Directed by Randall Lobb, Turtle Power: Definitive History Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a chronological examination of how and why an unlikely underground comic detailing the exploits of a irradiated quartet of reptiles became a worldwide smash phenomena. Given the humble beginnings of the TMNT, it's quite remarkable that they've been as long-lasting and culturally resilient as they've proven to be.
The documentary takes us back to the early eighties where a young cartoonist named Kevin Eastman found, on a bus, an underground comic called Scat published by Peter Laird. Eastman liked the comic's style, contacted Laird and soon enough they were friends tossing ideas back and forth fueled by their love of underground comic books. When they came up with the idea of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, influenced by popular comics at the time like Frank Miller's run on Marvel's Daredevil and the success of Dave Sim's Cerebus The Aardvark they borrowed enough money to print up three thousand oversized black and white copies of the first issue. Surprisingly enough, it sold out. They went back to print and got to work on a second issue and soon enough, they were turning a profit. Mirage Studios was formed and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were at the front of the eighties black and white boom, often imitated but never duplicated. To meet demand, Eastman and Laird brought on other comics creators to help out and they were off and running, various spin offs occurred and the title made the switch from black and white to full color.
As the comic grew in popularity, marketing agents started calling and while Eastman and Laird typically paid them no mind, eventually a man named Mark Freedman convinced them to let him shop the property around. It took some time but soon enough he had a deal in place with Playmates Toys who agreed to create a line around the property if an animated series could be launched at the same time. Freedman made this happen and it was an instant hit. As the toy line and initially five episode run exploded, CBS ordered more episodes of the series, a Broadway stage show was launched and Golden Harvest bankrolled a live action movie with effects work done by Jim Henson Studios. The Turtles worldwide fame was secured, and the rest, as they say, is history. Eastman and Laird, however, grew apart and eventually sold off the rights to Nickelodeon. Regardless, with an new movie out at the time of this writing and plenty of comic books and other merchandise still being created, it doesn't look like the characters are going anywhere any time soon.
This is a thorough and well put together piece that interviews everyone from Mirage Studio comic book artists and writers to various voice actors to toy sculptors to licensing agents to stuntmen and film directors. If someone was involved with the franchise in the eighties and nineties, odds are pretty good that they're here. They even interview two of the guys who dressed up in turtle suits and did promotional appearances around the country (one of whom is Michael Ian Black). The documentary also spends quite a bit of time with both Eastman and Laird, interviewed separately, and shows off a lot of their early artwork. We also get to see some of what went into the animation work and the toy sculpts and as such, there's a lot to appreciate if you're at all interested in the characters.
The movie also touches on what makes the characters as popular as they are and how the four different personalities embodied by Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael mean that there's more than likely at least on turtle who will stand out for anyone. It's interesting to see how the darker original black and white run, while still quite humorous, was meant for older readers and then very quickly and remarkably efficiently morphed into one of the most popular toy and cartoon series of the last thirty years.
Where the documentary slips is in the last twenty-minutes or so. While it does a fine job of documenting everything up to and including the first live action movie, it skips past the two live action sequels pretty quickly and basically omits everything that came after that. It does let us know that Eastman and Laird reunited after a ten year absence to celebrate the TMNT anniversary and that they sold off the rights but not to whom or what happened after they did it. In the filmmakers' defense, it would have taken an hour and forty minute long movie and stretched it past the two hour mark had they gone there, but if you're calling your movie definitive it's kind of a big slip to omit the later material.
Turtle Power: Definitive History Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arrives on DVD from Paramount in a pleasant enough looking anamorphic widescreen transfer. The footage shot specifically for this documentary is clean, clear and crisp showing good color reproduction and solid black levels. Shot on HD, it has nice detail and is quite stable. As the documentary also uses a lot of archival images and video, much of which has come from old analogue tape sources, expect some shifts in quality but it all works well enough. The disc is well authored and there are no issues with obvious compression problems or edge enhancement.
The only audio option provided on the DVD is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. Although the documentary is primarily made up of interviews and talking head footage, there's a fair bit of surround activity here. The score is spread out nicely throughout the sound stage and occasionally there are sound effects used in the surround channels. Bass response is stronger than you might expect but never buries the participants. Most of the directional activity comes from the score but it's handled well. Subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Aside from trailers for a few unrelated Paramount properties and menus/chapter selection, there are no extra features on this disc.
Turtle Power: Definitive History Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually stops short of really becoming as definitive as it claims to be by not covering the latter era material but it does manage to provide a pretty thorough examination of the franchise's history up to and including the first live action movie. Recommended for diehard fans, a fun rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.