Why ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Has Endured
For decades, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has towed the line between television and the big screen. Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s creations first made the leap from the comic book to the small screen in the totally tubular 1987–96 animated series, generations of fans have held a special place in their heart for the heroes in a half shell.
Now that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is poised to become a huge hit this summer, the time seems right to investigate exactly why these characters have managed to remain relevant for so long. From their mythology to their mutant status, the turtles encapsulate a number of trademarks that popular superheroes like Daredevil and the X-Men possess.
In fact, Eastman and Laird have admitted that the ooze that transformed Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello into man-sized reptiles was intended to be the same one that gave Matt Murdock his powers. It’s why the Foot Clan is such a perfect counterpoint to Daredevil’s enemy of The Hand.
The fact that the turtles’ origin and surrounding universe hews so close to the fundamental elements of some of the most popular superheroes — offering a slightly goofier and more offbeat take — is certainly a major reason why fans continue to remain loyal to the franchise over the last 30 years.
Moreover, because the turtles themselves are teens — as the name implies — the turtles are able to behave exactly like their target demographic without betraying the central premise. There’s no need to shoehorn in juvenile humor or orchestrate a scenario to explain why they act so immature. This is simply who they are, and much like Spider-Man, they tend to joke around and react with the same enthusiasm and recklessness that a kid with superpowers would.
A central conflict for the turtles has always been maintaining the balance between their dedication to martial arts (and all the discipline and meditation that entails) and being young and carefree. After all, it’s because of this relatability among young moviegoers that films like Minions connect as well as they do.
Of course, the superhero mythology and pizza-loving relatability of these turtles aren’t the only reasons the characters continue to resonate with fans. Yet, these two foundational explanations do tie in with perhaps one of the most prominent of all: pure nostalgia.
Sure, we live in a time wherein every film and television project seems geared to tap into memories of the past, but the turtles tap directly into the inner child of every fan — not just because they have a pre-existing relationship with the franchise. The turtles were created from the start to embody that inner child. They speak directly to it and reflect just how much fun it was to be that age; all the freedom that preceded the burden of adulthood and the world of possibilities that awaited.
Yes, even one in which four giant ninja turtles could take on an interdimensional brain in combat. Expect their latest film — the sixth theatrical release starring the turtles — to keep that sentiment alive for years to come, especially since it appears to have a particularly reverent take to the classic material that hordes of fans grew up with.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
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