The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been an iconic piece of popular culture ever since creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird published the indie comic book's first issue. Now, after countless toys, animated series, films, and more, it's hard to think of a world without the turtles. A large part of that is due to the impact that the early films had on young audiences.
Originally released in 1990, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was an indie movie that many Hollywood big wigs had little faith in; however, with producer Kim Dawson, and writer Bobby Herbeck along with countless others determined to make the film the best it could be, they proved the naysayers wrong.
Now, to celebrate its 30th anniversary, TMNT is back in theaters, and we were able to caatch up with Kim and Bobby as they shared some fond memories of working on the project with us. From Leonardo to Shredder, we left no shell unturned while digging deeper into this classic.
For the full interview, be sure to tune in below to Literary Joe's Inner Child Podcast!
Darth Lexii: What do you think makes this film so iconic, and why do fans love it so much?
Bobby Herbeck: Kimmy started this whole thing. He's the one who brought it to me.
Kim Dawson: I have a strong opinion on why I think it's the best. Part of it is because of Bobbys' script, but also Steve Barron's vision. It was completely fresh in Jim and Brian Hanson's mind. What they brought to the table was this collective that I don't think we could ever recreate. The truth is that Steve Baron had a particular vision for the picture, and it's one of the reasons why it is physically dark because he felt that's where the picture belongs.
But he also added a layer of humor. That was a result of Bobbie's writing. Bobbie is not only a writer but a stand-up comic and has a history with comedy, which is a layer that is more authentic than most of the others. But as we went through the project, Bobby brought, and Steve as well, was this individual characteristic for each of the Turtles, and everyone has their own personalities. They're distinct, and I think that's what kids can relate to or adults as well.
Anybody who became a fan, you can pick out a favorite that you had some connection to. I think that still resonates today. One of the reasons is it's a physical thing between the puppeteer. The puppeteers were using a radio control box to control all of the servos under the turtles' shells. And those Turtles, there were four of them, there were stunt Turtles who were in similar looking costumes, but they didn't have all the electronics underneath the shell.
Between the actor and the puppeteer, Steve and Brian worked carefully to match those personalities up so that each one could bring us as a different thing. Josh Pius, who played Raphael, was the only real legitimate actor in these costumes. There was a stunt guy in David and Misha was Michael Angelo, and he had all of that pent up energy and humor that reflects its personality, but Bryan had to match those with the puppeteers.
I think that a combination of elements could have made these characters more human than they appeared in any other iteration of the film.
Bobby Herbeck: I bounced around the theaters then, and I would see the kids sitting on the edge of their seats. I think Steve Baron is so brilliant when he did the first shot of Raph looking over the manhole cover, and then he lowers it, and the kids move even closer to the screen because now they want to see what they were going to look like, live-action, not animated. The next shot is a sewer, and they're coming down, and you see their silhouettes, and then they come in full view, and you hear this collected gasped. They were all cheering; I get goosebumps still all these years. I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes.
It's always the first one. I think it's because it was the first one out of the package, and it still holds up. There's a national screening, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through Fathom Events and most AMC theaters.
Warner Brothers digitized this film, and it looks so bitchen!
Comic Brooks: Bobby, with your experience in sitcoms and comedy, did that help in creating the jokes that land in the film?
Bobby Herbeck: Well, it certainly doesn't hurt. I don't know if I was conscious of that, but that's where I learned. I've written sketches since high school. I've done stand-up since high school and college, and that's just part of my fabric, my personality. That's one of the reasons Kim brought it to me. I studied Star Wars.
You ever heard the mythology of Joseph Campbell? Joseph Campbell was a father of myth. He was Like Lucas' surrogate dad. Lucas worshiped this man. He wrote the books on writing this kind of stuff. And I noticed it. I wanted to look to Star Wars because I wanted to see the battles. I didn't want to have a battle for the sake of it's time to have some action scene. George had a theme for every battle. There was the motivation for each battle, which I did in Ninja turtles. There's a reason for this fight. Remember, Splinter said, you don't start the fight; you just defend yourself. Then I watched the Musketeer movies, and I watched the Marx brothers.
I saw the Turtles, each being, in a sense, a Marx brother. Rafi is somewhat my personality. I've had to go and put a little bit of me in the character. The comic books, which were our reference, were very dark, and it needed to be lightened up a little bit.
Let's have these little wise guys become Teenage wise-asses.
Kim Dawson: I try to get everybody to work together as a producer, that's your goal is to make sure things go smoothly and while they didn't necessarily always go smoothly. Bobby thinks that I'm more like Donnie than anybody. I particularly like Mikey, because he was at a party animal.
That's a throwback to my partner, Gary Proper, who was a crazy man. We lost Gary a few years ago. Gary is the one that found the comic book. When Gary saw the turtles, he was like, that's the one that we got to get. One of my responsibilities was covering all the comedy. We did a lot of comedy shows together, and as a result, we felt like we could put comic voices in these characters and not spend a huge amount of money. We didn't spend a lot of money on the cast in this picture. The cast will tell you that.
*This interview has been edited for clarity*
Cowabunga dudes! It has been 30 years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie and the live-action, feature film adaptation of the cult comic book and the popular animated television show, is returning to the big screen! After prolonged exposure to radiation, four teenage turtles--Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello--have mutated into ninjas and have begun living in the sewers of a large city. Under the guidance of a ninja master Splinter the Rat and television reporter April, the Turtles embark on a mission to run crime out of the city and battle the warlord Shredder.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be returning to theaters on November 5th, 6th, and 7th! Participating theaters can be found here and check out the official store (where you can buy an exclusive script) right here!