After learning about the rise and fall of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe franchise recently by watching – and immensely enjoying – the documentary Power of Grayskull, […]
After learning about the rise and fall of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe franchise recently by watching – and immensely enjoying – the documentary Power of Grayskull, I was curious to see the backstories of other toys from yesteryear. Though I knew an awful lot about the genesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles already, there’s still an awful lot covered in the episode of The Toys That Made Us that focuses on the creation of the turtles that I wasn’t aware of.
When Kevin Eastman (above, right) and Peter Laird (above, left) got together and created their dark, violent superhero parody back in 1984, they had no way of knowing what a huge franchise their indie comic book would become. We’re taken on quite the journey from the humble beginnings of their small press comic, through licensing deals that saw a toy line that dominated the wish lists of kids in the late 80s, an incredibly popular animated series, a live action movie in 1990 (which spawned two live action sequels, a CGI-animated continuation of the story and more recent reboots) as well as a number of animated TV shows (and a live action one, but we won’t mention that – much).
Much like the facts revealed in Power of Grayskull, it’s incredibly surprising just how many people were involved in the refining of the original creations; for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the moulding of the darkly toned source material into the multi-million dollar kid-friendly juggernaut that it eventually became is a hugely fascinating insight into how licensing and merchandise can completely transform – and, in many ways, transcend – an original concept.
Though I found the subject matter hugely compelling – and even touching by the climax, which was incredibly and surprisingly emotional – I was less enamoured with the presentation. The more measured and reverential approach taken by the makers of Power of Grayskull is lost; instead, there’s a far more hyperactive, slightly juvenile feel to the editing and presentation of the interviews in The Toys That Made us. Awkward cuts between interview subjects, sometimes out of context, don’t help matters – nor does an incredibly cheap and tacky looking title sequence and awful theme song.
Thankfully, the ground covered more than makes up for the shortcomings in the format (though the framing of the TMNT: The Next Mutation show as a failure because there was a female turtle, rather than just the fact that it was a terribly cheap looking and poorly written show, is disappointing).
It’s a wonderful watch and though many of the episodes cover toys that I don’t perhaps have the same level of nostalgia for, I’m keen to see more episodes and learn about the history of other hugely successful toy lines that had their own time in the sun, however brief that may have been.
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