I want to be excited for Jonathan Liebesman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved the Turtles when I was a kid. I collected the play sets, went to see the 90s live-action movie multiple times, and watched the animated TV show religiously. While no remake is going to take that away, I would like to be as excited for the Turtles now as I was back then. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything yet to turn me around, so I hoped today’s Comic-Con panel would do the trick.
Hit the jump for my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comic-Con panel recap.
- The panel began with a brief video about the Turtles origin as comics’ creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird explained how they came up with the idea and the surprising, massive success that followed.
- Eastman then came on stage to the music of the 90s TV series. He told the moderator that he and Laird never expected to sell one TMNT comic and then the 30 years of success have been a blur. Eastman also says he was brought on early in the development of the reboot because they wanted him to be part of the process.
- Then director Jonathan Liebesman and producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller came on stage. Form said one of the first things they did was call up Eastman and asked him questions for hours about Turtles. They heard fun anecdotes about what to name the characters like Shredder, who was almost dubbed “Grater” because Eastman almost slipped on a cheesegrater. Laird suggested “Shredder” would be better.
- After we were shown some footage, Megan Fox (April O’Neill) and Will Arnett (Vernon Fenwick) took the stage. When asked how they joined the film, Arnett quipped, “Well, Megan and I interned at Channel 6 for eighteen months.” Jokes aside, Fox said she watched the show because she was born in 1986, so she was part of the key demographic, and was aware of April and her different iterations. Arnett says he was a bit too old when the Turtles started to become popular, but he had a younger brother who liked it. Arnett became more aware of the property because his kids are fans.
- In order to adapt the Foot Clan into something more believable, Liebesman said they were re-imagined as a paramilitary organization, although they’ll still do martial arts.
- When asked about their favorite Ninja Turtle, Arnett, Fox, Liebesman, and Eastman all said Michelangelo (Eastman said Mikey was “near and dear” because he was the first Turtle he ever drew); Fuller said Leonardo; and Form said it was a tie between Raphael and Leonardo.
- The first footage we saw takes place ten minutes into the movie. April O’Neill knows there’s a vigilante group fighting against the Foot, and she’s hot on their trail, but she doesn’t know they’re turtles. When she sees a bunch of people fleeing the subway, she rushes in to see what’s causing the commotion. Once inside, the Foot Clan, who are taking hostages and setting explosives, immediately captures her. However, the Turtles are watching the surveillance footage on a panel of TV screens (although one TV has Keyboard Cat playing chopsticks with chopsticks), and decide to spring into action. The Turtles manage to rescue the hostages while staying incognito because the lights in the tunnel mostly go out except for an occasional flicker where we see the Turtles beating up the Foot Clan. Afterwards, they go to celebrate on top of a building, but April follows them, snaps a picture, and we get a whole thing where the Turtles try to figure out how to deal with her because they want to keep their identities a secret.
- But mostly, this character scene is about quickly establishing their personalities: Leonardo is the stern leader, Raphael is the hothead (but not in a fun way; his fellow Turtles make fun of his “Batman voice”), Donatello is the brainy one, and Michelangelo is the goofball who also thinks April is hot. If there’s any humor that’s working, it’s in capturing the camaraderie between brothers who are constantly bickering and ragging on each other.
- Near the end of the panel, we got another scene. This was a big set piece on a snow-covered mountainside where April, Vernon, and the Turtles are on the run from the Foot Clan, and I just couldn’t get into it. It never feels like the Turtles are really there. Perhaps in a finished film I’ll buy them as characters and forget they’re CGI, but in these brief scenes, I was always aware that they’re nothing but pixels. It’s made worse by action scenes where they don’t seem to have any weight. All of the Turtles look like bodybuilders, but they’re remarkably agile when the scene calls for it.
After the presentation, I wasn’t swayed about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one-way or the other. My biggest takeaway is that when the Turtles are charming (and they can be; I laughed at some of their lines), they have to do it against their grotesque appearance. It’s like someone decided to take each word as literally as possible when asked, “What would a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle look like in our world?” There might be a fun story in Liebesman’s film, and fans were jazzed when a sizzle reel showed Splinter fighting Shredder. I hope to share these fans’ joy when I see this movie because I still remember how much I liked the Turtles when I was a kid. But then when I see Raphael say “Cowabunga” in the grittiest voice possible, I can’t help but shake my head.