When I was a group publisher at Scholastic we turned down a book project called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Nobody’s perfect.
The publishing company that brought you the “Harry Potter,” “Goosebumps,” and “Hunger Game” book series thought that a story about four anthropomorphic testudines (that’s turtles, to you) was, well, too out there.
I mean, really. Mutant turtles?
You see, these turtles - each named after an Italian Renaissance artist - were masters of ninjutsu, a martial arts practiced by Japanese Ninja warriors. They were taught by a rat. They fight crime.
That was thirty years ago. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise has done pretty well on its own: Movies, books, television, music, arcade games, action figures, even food tie-ins ranging from cereal to pastas.
TMNT made its creators millionaires. The concept by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird started out as a one-shot comic book back in 1984. Laird was making $10 per illustration with a Massachusetts newspaper. And Eastman used his tax refund plus a loan from his uncle to self-publish the 40-page black-and-white one-shot comic book. It was intended to be a parody of four popular comic books: Marvel’s “Daredevil” and “New Mutants,” Dave Sim’s “Cerebus,” and Frank Miller’s “Ronin.”
Thanks to successful merchandising and numerous TV series, TMNT eventually became a hit movie in 1990, with sequels following in 1991, 1993, and 2007 (an animated version). Now it is being rebooted as a major film franchise by Michael Bay (those “Transformer” movies) and Nickelodeon (which now owns the rights).
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” retells the story of four mutated turtles crawling out of New York’s sewers to discover their destiny as superheroes. With the help of a beautiful reporter (Megan Fox) and her witty cameraman (Will Arnett), they take on the nefarious Foot Clan, a gang of criminal ninjas led by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).
Donatello (Donnie, for short), Michelangelo (Mikey), Raphael (Ralph), and Leonardo (Leo) are played by Jeremy Howard, Noel fisher, Alan Ritchson, and Pete Ploszek, with a voice assist by Johnny Knoxville.
Will this reboot be successful? Likely so, because it follows Hollywood’s so-called Midas Formula. According to it, a billion-dollar movie franchise must contain these nine elements:
1. Be based on based on children’s fare - comic books, serials, cartoons, etc.
2. Feature a child or adolescent protagonist.
3. Have a plot where a weak or ineffectual youth is transformed into a powerful and purposeful hero.
4. Contain only platonic relationships between the sexes.
5. Include characters that adapt to toys or game licensing.
6. Depict only stylized conflict (i.e. non-realistic and bloodless).
7. Have a happy ending, with Good prevailing over Evil.
8. Use CGI to create dazzling action sequences.
9. Cast actors who are not expensive stars.
Let’s see how TMNT scores. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, and check. Ca-ching!
Shirrel Rhoades is a film writer for Cooke Communications.