The TMNT franchise has been alive and (mostly) kicking for 30 years now...and whether your first exposure was through the comic books, the 1987 animated series, the feature-length films or otherwise, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's iconic green ninjas have enjoyed a plethora of pop culture portrayals. Like many kids of the 1980s, it was tough for me to resist the franchise's charms but I wouldn't consider myself a lifelong fan: I pretty much quit cold turkey when the awful third live-action movie hit theaters. Since then, my exposure to the franchise has been revisiting older stuff on DVD, as well as the flashy but underwhelming 2007 CGI film and, of course, Nickelodeon's enjoyable 2012 animated series.
Either way, I'd imagine that most fans older than single digits are at least passively aware of TMNT's humble origins as a kitchen-table project. Their first real appearance was in that slightly oversized 1984 comic book sold in regional stores, where it enjoyed almost immediate success and the initial 3,000 copy print run sold out. A second printing and more issues followed and, before Eastman and Laird knew it, their goofy little hobby paid the rent every month. Less than three years (and many comics) later, the pair developed a toy line with Playmates and the 1987 animated series, convinced that softening the comic's bloody, satiric roots to a more kid-friendly atmosphere would prove lucrative. They were more right than they could possibly imagine, as evidenced by the mountain of merchandise, movies, TV episodes, and more during the next three decades, which have most recently led to that Michael Bay-produced CGI monstrosity that anyone over the age of 13 probably isn't too excited about. I'll save my $12 and enjoy the Nick series, thanks.
Released on DVD to coincide with said monstrosity is Randall Lobb's Turtle Power, a self-financed documentary that he's been working on with a small group of friends since 2008. This 98-minute production dissects the TMNT franchise's history, development and lasting impact in fine detail, leaving very few stones unturned and amassing a respectable amount of input straight from the source. Participants include Eastman and Laird, Fred Wolf and David Wise (producer and head writer of the 1987 animated series, respectively), several key voice actors from the '87 series (even the late James Avery), John Handy of Playmates Toys, as well as a handful of authors, super-fans, and more surprises. Michael Ian Black (The State) even shows up to explain how he dropped out of college to play Raphael on a promotional tour. Along the way, you'll get to see early sketches, a sample of TMNT's merchandise mountain, rare photos and home video footage, and a generous assortment of other behind-the-scenes goodies. It's a dense but informative and entertaining experience, thanks to its strict chronological structure and habit of identifying every participant more than once.
If Turtle Power has one glaring flaw, it's exclusive to Paramount's DVD release...and that flaw is no bonus features. The documentary's official website mentions "hours and hours and hours of footage", yet there's no deleted scenes to be found anywhere. No additional sketchbooks, no old TV commercials, nothing. Rights issues, maybe? Even the plain-wrap packaging begs for a deluxe edition release (or a Blu-ray, while we're at it) with printed goodies and other memorabilia. Yet Turtle Power still feels pretty thorough on its own terms, proof that any dedicated group of filmmakers can put together a quality product in their limited free time. So yeah, skip the movie ticket and pick up Turtle Power instead.
Video & Audio Quality
Like most documentaries, Turtle Power has been cobbled together from many different sources and, as such, it varies in quality. But most of what's here looks very good on this 1.78:1, 480p transfer, from recent talking head interviews to well-shot displays of vintage merchandise, original art, and more. Decades-old photographs and video clips, shot on consumer-grade equipment or grabbed from broadcast TV, are occasionally reduced in size and often framed by comic book panels, old tube TVs and the like. This doesn't really pose much of a problem and gives some of this lesser material more of a uniform quality...and what's more, most of it is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and not cropped for widescreen displays. There are a few moments of softness and slight edge enhancement, but overall image detail is solid and the varied color palettes hold up nicely. It's a real shame that Turtle Power isn't available on Blu-ray...but more often than not, this DVD serves up a perfectly acceptable video presentation that fans should enjoy.
DISCLAIMER: These resized and compressed screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent this DVD's native 480p resolution.
Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is occasionally limited by source material but still gets the job done. The dialogue from different decades is uniformly crisp and well-rendered (considering the formats, of course), and sporadic music cues are also used to fill out the surround channels on rare occasions. LFE, as expected, is pretty minimal. But honestly, most documentary aren't very ambitious on the audio front and don't need to be, so Turtle Power once again has no problem earning solid marks. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature, which is appreciated.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple, comic-themed menu designs reflect the cover art with separate options for setup, chapter selection and a few related Previews
for upcoming films and DVDs. This one-disc release is housed in a cheap eco-friendly keepcase with plain grey disc art; combined with the lack of extras, it's easily the least impressive aspect of this DVD package.
Whether you grew up with TMNT through the original comics, the 1987 animated series, the movies, newer incarnations, or any combination thereof, Turtle Power is most definitely worth a spin. It covers a surprising amount of ground and leaves very few stones unturned, as we hear from everyone from Eastman and Laird to Mirage artists, writers, veteran voice actors, and many more. The vintage photos, original artwork, merchandise exhibits, and camcorder footage are just icing on the cake: if nothing else, die-hard fans will appreciate that even the most mundane faxes, notes, and leisurely footage were hoarded over the years. Paramount's DVD offers a solid A/V presentation but the lack of bonus features is disappointing, which demotes this from a truly definitive package to just a solid movie-only disc. Casual fans will be happy with a rental, but there's still enough meat here to make Turtle Power worth owning. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.