Your childhood likely awaits in this splendid documentary of the heroes in a half shell
To condense Turtle Power into a sliver of its best work, it takes this: Despite countless home media iterations, this documentary provides better behind-the-scenes materials on the 1990 live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie than anything issued by Warner Bros.
That’s a shame, actually.
No, that is not a knock against this retrospective, rather the naivety shown toward that film’s enduring popularity on the part of its copyright owning studio. Turtle Power has no such blinders; it’s all-in.
Director Randall Lobb follows the iconic mutants from their oddball conception of a turtle kicking a bus (sometime in 1983) to their late ’80s/early ’90s popularity bloom which was then unimaginable. Impressive is how deep this feature digs, finding itself amidst animated voice acting crews, toy licensees, Golden Harvest film producers, and actors who were stuffed inside of a suit to perform on stage at Radio City Music Hall. Yes, the Turtles rocked on tour… in that case unfortunately.
Turtle Power feels comfortably complete even without covering disasters like The Next Mutation, luckily enough securing interviews with key players such as James Avery (Shredder’s voice on the animated show) before his passing. Origin stories feature “Cowabunga,” the genesis of the toy line, and those critical decisions which allowed creators Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman to let marketers take over their work.
Eastman & Laird’s story is wholly American, beginning their careers with an accidental, satirical comic book hit while working from their living rooms. Their passion and interests kept clashing personalities at bay, forming a potent mix of artistic talents – and for many, their childhood icons.
Effectively, this work creates the tingly nostalgia of the Turtle-dominated era but also relives the mammoth appeal. Told in sequence, that growth from sadistic black-and-white comic to pop culture blitzing is felt as the detailing of the action figures is spilled into the mic. VHS footage is used in a plethora of scenes, dug up from inside the earliest days of the Turtle’s parent company, Mirage Studios, to major premieres. Evening news stories reveal anchors perplexed at the success of these characters, if admitting their certain charm.
Through available participants, Turtle Power forms a reasonable base to explain how, or better yet why, these characters exploded in demand. Marketing is undoubtedly part of it; Turtle Power makes no suggestions otherwise. However, there is a universal agreement amongst everyone as to their uniqueness and inherent cool factor. As repugnant as the idea of sewer dwelling super heroes appears, their charming charisma coupled enthusiasm was enough.
And yes, much of this feature length documentary is praise and positivity. It is hardly incidental to see Turtle Power launching on home video alongside another Turtles feature film. On the other side, there is an expose. As with He-Man and other properties, the toy line and TV show were deeply interconnected. One would not have happened were it not for the other. Many of us were duped as kids.
Know what though? There is a generation – multiple generations actually – who have been wholly absorbed into the legacy of these oddball deformities, marketing or not. They still work. Turtle Power closes on the emotion brewed in their creation, with the split between the co-creators and the reasoning behind their departures. It’s enlightening to see the business end, and Peter Laird appears lightly choked up about signing away the final pieces of his company in 2009. Turtle Power finds closure there, but the fans probably never will. We’re too attached.
Full disclosure: This feature was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.