By: Matt Spaulding
“They're ruining my childhood!” It's the battle cry of the Internet every time a beloved nostalgia property is revamped for the modern age, inevitably causing scores of nostalgic folks to get all butthurt and take to their keyboards. But let's take a look at that battle cry, shall we? Seems pretty ridiculous, right? I mean, how can a childhood be retroactively ruined by a new movie or TV show? Is someone going back and burning all the copies of the original? Are they taking all the digital prints offline, coming to your home and wiping your hard drives and confiscating your hard copies so that all you have left is a faint memory and the new “garbage”? I think not. So, despite this new, reimagined interpretation of an old favorite, you'll always have a way to watch the one you so greatly cherish. Secondly, and this one is going to hurt so make sure you have plenty of lotion for your butt, you can't ruin something that already wasn't good, and I've got news for you: your childhood sucked.
I know that isn't something you're willing to believe. And I know you're probably already composing your angry tweets and emails, but calm your typing fingers, I'm going to explain myself. Because, believe me, my childhood sucked just as much as yours. As rosy as I remember it, it was shit. There were nuggets of gold in there, but over all, nothing is as great as I remember.
Nostalgia is a weird thing. It paints the past all happy and sparkly. It's a rose-colored lense, to use a worn out cliché. And, really, it makes sense. Childhood was before bills and sex and work and love and heartbreak and all the other things that bog us down as adults and make us yearn for an escape. But it also is really hurting the entertainment industry in the age of the Internet. And it's making you miserable.
I first started to notice this phenomenon growing strong around the time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out in 2014 (though I think it started earlier with Transfomers). Hordes of angry twenty-somethings came out of the woodwork to decree how the movie “looked terrible” and “wasn't the real Turtles” and was (our old favorite) “ruining their childhood” even before the movie came out! Now, let's set the first one aside. We all judge movies based on their trailers. If a movie doesn't look good to you based on the trailer, it doesn't look good. Plain and simple. I can't fault anyone for that. But those other two? Whoa. I want to look at that second one specifically for a second. Not the “real” Turtles? What does that mean? The original Eastman/Laird comic book? The first cartoon series? The original live action films? The live action TV series? The second cartoon series? The cartoon movie? The third cartoon series? The dozen or so reinventions of the Turtles in the comics between the original and modern day? Notice a pattern here in my rhetorical questions? Before the 2014 Turtles movie came out, the Turtles themselves had already been through many many different iterations. They are a franchise! And most of those iterations, they weren't good. Let's assume for a minute that people who say that the 2014 Turtles “aren't the real Turtles” are predisposed to hate the new Turtles because they aren't like the original cartoon series. I'm curious how many of those same people have watched that original series lately. Like actually sat and watched it without their nostalgia goggles on. Because I have. It's terrible. It's just fucking awful. It's goofy in the extreme, the animation is bad, the dialog is bad, the stories are bad. It's just a horrendous show. The first season or two are the only ones that are even bearable. After that, it just crumbles. If this is the show they want the movies to be like, I'll pass, thank you. And I loved the cartoon as a kid. Even now, I can unplug my brain, turn the nostalgia filter in my brain on and enjoy it for a bit. But on the whole, it's hard to watch. And I certainly wouldn't want the movies to be like it. Heck, I wouldn't even want the movies to be like the original live action films. The first one is pretty great, but Secret of the Ooze is a cheese-fest.
I actually liked the new Turtles movie. It certainly wasn't great, but it was enjoyable for what it was. And I went in knowing it was going to be a fresh take on the Turtles. And, really, they didn't change all that much. A lot of the core concepts and character traits were in place, it was action packed and the writing was okay. It set a foundation for a second film that should be pretty enjoyable when it comes out this year. My only hope is that the filmmakers didn't look too hard at the complaints of the angry fans. Sure, the film will have some more classic elements like Baxter Stockman, Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang, but those are Ninja Turtles staples throughout all their iterations. My hope is for the over all tone of the film. Of course I want it to be fun and light. It's a kid's movie, after all. But I don't want it to cross into downright cheesy and stupid. After the outrage over the first one (mostly unfounded, in my opinion) I just have a fear that the folks in charge of the flick looked at all that and said “alright, they weren't thrilled. Let's give them more of what they want. Bring in those DVDs of the first cartoon!” It happens. Movies are commercial properties more than they are art or entertainment. They're meant to make as many people happy as possible so they can make as much money as possible. And if the first one didn't make as much money as it could have because “those aren't the real Turtles,” well, draw your own conclusions.
It happened again very recently, and with a property I really didn't even expect. One that's even worse than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A while back, it was announced that a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie was going into production based on the original TV show. People flipped out. Everyone was excited that a Power Rangers movie was coming based on the version of the Rangers they knew and loved from their childhood. I was a little surprised. Growing up, I loved the Rangers. I remember playing with all their toys, and being jealous of the friends that had the figures I didn't (I never had a Goldar, for example. But my friend Mickey did, and MAN was I jealous! I still go by the house his grandparents used to live in on a regular basis and get fond memories of playing Power Rangers in the basement of that house. But back to the article.), but Power Rangers was also one of the first things I sort of outgrew and considered to be not cool. And I never got super nostalgic for the show, either. It was just sort of a thing I remembered a little fondly, but wasn't clamoring for more content. So I was a bit perplexed at the excitement for a new Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie. Still, I knew I would see it and I would keep track of the news relating to it.
