Vriezen: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may lose their origins

Claire Vriezen

When it comes to classic cartoons and comics, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. So when Michael Bay plans to completely slaughter yet another favorite comic and cartoon of the ’80s and ’90s, I must protest.

Michael Bay was quoted as saying that in his new live action version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the four reptilian protagonists were not, in fact, going to be mutants. At a Nickelodeon presentation last week, Bay said that “these turtles are from an alien race, and they are going to be tough, edgy, funny and completely loveable.” Sure, your characters might be appealing to the audience, but that doesn’t mean you abuse your artistic license to the point of an unrecognizable storyline.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles most will remember from their childhood were just that: teenaged, mutated, ninja-trained turtles. To change the status of the TMNT to aliens changes the fundamentals of their origin story. And for those who are fans of a good comic book, the origin story can be the most important and most fundamental aspect of a character. It often sets up the conflicts that give rise to personality traits and characteristics of the heroes, as well as provide answers to all those questions curious fans want to know — who their families were, what their home planets were like, who were they before they got powers, why they are fighting crime.

For the TMNT, their origin story tells the tale of how four unsuspecting average turtles were exposed to a chemical spill that mutated them into anthropomorphic reptiles and then trained in martial arts by a fellow mutant.

If Michael Bay intends to rewrite the story of the TMNTs and instead present them as aliens, we lose much of their origins that, well, makes the rest of the TMNT story fall apart. At this point, it is unclear whether Bay intends to introduce the TMNTs as aliens who somehow end up on earth and are raised here, or if he will have the characters come to earth already grown and fighting. If the latter is the storyline to be followed, there are many things that bear examining.

If the TMNTs are aliens, there is no need for their mentor, the rat Splinter, who trains the teens. If the TMNTs are aliens, how does this explain their archaic weaponry? Surely aliens are capable of lasers and rayguns. Additionally, why are the Turtles even on Earth, and why would they be fighting with earthly villains?

Conversely, if the Turtles were to fall to Earth as younglings, Bay would then have to explain how they got here, where their parents were, and what happened to their home planet that caused them to leave. This scenario would also require that they received their martial arts training on Earth, and if Bay adhered to the original characters, necessitate the introduction of their rat sensei — the sensei that also happens to be a mutant. Which would bear explaining, and created a tangled mess of mutant and alien forces in the movie.

Now, Bay also commented that “kids are going to believe, one day, that these turtles actually do exist, when we are done with this movie.” Personally, I always thought that one of the appeals of superhero stories that feature normal people turned into a masked crime fighter was that anyone could imagine themselves in the same role.

You didn’t need to be anyone special to imagine that, like Peter Parker, you were bitten by a radioactive spider and had turned into a web-slinging, spandex-wearing hero. Wander into the universe of Marvel Comics and perhaps, like the Fantastic Four and you could gain superpowers through cosmic rays, or turn into the Hulk. Similarly, you could imagine yourself going about everyday life, only to discover that you have a genetic mutation giving you X-Men-like abilities.

Michael Bay may be able to take some creative liberties with the story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in adopting it to a revamped movie version, but to change the fundamental basis of the Turtle’s origins is really making an entirely different story. It would no longer be the tale of mutated turtles, but that of extraterrestrials. Beyond that, it’s altering a much loved childhood story for many adults who grew up with Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and Donatello.