Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Well with the new film coming out today in my country (and they wonder why internet piracy is a thing) I have a confession: I’ve never been a TMNT fan. As a 90s kid in New Zealand I missed the first animated series (since it had been exported and finished playing by the time I was born) and I was just out of the age range for the second (which ran in early 00s, around the time I was growing out of cartoons). So since I’m a complete outsider to this whole thing it’s time to ask the obvious question: Why is TMNT so popular? Well lets find out.
First off I suppose it’s only fair that I explain just how much of the Turtles canon I have seen. It basically boils down to very little of the 2003 series, the Turtles Forever mini-movie and the TMNT 2007 movie. That’s pretty much it. And I don’t plan to see the new movie because Michael Bay, who I loathe as being a really good director who makes bad films. Considering how much money it’d cost me, I’d rather save my cash for something else. Anyway back to the question in hand. The best way to do it is to probably break down the four major elements of the turtles and demonstrate why they’re perfect.
Teenage: Teenagers are perhaps the best way of summing up the appeal, since when you’re a kid teenagers are often thought as being pretty cool. We look up to teenage characters because they’re rebellious, able to do things kids like us can’t do. At the same time they don’t have the responsibilities we associate with adults, who often demand us to do chores and other unpleasant things. As such we often associate ‘teenage’ with ‘coolness’, ergo the turtles perfectly encapsulate the concept of ‘coolness’ in our eyes.
Mutant: Now as most people probably know at this point, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was always designed to be a barefaced parody of superhero comics being made at the time. More specifically it draws a lot of its mythos from Daredevil. Now Daredevil’s origin story deals with Matt Murdock being blinded by radioactive waste, causing his other senses to heighten to superhuman degrees. Now according the origin story of the Turtles the same ooze that caused Daredevil’s creation also caused the Turtles mutation. It’s a sly hint, but it’s somewhat accepted as canon. To make it even more obvious the Hand clan of ninjas from the Daredevil series is here made into the Foot clan. Now Wikipedia says they’re a parody of more than just that but, since I only know how it relates to Daredevil, I’ll let others fill in this gap. Suffice it to say TMNT is a parody that ended up becoming more popular than its original source.
Ninja:It’s often been noted that ninjas are perhaps one of the coolest things out there, an example of a real-world thing being mythologised. Much like the knights from Medieval times and the cowboy from Western times, the ninja has been exaggerated to an almost unrecognisable degree. While one could argue that this isn’t a good thing (what with it being cultural appropriation and all), on the whole it helps the series out. We have a mythologised idea of the ninja, the characters perfectly encapsulate it, ergo they’re more badass as a result of it.
Turtles: This is perhaps the biggest strength of the entire thing. They’re turtles in a parody of the likes of Disney and Warner Bros. We’re used to accepting the idea that talking animals are automatically cute for reasons that are actually quite self-explanatory. Since only animation can show a talking animal done well, and animation is often thought of being ‘just for kids’, it makes sense that people would associate talking animals with kids stuff. And while TMNT is made for kids now, back when it first came out it wasn’t. It was a satire of the concept. But the turtles can work either way. They can either be a satire of talking animals, or they can be talking animals. Surprisingly it’s rather easy to accept the characters as being turtles once you’ve accepted the first three things.
So that’s individually why the concept works. On their own they’re good ideas. But when you put them altogether you suddenly have quite an unusual but brilliant concept. Working in unison it exists as a way of capturing young boys and making them interested in a frankly baffling product. In some ways it shouldn’t work. It just shouldn’t. But in an almost coldly cynical way it’s been perfectly created to appeal to people means it will probably live on long after we’ve all left this earth.
So there you have it. An outside perspective on why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is so popular. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.