Archive for the ‘TMNT’ Category

**This edition of The Unadapted focuses on a character that’s actually been adapted before. He’s just never been the star of the show. Here’s frequent collaborator Andrew Prenger to tell you about a beautiful comic that tells the tale of a badass rabbit.**

I can say with all honesty that Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo is one of the two comic books (the other being Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns) which turned me onto comics as an adult. Without it, I don’t know if I would have gotten into them as a hobby. It happened one day when I was wandering around the library, looking to kill time. I was in the “comics” section which, at the time, was mostly collections of newspaper strips before graphic novels became a thing. I pulled a book from the shelf and on the cover saw a rabbit samurai. There was instant recognition! I didn’t know anything about this book, but I remembered the toy. I had grown up with it as part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line.


It’s been a damn good year for comic book media. Perhaps the biggest advances have been in the realm of television. Once the black sheep of the entertainment industry, TV is now the go-to for intricately plotted, nuanced and serialized drama. Add to that the continuing dominance of comic book movies and it’s no surprise that countless properties continue to be optioned and adapted.

The recent theatrical adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got a fair amount of criticism from fans. Some justified, some not. Sure, it wasn’t what most intelligent people would consider “good” but after reading some initial drafts, I can honestly say that it could have been much worse. Speaking of worse:



It’s funny to think that we live in a world where an insanely profitable film can be made from a cartoon that was based on a comic book designed to skewer common tropes of the media at the time.

I’ll never forget being in kindergarten and looking through a scholastic book-order flyer one day. Among the usual stuff (I don’t even slightly recall what kids read back then) was an advertisement featuring live-action versions of the well-known reptilian crime fighters. I now know it was an ad for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie novelization, but at the time I was dumbfounded. I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing. “Were they real? Was this some new show? A tour? What was this?!” My mind raced with the possibilities. I don’t know how, but I eventually found out there was in fact a film based on the cartoon which I had grown to love so much.

The Ninja Turtles franchise as a whole is interesting to me. Like nearly an entire generation of people, my first exposure to them was from the animated series. I’d argue that this is the first comic-book based franchise to get a vast majority of its exposure through a media other than the printed word/picture. I realize that the original comics were popular, however, they were nowhere near as insanely popular as the cartoon series. Hell, it wasn’t until the mid-90’s or so that I discovered that the comics came first. I’d be willing to bet that for a large number of 80’s kids that statement (or one like it) is also true.

“We’re gonne be stars!” “SHUT UP MIKEY!”

Looking back on this movie, it’s difficult to delineate the nostalgia from the actual product. And while viewing with fresh eyes is impossible, I still think this is a decent action movie. What’s more, I wholeheartedly believe it’s the absolute best adaptation of the characters that we could have hoped for at the time the movie came out. It’s not a perfect film, but it stays true to the core characters, their story and their supporting cast. In fact, there are plot points from the film that are taken directly from various issues of the comic:

-Their origin is more or less identical (which is, in itself, just Daredevil’s origin from a different angle).
-Raphael’s first encounter with Casey Jones.
-Many plot points involving the Foot Clan (which are also a reference to Daredevil’s Hand ninja clan).
-April’s farm and the battle in her apartment.

Young Sam Rockwell: The unsung hero of the film

The personalities of the turtles are individual enough to differentiate them (even if they do come off a little one-note) in a way that’s only slightly more subtle than their colored masks. Basically, if this is all someone knew of the Turtles, they’d have a decent starting point to their universe. And really, that’s saying quite a bit. The cartoon obviously put the kid-gloves on the characters and their world and I’m sure it was very tempting to do that with a film as well (and the movie definitely didn’t ignore the cartoon, borrowing plenty from it ). As I’ve mentioned before, comic movies were certainly not guaranteed hits back then and were largely considered big gambles.

“We made how much money?”

If that’s the case though, this is one gamble that paid off in a huge way. The budget was around 13 million dollars. Not a giant budget, but decent enough at the time. Its worldwide gross was over 200 million dollars. A shockingly large profit. In fact, for years it was the most profitable independently produced film ever made…actually, it may still be, I just haven’t looked it up. It’s no surprise that the studio rushed a sequel into production and Secret of the Ooze hit theatres a year later. It was also a success but the law of diminishing returns had already started to take effect. By the time the third film hit (which should have been called Turtles in Time, but wasn’t) the franchise was slipping in the profitability department and the franchise laid dormant for a little over a decade.

To me, it’s cool to see such a reverent adaptation of a comic book this early in the life of the comic book film. Batman, for all it did right, made some major concessions to the character’s backstory and pathos. and the Superman franchise had devolved into abject silliness by this time. As such, this could be considered the spiritual successor to Richard Donner’s original Superman: Both were respectful adaptations that made a lot of money and spawned exponentially worse sequels. Hey, there are worse legacies, that’s for sure.

I barely mentioned Casey Jones. He’s awesome. That’s better.