Fast forward to more recently and a picture of the new Rita Repulsa was released, looking decidedly different than her original TV show counterpart. People, as usual, were up in arms. But I dug it and moved on. The reaction to Rita, however, was nothing compared to the reaction that came a while later when Entertainment Weekly released the first shot of the new Rangers themselves. People. Lost. Their. Damn. Minds. “Why so much armor?” “They look like Iron Man!” “Why do the women have boobs?” “Those aren't the Power Rangers” (it seems the most common complaint about anything is “those aren't [xyz]!”). People were just outraged that the Rangers weren't dressed in tight unitards with the dinosaur helmets they remembered. And, again, I found myself shocked. I didn't (and don't) see anything wrong with the new Ranger looks. I think they look pretty damn good, actually. Also, I didn't know anyone had such a strong attachment to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It's the most god-awful thing I've ever seen!
Let me rewind a bit. A few years ago, I was at home with nothing to do so I turned on Netflix and was thrilled to discover that they had added Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to their streaming line-up! I hadn't seen that show in years so I was giddy to relive the magic and joy of this show I loved so much as a child!
Then I actually watched it. I sat there in shock and horror as the worst thirty minutes of television I had seen in recent memory played out before my eyes. The hideously bad dialog, the cheesy outfits, the terrible plots, the forced moral lesson, the atrocious voice-overs (the original Power Rangers came out of Japan. The American version was created by keeping all the scenes of the monsters, Zords and the Rangers in their costumes and cutting them in with the scenes of the American actors) the blatant cheapness of it. I could not believe I had ever enjoyed this at all! But then I remembered something: I was, like, six when this show was popular. And that's exactly who it was made for, six year olds. And now, in 2016, a bunch of twenty-eight year olds are reaching all the way back to when they were six, asking that six year old self what they think of Power Rangers, and using that as a measuring stick for the new ones. That just isn't going to fly with me. Especially since I'd wager most of the ones complaining haven't sat and watched the show recently, just hummed its theme song to themselves once in a while.
But here's the thing about Power Rangers the whiners aren't considering: the concept of the show is great. It's basically kaiju and superheroes mashed together. Put in the right hands, someone could seriously elevate this dog turd of a show into something really spectacular and fun. Sadly, I have a feeling it just isn't going to go that way. I'm going to go out on a limb right now and say that Might Morphin Power Rangers isn't going to be well received, even if it isn't a bad movie. People just aren't going to give it a chance because “that's not how I remember it.”
Nostalgia is going to kill these properties. Or, at the very least, anything really creative that might be done with them. Movie studios know that old properties are hot again because people that loved these things as kids are now craving them as adults, meaning they are all sitting on potential cash cows. But what the movie studios don't know, but are probably learning, is that people don't want new versions of things they loved. They want exactly what they already had. They don't want anything to be tweaked or updated or reinvented or reimagined. No changes. Ever. Of any kind. Just give me that same thing I had when I was a kid. And, most of the time, the audiences saying these things most likely don't realize that most of what they had when they were kids was shit. Like I said, there were some gold nuggets. But, yeah, overall, it was bad. But no one remembers that. They remember a happy time spent with that specific property and some vague details and they want those vague details brought into modern time. And when they don't get it, they pre-hate the new thing, never giving it the time of day. They make themselves miserable. They take to the internet with fingers flying over keyboards and blood pressure raised. They don't buy tickets. Studios wonder what went wrong. After all, people love that property, right? Why didn't they go? Because it wasn't just like old times! Well, okay then! They can fix that! Let's just get a director and a writer who will do exactly what we tell them and will make the movie just like the old times, not like what they envision! Then the creativity is gone and the movies are bad. Then we all lose.
It's okay to like the things you liked when you were a kid. I know I do. And it's okay they were bad, and are still bad. You can still sit down and enjoy those things through your rose-colored glasses and be transported back to a time when things weren't so crazy. But also realize that, for the most part, these things are franchises. They're going to get made into something new, something that might be different (and, * gasp * maybe even better!). Also, we're living in the age of the fan film maker. Loads of people in Hollywood now grew up loving the exact same things you did. And they have their own ideas about to make these things, and they may have had them since they were kids playing action figures in the back yard. Ryan Coogler, for example, grew up watching Rocky films and loving those films so much that eventually he wrote and directed the best film in the franchise in years, Creed. And, make no mistakes, while Creed is definitely based on the Rocky franchise, it's a brand new thing. It's also fantastic. The next Creed-level film is just around the corner: an amazing, fresh new take on something you know and love. You just have to give it a chance to shine.