In the second part of his three part series, Luke Owen sits down with producer Tom Gray, Donatello suit actor Leif Tilden and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman to discuss the Heroes in a Half-Shell’s second big screen adventure…
If you missed Turtle Power: A Production History of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), you can read it here.
With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles performing better than anyone expected, Golden Harvest and New Line began work on a second movie. Not wanting to rest on their success however, the plan was for the sequel to hit cinemas one year later in March 1991. “When we first started working on the entertainment side of the Turtles with Mark Freedman, he originally told us that if the cartoon show and toys worked you have an introductory year where you introduce it to the populous, and if it works you are allowed a second year and start to make a bit of money,” Eastman explains. “In the second year you have success, but by the third year the videos and everything else are in the discount bin and you’re out of business.” Gray adds: “We didn’t know how long this will last so we’ve got to move. There won’t be much millage. Cabbage Patch and all these things came, died and moved along.”
The idea of steamrolling a sequel, for Kevin Eastman at least, was a great idea so long as they got all the pieces in the right place. “We have something that is very successful and another vehicle that we can tell stories that are not the black and white world or the animated world but something in between,” he says. “Let’s tell another great story and take the Turtles to another level like we did in the comics and hope for the best.” However this was not to be the case. With time a precious commodity, Todd Langen was again brought back to write a script in a very short timeframe, which Gray says was “cobbled together”.
“To be perfectly honest, with number two, we just spit-balled ideas,” Gray admits. “‘We’ll have new monsters and music and the ooze’. We just blurted it out. This is not Lord of the Rings. The thoughts that go into those movies are beyond this. We were terrified because we didn’t have the money or if it was going to work, and we thought it would fail real quick so we had to get it out real quick, and honestly we didn’t get a great story.”
The big idea coming out of the initial script discussions was to have the Turtles face off against new monsters in the form of mutated villains, as this was an idea that had been done with great success in both the comics and cartoon show with characters like Baxter Stockman, Slash, Leatherhead and Mondo Gecko. Two of the most popular characters at the time – and therefore ideal choices – were Bebop and Rocksteady, who had first debuted in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles roleplaying game before becoming a staple of the animated series as Shredder’s inept henchmen. While it made sense to bring Bebop and Rocksteady into the live action universe, there were two obstacles in the way. “In the creative process Peter Laird was more involved with every minute detail and we had to insure that his notes were adhered too,” Gray admits. “Kevin was very flexible with what we wanted to do as filmmakers, but Peter was insistent on things like,’Michelangelo would never say that’, and ‘he wouldn’t walk this way’. It was not an easy writing period.”
With Laird wanting to stick to his vision for a Turtles sequel and how to use the characters he’d helped create, Gray instead presented the idea of bringing in new foes – which helped the filmmakers overcome the second obstacle: money. “If we do Bebop and Rocksteady, we don’t get any merchandise,” Gray says. “So if we come up with Tokka and Rahzar, we get more money. So there was economics involved in it, but also a little bit of Peter Laird. He said, ‘okay you can do your own monsters’. Henson had all these characters in their box, so they were easy to do. It was convenient, but sometimes the decision is purely economic. Getting the merchandising was a better deal for us because we didn’t get any merchandising when we purchased the rights unless they were characters that weren’t previously known. That was a big motivation for the creation of Tokka and Rahzar.”
“By this time in the Turtles franchise there were a lot of people involved from the toys, the cartoon, the movie,” Kevin Eastman adds. “At the same time, you take into consideration new characters introduced into the toy line and cartoon, a certain set of parties profited from those. And if a character from the animated show was used in the live action movie, it becomes a separately negotiated deal that profits from the success of the animation. If they’re used in live action, the money is paid to the profits of the animation. They thought, ‘look you’re always introducing new characters and there’s always a hunger from fans to have new mutants and characters in the Turtles universe’. So instead of using characters that were popular in the animated universe and moving them into live action, why not create new characters and feed the fanbase and add to the Turtles universe. My preference back then – and I can’t speak for Peter – but my preference to was use Bebop and Rocksteady who were originally born from the role playing series that Peter and I created. With Tokka and Rahzar, we said fine. We can create some new mutants and add them to the animated series.”
But it wasn’t just discussions over character inclusions that were rocking the boat with Eastman and Laird, as outside forces to the movie began to change its direction.
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