from the get-go. Even without that scholarly detail, the show is what made the turtles iconic in the first place, and that lineage is pretty much always going to be the reason that this movie or that show is getting made.

In short, the turtles are pretty much a kids’ property. This is not a bad thing.

Given that, and given that being for kids isn’t bad and people like having fun, why does this trailer have hulking, super-jacked turtles who thud around in smoke and shadow? Why does the title come right after a slow-mo action scene where Raph just crushes the f*** out of a military vehicle? Why does Shredder’s monologue sound like first-draft Batman? Why does the only joke in the trailer fall completely flat?

Even if the movie isn’t like this, they certainly want me to think it is.

This is exactly what happened to the Transformers franchise. Despite having its roots in an all-ages Saturday morning action show for kids, the movie wound up erring on the less kid-friendly side of PG-13. The director of Bad Boys was present and accounted for, delivering autobots who executed their enemies point-blank in the face, and bizarrely long jokes about masturbation and pot brownies. This is the stuff of a high school coming-of-age comedy or a spy thriller, not a show about cartoon robots.


The really frustrating part about this, to me, is that by forcing these properties to cater to our “grown up” sensibilities, we’re robbing the next generation of their chance to enjoy something that awesome aimed right at them. Why do we keep doing this to our childhood icons?

Is it because we’re scared to enjoy something obviously aimed at kids? I could be totally wrong of course, but sometimes it seems that way. Star Wars fans** practically revolted in their seats over the “kiddie” antics of Jar-Jar and battle droids in the prequels. Comic readers** complained when Tony Stark or Batman get teamed up with pint-sized sidekicks. Nobody likes Spritle or his monkey in Speed Racer.

Is there a blanket dislike of anybody who gets kid stuff in our grown-up entertainment?

Maybe I’m totally off-base about that, but there has to be some reason that PG movies never seem to do as well as PG-13 ones (with minor and obvious exceptions). And I suspect that has something to do with why we’re getting movies about Transformers and G.I. Joe and Ninja Turtles that are obviously aimed at an older audience than these properties were meant for.

Look guys, I spent most of my childhood watching TV shows about dogs running around in classic novels and cartoon turtles who fought ninjas and Italian plumbers who jump on mushrooms and all kinds of stupid, bizarre stuff.

And you know what? I had fun. So stop trying to convince me that all those things are actually totally badass. Because I got another eight-year-old coming up who needs some fun, stupid shows to watch.


*Not that there’s no merit to this stuff, but it is a tightrope walk. There’s nothing quite so amusing as an over-serious superhero story that’s actually bad. The Dark Knight Returns is still awesome, though.

**Not all of them, of course.

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  1. Well said, I agree with everything you said.

    IMO, it’s amazing how well the first live action movie holds up. It just had the perfect balance of humor, action and early 90’s, pre-Giuliani NYC grittiness.

    1. One of the things I really like about that movie (and there are many) is that when you’re a kid it seems really dark and edgy, but watching it later on in life reveals how goofy it really is.

  2. Well, isn’t the easy answer that there are new properties aimed at the younger crowd? I mean, I’m not up on much of the newer shows for kids as my daughter is only 2, but there are things like Ben10 and I’ve been seeing some other toys around Wal-Mart for shows I’ve never heard of.

    Transformers, TMNT, that’s our stuff, stuff of the 80s. So I imagine they’re targeting at us older generation because that’s what we like and that in 20-30 years from now we’ll be seeing a gritty grown-up Ben10 movie.

    Yes, I am aware that the turtles have had some more modern TV shows, not discounting that.

  3. Tentpole movies are the pinnacle of Hollywood franchises right now. Producers not only know, but study our demographic knowing that we will at least attend a viewing of these stories due to the deep roots we have with them.
    Why it’s happening now is because a lot of the people who grew up with Ninja Turtles, Transformers and Comic books from DC & Marvel are at an age that can be exploited two ways.
    We are old enough to afford to go see them, numerous times, and we might have kids of our own to get hooked on the franchise.
    Whether we like it or not these companies spend millions to plan a long success for their stories, even if these stories come up short.

  4. It’s funny, I remember all the complaints when that first live-action movie came out, and everyone criticized it for being too violent for the kiddos. Second verse same as the first?

    Playing devil’s advocate, there’s something to be said for upping the ante for a movie version. If you’re offering the same thing people could just stay home and watch on their TV, there’s no reason to go see the movie. Some of my favorite childhood cartoons are really so idiotic, there’s no way to make a compelling feature film without taking some serious liberties with the material (I’m both anticipating and dreading watching Peabody & Sherman). So maybe they should just keep their hands off it altogether – but they won’t as long as they see $ signs.

    I’m raising a little boy and when he’s old enough I want to introduce him to the original Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, the Muppets, all the stuff I loved growing up – but honestly I’m not sure he’s going to get it. It’s from a different era, and humor and consumption of media have changed so much since then. Maybe I just love the nostalgia of it but it doesn’t stand the test of time. Guess I’ll find out in a few years…

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