The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began as a parody of superheroes, which should be revisited in the upcoming Seth Rogen-produced movie reboot.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will star in a new, Seth Rogen-produced animated theatrical reboot in the not-too-distant future, which should set itself apart from other TMNT adaptations by sending up superhero films. The Turtles have been around since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original Mirage Studio comics in 1984, but they truly became cultural staples with the release of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series in 1987. The cartoon launched the heroes in half shells to mainstream fame, where they have consistently been re-incarnated in films, television, and video games ever since.
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The last time Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michaelangelo were seen on the big screen was in the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows in 2016, the sequel to 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While both films’ humor and heart won over some fans, the hyper-realistic designs for the turtles and forgettable plot drew the ire of critics. Theatrical Turtles adaptations, from the CGI TMNT in 2007 to the original trilogy of 90s live-action films, have consistently failed to win over critics, despite their dedicated following amongst Turtles fans.
To overcome the low expectations previous films have set among critics, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film should take a new approach to the franchise. Years of adaptations have distanced the Turtles from the fact that they were originally a parody of the superhero genre. Leaning into this aspect could make the new film feel fresh while also returning to the franchise’s roots. The ubiquity of superhero films in the box office provides a perfect opportunity for the upcoming TMNT feature to deliver a relevant send-up that plays to its creative team’s comedic strengths.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been steeped in irony since their conception. Kevin Eastman’s original drawing that provided the base design for the Turtles was a joke based on the contrast between a slow-moving turtle who was also an agile ninja, and the comics carried themselves with a self-aware tone. Their brutal violence, moody atmosphere, and use of ninja weaponry all parodied Frank Miller’s then-current run on Daredevil, known for transforming the Marvel character into an anti-hero. In fact, the comics imply that the TMNT and Daredevil were created from the same accident, where a swerving truck carrying radioactive waste spilled its contents on four turtles in a sewer. The same truck hit a boy, hinted to be Matt Murdock, in the eyes with one of its canisters.
In addition, the minds behind the new film are well-versed in satire. The film’s director, Jeff Rowe, previously wrote for the Netflix series Disenchantment, known for its play on fantasy tropes. Comedian Seth Rogen will produce the film through his company Point Grey Pictures, known for Sausage Party, a riff on Disney and Pixar films, and the Amazon Prime Video series The Boys. The Boys has been lauded by critics and fans alike for its dark parody of superheroes, and Rogen’s guidance could maximize the film’s ability to effectively satirize the MCU and the DCEU.
The upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film’s approach to parody and its original source material could dramatically change the film’s tone. Although the Turtles draw fans of all ages, children continue to be a massive part of their audience. The dark tone and intense violence of the Mirage comics, though used with a keen sense of irony, could be alienating to younger viewers and families. The new TMNT film should broaden its appeal with superhero satire that all moviegoers, no matter their age or familiarity with the franchise, can laugh along with.
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