Why the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was a hit


As a franchisee, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are one of the most iconic and surprising to come out of the comic book medium. Initially an indie comic book series, the brand exploded through the 80s animated series that brought younger eyes to a world that was once black and white and more violent than anything on screens right now. Although these two worlds appeared separate from each other, the 1990s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film showed that both styles could co-exist and create something truly spectacular.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a film that took its main story of four mutant turtles who knew ninjutsu and managed to tell a largely faithful film filled with heart, humor and tangible stakes, but it was not a magical creation that is appeared overnight. In fact, it took major creators like director Steve Bannon, producer Kim Dawson, and writers Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck to craft a story that had modern humor and action for a wide audience. but none of this would have been possible without the original comic book creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

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In a recent interview with CBR, Eastman helped show how perfect the conditions were to deliver a movie that could work on so many levels without compromising the integrity of the story. According to Eastman, “Steve Barron, as a driving force, really read and loved the original black-and-white comics, and he completely understood the animated version of the Turtles.” Culminating with the work of the writers, producers, and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, it was also explained how Bannon was able to blend so many facets into a franchise that spanned so many storytelling styles.


The original comics were dark, brooding, and focused more on the discipline learned by turtles that made them effective ninjas. As a result, more family humor was not very prevalent. However, the cartoon made up for that in spades and showed how a world could be fleshed out through lovable characters and a steady stream of allies and enemies they could interact with. “He struck that perfect balance of a story written with heart and soul that wasn’t insulting to the adults who had to sit in it, to the original comic book fan,” Eastman said, ” so when you watch that movie, you could see your turtles, if you want, and the kids could see the antics and the humor and stuff of the cartoon series.” What made this work even more so was how the characters helped sell both character styles.


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As far as the cartoon capture goes, the Turtles did it perfectly with comedic timing and boyish excitement that made them look as overwhelming as children at times, but just as adorable. For the darker tone of the comics, villains like The Shredder and allies like Casey Jones and April O’Neil offered a degree of maturity that forced the Turtles to grow more by the end. This contributed greatly to the Perfect Storm, as older fans could see their favorite villains sending a wake-up call to the fun-loving Turtles, forcing them for a while to return to their darker roots.


At the end, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was always a concept that shouldn’t have worked on paper, but regardless of medium, the creators behind knew this was a property that could be something special, and as a result, it worked perfectly. Since then, no film has managed to reach the level of cult classic of the 1990 film, and while it can’t be explained why, it’s likely to be the perfect storm that Eastman mentioned. If so, it’s hard to say when another might return.

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