Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Turtles as a Lesson in Child Development

Recently I was talking with my friend about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was excited about the upcoming movie because his 6 year old son is a huge Turtles fan, and I was excited because I'm apparently 6 years old.

He told me his son's favorite Turtle was Michaelangelo, and it got me thinking about the classic cartoon and movie. To be honest, it doesnt take much to get me thinking about the original Turtles cartoon and movie, this just gave me a more logical reason to do so.

Michaelangelo was also my favorite character, and I always wondered what made people gravitate to individual Turtles. Everyone has a favorite, and I truly believe it has a lot to do with when your Turtle viewing begins. So I did some research (I've been doing research for this article for 27 years) and what I discovered may shock and astound you. Probably not, but maybe you'll find it interesting.

The amazing fact of the matter is, each Turtle represents a stage in childhood development. Although they are called teenagers, they act much younger, and in their early incarnations in the cartoon and movies, the intended audience was always younger than teenagers.

The cartoon started in 1987 when I was 7 years old. The audience for TMNT is approximately ages 6-11, which is considered middle childhood, and each Turtle is a representation of the ages within this developmental stage.

My favorite character was/is Michaelangelo because I started watching at the very earliest stages of middle childhood. 6-7 year olds are very playful and goofy; during this age, there is an increased desire for acceptance, which often causes children to act out in very silly ways. As we all know, Mikey is very silly, a party dude even, so he captures the essence of 6-7 year old kids perfectly. He wears orange, the brightest of all the colors, and one that is not particularly threatening. He is the class clown, the goofball of the bunch, but he is also a big part of the team and never lets his friends down. At this age, kids are starting to pay more attention to friendships and teamwork. At the same time, they are showing more independence from their parents and family. Splinter, as their father figure, is constantly scolding Mikey for his silly behavior, but even he can't stay mad at the little scamp because Mikey clearly cares about his friends and the greater good.

Yeah you!

Plus, Mikey uses nunchuks. Every little kid wants nunchuks!  They are a lot less deadly than the blades used by his friends and they look so cool (although those facts do little to help the inevitably bruised nuts every kid gets when trying them for the first time).

As a child gets older, their favorite Turtle often changes (mine changed on a daily basis until college) and the second Turtle to be loved and admired is usually Donatello. He can also be very silly (remember the pork rinds scene in the original movie?). Mikey and Donatello are clearly the jokesters, staying out of the serious conversation of their more mature pals. He uses a long stick as a weapon, something any (every) young boy has mastered by age 8, and one that is still not that deadly. He wears purple, a more serious color than orange, but still not threatening. In the movie, he is voiced by perennial man-child Corey Feldman, which proves my point more than anything else I'll say here.

It's okay pal, he was a global star at one point!

Like Mikey, Donatello shows independence while at the same time starting to understand the benefits of teamwork. From ages 6-8, children begin to understand more about their place in the world, and as that pork rind scene shows, Mikey and Donatello understand that they are not the leaders. They understand their roles in the team and they accept them.

Lastly, during this stage, there is less focus on one's self and more concern for others. In the movie, once Rafael gets beaten up, they calm down with the goofball antics and show a serious concern for their friend.

The next age range in the middle childhood developmental stage is about 9-11.
During this stage, the favorite becomes Leonardo. He is dark blue, the stereotypical boy color, and it also gives him a slightly more menacing look. At this age, children begin to see the point of view of others more clearly, which helps him as the leader of the group. He clearly tries to be the moral leader of the group; he is corny and straight-laced, but he does what is best for the team at all times. He also carries the deadliest weapon because he is responsible enough to handle it.

Finally, kids usually come around to Rafael. He's the moody, rebellious kid. He's cool, but rude. As the corresponding age group would suggest, he's constantly trying to break free from authority, clashing with Leo and going out on his own. Rap super-group Partners in Khryme actually call him the leader in the movie's theme song, Turtle Power, from the platinum selling soundtrack (yes, platinum selling) so kids respect that. He also wears blood red and uses knives (sai). He's a straight up gangster, and, he's into girls.

And Father Time says he chose well.

He is the hero to 11 year old boys everywhere.

Ok, you don't have to be so smug about it dude.

In all honesty, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a big part of my childhood. I watched the cartoon religiously, I got all the action figures, I saw the movie when it first came out (and the second one unfortunately). I write this because I want to get page views I'm a little concerned about the new, Michael Bay produced movie. Not because I think I might not like it, that's beside the point. I'm not the intended audience. Ok well, I probably am, but nostalgic old men shouldn't be the intended audience. The Turtles were a weird, cheesy (ha! they loved pizza...cheesy...get it?) phenomenon for kids. The new movie goes with the now decade long obsession with turning everything dark and gritty (thanks Christopher Nolan!). The cartoon and original 2 movies (we won't discuss the 3rd, but at least it kept the spirit of the franchise) were very corny and campy and kid friendly. The new one is dark and violent. Megan Fox is April O'Neil for chrissake. April is supposed to be girl-next-door pretty in a yellow trench coat. Megan Fox is porn star hot with titties out. Wait... I'm complaining about this?? Jeezus I'm old.

Old conservative man complaints aside, the new movie looks like it takes itself way too seriously. Yes, the original comic was dark and gritty, but that was for a more mature audience. It started as a black and white, noir-like comic, like Sin City. Did you see that fucking movie? That shit ain't for kids. The Turtles shouldn't be Sin City.

Even as a kid, I realized the Turtles was one of the dumbest, most absurd ideas ever, but it was a lot of fun because of its idiocy. Talking ninja turtles named after Renaissance artists with a talking rat as a leader, fighting a living can opener? What the hell?! Parents didn't really get it, but it was all innocent fun, so they went along with it. It would be a shame if kids miss out on that innocent idiocy.

But what do I know. I'm sure it's gonna make a billion dollars and all the little boys will love the intense violence and Megan Fox. I would have.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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