2009 marks a major transition for the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.
As just about everyone knows, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s heroes on a half-shell celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. The creators also sold their original studio, Mirage, to Nickelodeon this October. The Turtles ended up being part and parcel of that deal, too.
No one knows this more than Norman Grossfeld, President of 4Kids Entertainment. His company produced six seasons of Turtles TV for the 4Kids Network. Late November 2009, 4Kids aired “Turtles Forever,” a made-for-TV movie that started as a way to celebrate the Turtles’ silver anniversary and ended up, thanks to the Mirage sale, being 4Kids’ last hurrah with the license.
Comic book fans should particularly appreciate “Turtles Forever.” It cops a page from the oft-used by DC and Marvel multiverse idea, stating that all the various incarnations of the righteous reptiles exist in their own particular universe. The movie even includes one sequence where all the various interpretations of the righteous reptiles float through the TV screen, including all the comic, TV and film versions available for public consumption.
The Turtles multiverse begins crashing on everyone’s head when the Turtles and the Terrordome of the Murakami-Wolf animated series (1987-1996) suddenly appears in the 4Kids version. Before it’s over, the Wolf, 4Kids and the original black-and-white Eastman/Laird Turtles of 1984 must face their own "Crisis on Infinite Earths" before the 4Kids Shredder destroys virtually everything, even if it means himself.
“The team was toying around with some ideas for how to commemorate the TMNT 25th Anniversary when Lloyd Goldfine, the producer of the entire 4Kids’ TMNT series, came up with the idea of all the various iterations of the Turtles meeting up in one big mega-adventure,” Grossfeld recalls. “It just kept building and building from there, and Lloyd spent a lot of time with Peter Laird at Mirage hammering out the specifics.
“Peter was involved from the very beginning and worked very closely with Lloyd Goldfine on the story. He saw everything along the way, just as he did with our own 4Kids TMNT series, and remained involved offering comments and suggestions throughout the process.”
Fans may quibble about the various interpretations of the various Turtles. The Wolf Turtles feel goofier than their original series. The 4Kids push their grim and gritty elements to extremes, particularly when it comes to Raphael. Grossfeld has his own interpretation regarding this.
“It certainly wasn’t intentional,” Grossfeld counters, “and I actually don’t think that is the case at all. I think it just seems that way when you see them juxtaposed in this movie. We only had 70 minutes to tell an epic story, so it wasn’t really possible for the individual Turtles to have very nuanced performances.”
On the other hand, Goldfine did do one thing, and that was go back to the source for the Wolf Turtles.
“Our use of the 1988 Turtles characters is really homage to the original Fred Wolf productions,” says Grossfeld, “but we created everything from scratch. We screened/used the original episodes on DVD as reference but drew everything fresh by hand.”
As to why the Turtles managed to endure--in spite of critical horrors like the film “Secret of the Ooze” or the incredibly bad Saban live action Turtles that briefly aired on Fox Kids in the late 90s--Grossfeld has an answer for that.
“It’s easy for kids to spot qualities of the people they know in the real world in the personalities of the Turtles,” he said. “So there’s an instant familiarity that’s comfortable. Then add on the fact that they look cool, can kick serious butt, they make you laugh, they’re heroic…and it’s a potent combination. The fact that they are a family unit that sticks together through thick and thin despite their different personalities is something that appeals to kids as well, since this is an attribute they can model for their own lives.”
As for his company’s own contribution to the Turtles universe? One must give 4Kids their due in reviving what had been some pretty lean years, in fact probably making the property attractive enough to be acquired by Nick.
“I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done,” he said, “and have to give the lion’s share of the credit to the leader of the team, Lloyd Goldfine. We produced over 150 episodes and I feel the 4Kids show is the definitive expression of the Turtles, although I am sure I am opening myself up for attack with that statement.”
As for the future of the Turtles, Nickelodeon is currently keeping mum on their plans. Grossfeld is also not revealing any plans he might have about what to put in their place.
“We’re still exploring what our programming options will be in the future,” he said. “Stay tuned!”
Don’t be surprised if those answers start happening this Spring, when both Nick and 4Kids have their respective up fronts.