Wednesday, 23 January 2013
The Perils of Nostalgia
If you'd told me 5 years ago that there'd be new versions of Transformers, ThunderCats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I'd probably have rolled my eyes in disbelief. If you'd then gone on to say that they'd almost all be miles ahead of their rubbish originals I'd probably have punched you. But one by one these have come to pass and I've slowly been forced to accept it (I'm of course thinking of Transformers: Animated when I write this, not the feature films).
Turtles has been the most recent revelation, as I've been quite enjoying the new computer animated show on Nickelodeon. This new series has been accompanied by a wave of nostalgia for the original series and a box set of the first two seasons was among my Christmas presents. To be honest I was stunned at how bad they were.
In my mind, The Shredder had always been an intimidating, badass villain but in the original series he's reduced to an incompetent villain of the week. Plus it's really hard to not hear Uncle Phil in his voice now. The Turtles themselves have very little consistent characterisation, Splinter is largely useless and the writers might as well have been flipping a coin to decide who wins each battle.
People always say that kids are pretty sharp and won't be fooled by rubbish products but in this case I think we were. The Turtles mania at the time was insane and we probably latched onto the design of the characters more than anything else. We would have made up our own stories and had fun with the toys while being drip fed an episode a week, with perhaps just a few people aware of their true comic book origins in those pre-internet days.
I'll accept that there have probably already been better versions since the original series but there just seems to be something special about this new series. I don't remember watching the mid-2000's cartoon as I would have just finished University and while the CG movie from a couple of years ago was okay, it's not really stuck with me. Here the character of each turtle is defined so well, especially when you compare it to the shallowness of the original series.
I'd always been a Donatello person in the past, with him basically being a geek like me but he now gets uncomfortably close to some of my own personality traits. Raphael's hot headed personality seems much better balanced than other incarnations so that he's still likeable and even Michaelangelo's goofy charm seems to work well here. Leonardo would probably come across as a bit of a dick if it wasn't for the fact that his whole inspiration is a Captain Kirk type figure from his favourite TV show. And perhaps most importantly of all, Splinter comes across as a true martial arts master, who wouldn't be out of place in a Kung fu film or Kill Bill Vol. 2.
The new ThunderCats has been an even harder pill to swallow as I was a huge fan of the original and learning later on that those involved with it went on to form Studio Ghibli, it had a pretty good pedigree when you think about it. I'd watched the entire thing again about a year before the announcement of a new series and it still felt like it held up reasonably well (though there were a few cracks). Similar to TMNT, they had a very scatter shot history and a lot of the characters didn't really have many defining traits.
When I saw the new series I had to gradually accept that this was a much better realisation of these characters, with a cohesive whole to its world that made a lot more sense. Oh and Snarf was sooo much better without a voice. I saw the show in fits and starts thanks to Cartoon Network's irregular schedule but it became very compelling and I saved a lot of the later episodes so that they could be watched in order. I really enjoyed how they pulled in other familiar characters and I was pretty satisfied with how the whole series ended.
I think in a sense it's logical for kids TV shows with a toy line to try and appeal to adults too, as they are the ones controlling the purse strings. I bet I must have pestered my parents for toys back in the day but if they sat down to watch the associated shows they would probably think "this is garbage" and they'd be right. It's surely an easier sell if everyone can find some enjoyment in the series toys are based on - heck, my wife keeps asking me if I want the new figures after hearing I led a deprived childhood of knock off Turtle toys.
It makes me wonder whether those making the shows look at it in this cynical kind of way or if there's just been a concious effort to make better shows. Either way I've learnt not to look back at childhood cartoons with rose tinted glasses, so I won't be instantly dismissive of the next reboot to come along. Unless it's Bucky O'Hare of course - that was legitimately awesome.