NEWS FLASH: You Don’t Like TMNT Because You’re an Adult
Despite tons of internet protests from fans of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books, TV series and movies, the new reboot produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman made an estimated $93.7 million last weekend. That’s an awful lot of money, more than even industry pundits expected, and it’s led those same frustrated fans of the originals to complain and wonder aloud why younger audiences flocked to a movie that obviously sucks.
Think about that: we live in a world in which adults are legitimately surprised that a movie called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” doesn’t appeal to them. What’s more, they seem to be looking down on little kids for enjoying something very, very silly. In many cases these are the same adults who once pestered their parents into buying preposterous action figures and multiple tickets to a movie subtitled “The Secret of the Ooze,” and yet now they are up in arms because the current generation of children is behaving like – can you believe it? – a bunch of little kids. How dare they?
It’s been suggested that nostalgia is the only reason why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is doing so well at the box office, but of course that’s a misconception. “Nostalgia” is an affection for something you enjoyed at a happier time in your life. The majority of adults, to hear the internet tell it at any rate, don’t approve of this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, largely sight unseen. They aren’t revisiting something they loved, they’re rejecting something that sullies their happy memories. That’s the opposite of nostalgia.
No, the reason the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot is doing so well is because children today still like this stuff and they’re dragging their parents to it, selling multiple tickets for every individual person who is actually interested. You see, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s creations never went away, and they never grew up. It certainly wasn’t a fad, because fads end. These characters persisted, on-and-off at least, throughout the past three decades with various new incarnations that have appealed to multiple generations of kids. Some iterations were good enough to appeal to adults as well, and we were very lucky to have them, but to be up in arms because characters on an elementary schooler’s lunchbox weren’t translated into a particularly good or even a particularly competent piece of cinema that appeals to adults is like complaining that your Big Mac isn’t made with real Kobe beef: the problem is at least arguably the person who set unrealistic standards for a product that was clearly labeled as “junky.”
Let’s be honest here: this particular generation of young(-ish) adults has been spoiled. We were the first generation to be told that when we grew up, we didn’t have to put away childish things. Many of us (myself included) even turned their affection for so-called “childish things” into a career. But all of us unexpectedly found ourselves living in a world where the cartoon characters and comic books we enjoyed as children became major cultural touchstones in the mass media, making billions, winning Oscars and finally putting to rest (for the most part) the idea that superheroes, monsters and anything else with a lot of explosions in it were inherently silly enterprises, devoid of deeper meaning or interest to anyone old enough to have kids of their own. Yes, sure, we are allowed to have standards about these things now, but no, we would not be wise to ignore the fact those elevated standards are a cultural aberration and not the norm across the broader sweep of artistic history.
Related: How Adults Stole Kids’ Movies
As Witney Seibold has pointed out, allowing these characters and franchises to grow up with us is also robbing children of the simple pleasures that come with loving stupid crap. I myself have complained that movies made for children nowadays are often insulting, insipid and unworthy of little kids who are generally smart enough to deserve better. But I also loved a lot of stupid crap in my day, much of it branded with words like “Transformers” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Snorks.” I turned out just fine (I think) and I don’t hold any grudges against the storytellers who gave me mindless or at least subpar motion pictures and TV series. I liked them at the time. I didn’t know any better. Because I was a freaking child.
That’s not to say that we should forgive or (god forbid) encourage bad filmmaking, or even aggressively mediocre filmmaking like the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nor does it mean that shallow pandering to a demographic innocent enough to think that talking turtles are cool no matter what they do is somehow excusable. What it does mean is that we have no right to be shocked by the success of a movie that simply does not appeal to us. Somehow the entitlement to our “stories” seems to be turning some of us into warped and even more judgmental versions of our parents. Our parents didn’t understand half the silly movies to which we dragged them either, but at least they were willing to shrug it off and admit that these movies weren’t made for them. Now we drag our kids to see a dumb movie and complain that it wasn’t made for us. This is the price you pay for having children: at least occasionally sitting through stuff that only a kid could possibly like.
The great thing about art – yes, even bad art – is that it doesn’t have to be for everyone. It’s okay to dislike something that others adore. It’s okay to produce a movie that appeals to less than four quadrants. Yes, the success of a movie like the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles means that we will get another one (unless it falls apart like so many other Platinum Dunes follow-ups), and that many of us will probably hate the next one too because these filmmakers have just been told that their target demographic doesn’t have high standards. But guess what?
These kids will grow up, just like we did. Their tastes will evolve, and eventually they’ll look back on the junkier junk they liked as children with the same nostalgia, and perhaps the same degree of quasi-embarrassment as my generation does when we think about “The Cabbage Patch Kids” or “Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.” The better stories for kids will survive because they can still be appreciated by audience members as they grow older, and because those fully grown former children will one day want to share the movies, TV series and comic books that stand the test of time with their own progeny. Case in point: the god-awful live-action version of The Flintstones also made tons of money, and now no one gives a crap.
If we lost our fool minds every time a bad movie made money or spawned a sequel, we wouldn’t have time to do anything else. So let’s let it go. Let’s put a stop to the condescending rhetoric that can only be interpreted as fully-grown adults angrily shouting at children because Apple Jacks don’t taste like apples. Would have it have been nice if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot had been a legitimately great movie that everyone could enjoy? Of course it would have. But let’s enjoy the fact that we live in a world where such a thing could even be plausible in the first place, and chalk the success of something stupid up to the simple fact that we can’t win ‘em all.