Turtle Power!: New documentary chronicles three decades of the Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thirty years ago. Before there was a big budget reboot at the top of the box office. Before the franchise was owned by Nickelodeon. Before the many animated and live-action TV series. Before the first movie in 1990, and its sequels. Even before the original animated show’s theme song informed us that “Michelangelo is a party dude.”
Before it all, there was a simple, self-published, black-and-white comic book entitled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Co-created by artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the first book was dark, violent, gritty and not-at-all kid friendly. All the elements were there — the four leads, their rat-human sensei Splinter, their evil rival Shredder and his minions the Foot clan. But they would all undergo an evolution to become the phenomenon that the Turtles remain for generations of fans both young and young-at-heart.
Those early days and the growth of the franchise into its iconic status are the focus of “Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” a new documentary released August 12 on DVD. Produced by FauxPop Media, a relatively new production company out of Canada, the film gives fans unprecedented access to the history of the franchise, with interviews from all involved trying to answer the most intriguing-yet-complicated question: Why?
“You have a few things working in concert,” said Randall Lobb, director of the documentary. “One of them is archetypes. And I don’t know if Kevin and Peter in any way would have even read Joseph Campbell, but they’ve certainly got archetypes in it. You’ve got family in the mythology. You’ve got the sensei, the wise master. You’ve got the trickster character. You’ve got the wisecracker. You’ve got the leader. … All these things are very archetypal.
“So if I’m a child, I can see many things in here that will attach, things that are important, that will attach to me.”
Lobb understands all about how such things can grab a young imagination and never let go. It was his own childhood obsessions that led to his desire to be a filmmaker. “When I was a kid, I was one of these guys that had a very rich and fertile fantasy life and imagination. And people who are like that tend to want to bring their imagination into the real world. So, probably one of the best ways to do that when you were a little kid was with the Super 8 cameras, and so I was always doing it.”
After founding FauxPop Media with his partner Mark Hussey, the pair began work on a wide variety of media concepts, from commercials to music videos and documentaries. But they were still looking for a new project that might draw attention to their young company. Enter another filmmaker named Isaac Elliott-Fisher — about half the FauxPop partners’ age, and a die-hard Turtles fan.
“So this kid approached my partner Mark Hussey and I, and he said, ‘You know what I’d like you to do, I’d like you to help me make a documentary about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’ And I said, ‘No way.’ And at the exact time I said that, my partner said, ‘Yeah.’ And Mark and I had been talking about finding a feature project, that we could generate a small audience … this grassroots thing, get a thousand people to like it, and then sell it, and hopefully break even.
“And of course, as soon as I said no, I realized, ‘Oh! This is pretty good.’”
The original idea was not an overarching, comprehensive history of the Turtles. Just a small look at the origins, interviews with the original creators, maybe the beginnings of the expansion into toys and TV that made them a phenomenon. But what Lobb and his collaborators discovered was that in this world, knowledge is like dominos. You knock over one, and before you know it, thousands more follow.
“We don’t have to do all of it. In our minds, we would do a small corner of it. We were going to look at one aspect. And Isaac was a very hardcore fan. Mark and I, we knew about it, but it wasn’t something big on our wish list or anything. But as we got into it, we sort of opened a box, that opened a box, that opened a box, that opened a box,” Lobb said.
“Eventually, we had all this stuff that we had collected. And we had what turned out to be, not just ‘Turtle Power,’ but we could probably make three more ‘Turtle Power’s.”
Lobb said he hopes fans come away from the film with a better understanding of the people behind the characters. “I want people to look at it and say, that there are human beings who are doing things. These are stories about turtles, but they’re written by people, who faced incredible odds and pursued their dreams, and did what they love. And they still love it.”
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