I grew up in the late ’80s. I was addicted to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show. I saw all the movies in theaters. I spent countless hours driving my “Turtles Van” around my family’s house. I talked my parents into taking me to a TMNT live show. And yet, when news that Michael Bay and Wrath of the Titans director Jonathan Liebesman were taking over the Ninja Turtle property, dropping hints that the franchise may take a radical shift with their live-action reboot, I was barely phased — the complete opposite reaction from 99% of fans.
Following a week’s worth of rumors that the reboot would stray from the source material (are they aliens? are they mutants?? do they even like pizza anymore???), producer/director Michael Bay dropped another confirmation bomb on his personal website: the title of his new movie would be truncated, halved into Ninja Turtles. Of course, the comment only managed to further provoke devoted Turtle fans, a vocal crowd (thanks to the magic of social media) who feel their childhoods are in immediate danger. The gut reaction is natural — individual nostalgia is a strong force, even more powerful when coupled with like-minded fans. For those aware of his past creative endeavors, Michael Bay doesn’t inspire confidence; after producing gritty remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street that favored teen up-and-comers and flashy visuals over anything resembling horror, plus his own entries into brand friendly properties (there are plenty of Transformers fans left disserviced by Bay’s manic adaptation), the superstar action director isn’t winning any favors. That Bay takes to the Internet message boards to tell fans to calm down doesn’t win him any points. Turtle fans aren’t going to “chill out” when the comforter in question has previously worked his magic on other classics.
But let’s remember what we’re worried out about here: a comic book turned cartoon turned movie turned toy line (and put back through the factory process countless times since). It’s not that the story translation of four mild-mannered turtles transformed by green ooze and taught ninja skills by a rat is less important than an acclaimed novel, award-winning film or long-running TV series, it’s that that the only thing that really has to carry over for Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo to remain intact is the show’s heart. And that’s what Bay is insisting will remain. The details — the turtles’ origin, how they manage to fight crime, who their opposition would be — don’t lie at the core of what we love about TMNT. They’re just familiar.
I’ll go one step further: Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman should change Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve already seen the faithful origin story, the inciting incident spurred from misplaced ooze and New York City sewer reptiles. Show me something crazy, something ludicrous, something that, on the surface, isn’t TMNT, but at the end of the day, is the friendship-founded, honor-driven ninja tale I know and love. Besides, Turtles from the ’80s wouldn’t work: can you imagine what the 24 news stations would say about improper ooze disposal? Today’s Shredder would be a menacing business type, some 1%-er with real world overtones. Just wait until parent groups lash out at the mass consumption of pizza that the Turtles promote. Sounds silly, but by making the Ninja Turtles from another planet or reworking the situation, producers remove the need to shoehorn the checklist of nostalgia callbacks into the movie in awkward and modern ways. Instead, the alien angle (or any changes for that matter) could actually work to unearth Turtles’ more ridiculous elements — Krang the Talking Brain anyone?
Loving a property is one thing, but it also drives people to madness (see the controversy brewing up over The Hunger Games as evidence). Whether Bay gets TMNT right — I mean, Ninja Turtles — isn’t a big deal. His version will take a stab at trying something new when everyone is worried about Hollywood rehashing stories on a weekly basis. And if it flounders, there’s always a next time. Remember 2007’s TMNT? Because that happened.
Ninja Turtles is already on the release schedule: December 25, 2013. Stay faithful — after all, Bay isn’t going back and changing the old movies or TV shows. He’s not George Lucas, right? Cowabunga, dudes.