The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles haven’t technically been teenagers for a long, long time, as the first issues of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s independent comic were published in 1984. However, the eternally adolescent ninja masters with moves like lightning have since become a permanent part of popular culture, a status literally manifested by a September 7th ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood. There, Eastman and the Turtles appeared to imprint their hands into (pizza-shaped) slices of wet concrete, an honor they now share with legends like John Wayne and Jack Nicholson.
As seen in the video above, edited by Maura Fallon, Consequence had a front-row seat for the event, which began before the worst of the Los Angeles heat set in (a practical necessity, given the temperament of the concrete). Paramount Pictures & Nickelodeon president and CEO Brian Robbins and Eastman spoke about the legacy of the Turtles, and there were free samples available of Fr-ooze, the new Yogurt-Land flavor created in celebration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, their newest big screen outing.
It was quite a celebration for the characters, whose humble beginnings Eastman still remembers well. “When we started with the original black and white comic book, which was intended for an older audience, and we had this a chance to explore it as a much younger-than-intended animated universe, it was with some skepticism,” he tells Consequence via Zoom, the day prior to the ceremony.
Now, he says, with so many new iterations on the characters over the years, “you’ve got multiple universes of Turtles. Here we are almost 40 years later, and talking about such a wonderful project like Mutant Mayhem, and we’ve been able to experience all these different explorations of our characters.”
Mutant Mayhem, directed by Jeff Rowe and featuring Jackie Chan as the voice of Splinter, has become a critical hit that’s also done well at the box office. The film’s success, Eastman thinks, comes from the “sincere fandom” of its creative team: “[Rowe], when he was a a child, was wearing the Halloween costume and reading the comics and watching the cartoon shows and collecting the toys. And so he brought a very specific approach and style from his relationship to those characters.” And Eastman notes that executive producer Seth Rogen is “more like me, an older perpetual teenager. I used to see Seth in the comic stores around LA when I lived there.”
All of those involved, Eastman continues, wanted to “take characters that they have a relationship with and a love for, and tell a great story, and do a great movie with it. And so that to me was a perfect storm of what they brought to this project.”
Eastman says he doesn’t know why, exactly, the Turtles have endured this long. However, he points to other classic stories about “the underdog that rises to the hero level, whether it be Sarah Connor or Ripley or Luke Skywalker.” Plus, there’s “the Peter Parker aspect of, ‘I just wanna be a teenager, but I’m also this superhero character,'” and the fact that the Turtles have “their very unique look — they don’t have any specific sort of race, creed, or color. So anybody, anywhere, can imagine that they could be Donatello or Michelangelo.”
It all comes together with the franchise’s “adoptive family aspect — they’re misfits, they’re mutants, they’re misunderstood, but they form this heart-and-soul relationship that is the core of the story. So I feel like it’s a combination of those kind of things.”
With so many different takes on these characters having been made over the years, Eastman says his advice for future creators taking on the franchise has changed. “But I feel like it’s gotta come down to the individual and the kind of story that they want to tell. That’s the way I approach my own stories. You have to write a story that makes sense to you as an individual, and it tells the kind of story that you want to tell. That’s where the truth and the heart and the passion’s going to come from, and that’s what I think was done perfectly with Mutant Mayhem. That would be my advice to anybody in the future: Say something that means something to you when you do it.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is available now on digital.