Fans of a long-running, beloved franchise are quick to be skeptical — that’s probably putting it lightly — when something new is being done with the property. There has been cynicism among hardcore “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fans since the earliest rumblings surrounding the upcoming live-action film, starting with producer Michael Bay‘s highly scrutinized comments at a 2012 presentation that the Turtles would be from an “alien race.”
As evidenced by the key second word in the title, that’s not the case with the final “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” product. Two scenes from the film — extended versions of April O’Neil (Megan Fox) meeting the Turtles for the first time and the shell-luging sequence, both glimpsed in previously released trailers — were screened for press at the Paramount Pictures lot in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon, and director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Andrew Form answered questions over — what else? — pizza.
Liebesman and Form’s message was clear: They’re also fans. They both expressed multiple times that they have a great deal of affection for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — all four parts of that title — and weren’t looking to stray far from the central appeal from the franchise that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created as a black-and-white independent comic book in 1984. Though the designs are tweaked, with new additions and the Turtles themselves larger in scale than past depictions, Liebesman said the changes happened for a reason.
“A lot of people are quick to comment, but when they see it in context, there’s a shitload of respect and love for these characters and the franchise that’s gone into the design,” the director told reporters. “It’s not just, ‘Let’s make them big.'”
“There is a lot of respect for the fans and for the franchise,” Liebesman continued. “It’s a privilege to be able to adapt something that’s so beloved. Meeting Kevin Eastman was a huge thing for us. I’m from South Africa — it was a big deal to meet the guy that created stuff that I saw so far away. You want to honor that.”
Based on the footage shown to press and the trailers thus far, the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie doesn’t make much of an attempt to make the property darker or more serious than past iterations, unlike multiple other franchise reboots. In fact, Liebesman cites the late ’80s/early ’90s TMNT cartoon as this biggest inspiration for him, tonally, in putting together the film — something that’s reflected in the presence of characters like Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) and Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg), a gender-swapped version of the original cartoon’s Burne Thompson.
“I was super-familiar with the cartoon,” Liebesman, whose past credits include “Battle: Los Angeles” and “Wrath of the Titans,” said to CBR. “That’s what I saw in South Africa. Visually, a lot of inspiration came from the very first black-and-white comics. A big deal was getting inspired by Kevin and Peter’s stuff in the beginning, getting inspired by fan art. From a tonal aspect, the cartoons I grew up with.”
“I think that was the hardest thing with the movie, the tone,” Form said. “I don’t know if everyone knows what the tone of the movie is yet.”
Although TMNT is now a 30-year-old property, it’s existed throughout than span — well beyond its initial wave of massive popularity — with multiple projects across a variety of media. Liebesman stated he found it a relatively easy concept to realize as a contemporary live-action film.
“In my head, it was an easy thing,” he said. “It’s hard to realize what’s in your head, but it was pretty easy to have four brothers who live in the sewer and are turtles. That wasn’t a roadblock to update it, as far as that goes.”
To that end, Liebesman told CBR there weren’t any particular elements in the franchise’s history that he was looking to shy away from.
“I think we wanted more stuff,” he said. “You’re dealing with people who love it. We embraced everything about it. There wasn’t anything too corny to use and update and try and make fresh for a new audience. We wanted more.”
“There are lots of characters that we love in the canon that if we’re lucky enough, we’d love to work with,” Form said, speaking in the hope of a potential sequel.
One thing that definitely made the cut: The Turtles’ famous love of pizza.
“You’ll see the most operatic pizza scene committed to CGI,” Liebesman promised. The direct also disclosed that the scene itself isn’t yet done, due to the complexity in portraying CGI Turtles realistically eating CGI pizza. “To make pizza took very long. Those were the last shots coming in.”
Liebesman and Form also reiterated that despite earlier reports, actor William Fichtner is not playing Shredder, but rather “Eric Sachs;” leaving the exact nature of the Turtles’ archnemesis something of a mystery at this point. Also, viewers may “hear some of” the old-school “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” theme song, and Form shared that — given a history of pop music and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie dating back to 1990 and Partners in Kryme’s “Turtle Power” and continuing with Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” — there’s a “very, very fun song in the movie at the end.”
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is scheduled for release on Aug. 8.