In just a couple of years in the early eighties Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman went from borrowing money so they could print and release the first issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic (limited to 3000 copies) to selling more issues then the Avengers in some New York comic stores, setting up their own comic studio (rather than working out of Laird’s house), having a cartoon series with a diverse action figure range that sells units by the millions followed by a movie as Turtle-mania swept America and then the world. And this documentary tells the story of that remarkable rise.
Turtle Power spends most of its time in the first seven to ten years of the Turtles story. Laird is producing a free comic book with his friends and other local area talents and by chance Eastman reads a copy left on a bus, is inspired to contact Laird with his own story ideas and they become friends – despite different personalities; Donatello is based on Laird, Raphael is Eastman – and they develop the Turtles concept from a joke to what they expect will be a one off forty-page comic book (Shredder actually gets killed off at the end of issue one, so sure were Eastman and Laird that Turtles was only a one-shot deal.)
Turtle Power’s main focus ends after the release of the 1990 movie. As such it does gloss over the last twenty years (not least the diminishing returns of the Turtles movie franchise and subsequent reboots) and some of the creative and personal issues which separated the two creators and lead to them signing away the rights to the franchise.
Fans looking for a detailed behind-the-scenes look at how creative products are written, developed and produced; or fans wanting gossip and facts they never knew about the franchise might be better served adjusting their expectations. Turtle Power tells what happened rather than how or why it happened. But for the average film fan this look at the mad eighties rise of Turtle Power is balanced well. There are a few interesting titbits – for example the wildly popular 1987 cartoon series was only intended to run for five episodes as a means of selling the range of action figures until the savvy animation studio head Fred Wolf realised the money-making potential of the show and acquired the rights to make more. It’s one of the many coincidences on which the entire Turtles success story is based – what if Eastman had never taken that bus? Or if whoever originally owned the free Laird comic hadn’t left it behind on the bus seat?
The Verdict: ‘Definitive’ it may not be, and there is little behind-the-scenes trivia to soak-in, but Turtle Power tells the incredible meteoric rise of the Turtles franchise in an easy-to-follow and enjoyable manner. Fans of the heroes in a half-shell should check it out.