‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:’ You’ve Got to be Kids-ing

The thing I always liked about Nickelodeon television, as opposed to its snooty, self-righteous cousin, Disney, was that it didn’t talk down to its audience, which is largely comprised of kids, the preteen sect. While Disney Channel television seemed lathered in schmaltz, bright colors, and patronizing “lesson learning,” Nickelodeon shows were smothered in slime, gross-out jokes, trippy opening sequences, characters with football-shaped heads, others with crippling neuroses…you know, real, good stuff.

Nickelodeon gave kids the credit they deserve. Their shows didn’t sanitize life; adults were mean or eccentric or at least just as needy as the kids themselves. Episodes didn’t shy away from dealing with death or mental illness or family drama in real ways, where it’s funny and sad and unnerving all at the same time, where you’re not sat down and given a full explanation before sharing a teary hug. You just have to go about your days accepting that grandma is senile and would sometimes wear costumes and get the day wrong (Yeah, I watched a lot of Hey Arnold!). I know this is coming from someone who grew up in the Golden Age of Nickelodeon, but it still holds true, if to a somewhat lesser degree, today.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of Nickelodeon’s classic, unsanitary properties. Giant mutant turtles who live in the sewers of New York City, train in martial arts under the tutelage of a big ol’ rat, and eat gooey pizza aren’t exactly Dog with a Blog (the Disney Channel’s most horrendous show premise at the moment). These vigilante super amphibians are still a successful Nickelodeon cartoon, but they’ve been around since 1984 and have reached millions of kids since then on the screen and on the comic book page. This makes a good portion of the TMNT audience people in their early to mid twenties, who probably now know that the names Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo belonged first to a different category of super talented mutants.

It would stand to reason then, that this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie would take its varied audience for a ride, rather than sit them on the ground and read them a children’s book, replete with unnecessary repetition and so much extraneous explanation you’d have thought they thought we had short term memory loss. Almost everything about this version of TMNT insults the intelligence of the kids who went to see it and most definitely of the adults who had to take them. The highly repetitive script and even the casting choices (William Fichtner is ALWAYS, without fail, one hundred percent of the time the guy who seems good in the beginning but you find out later he’s working for the villain. His pointy nose and pursed smirk and past movie roles make it a certainty. It’s like they didn’t even try.) make it clear that Michael Bay and the filmmakers have no respect for, or maybe even awareness of, the cool, non-condescending attitude of Nickelodeon, and Nickelodeon Studios just let themselves off the hook by concentrating their efforts on making this a big, CGI blockbuster hit.

Most of that effort probably went toward making Megan Fox seem like she could act at all. The one saving grace of the movie is Will Arnett, who, while not completely unleashed, was able to riff a bit, and more importantly, got to slip in one hell of an Arrested Development easter egg. Everyone complained about the look of the turtles, but for me that’s part of the great TMNT experiment — every movie gives them a slightly different look. They’re like their very own batman suit. And in this one, while they were pretty frightening in the trailer, you kind of got used to them by the middle of the movie.

Maybe I’m just a nostalgic old lady who wants the retro Nickelodeon vibe to thrive in their recent material, but I don’t know. If that vibe is to respect kids and play to the top of their intelligence while keeping things mega fun, I’d say that’s a pretty good goal. Cowabunga.

Grade: C-

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Matthew Coury
Matthew Coury
7 years ago

felt like i was watching star wars for the first time! cowabunga

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