I have two small boys who watch a healthy amount of kiddie television (KTV). So often in KTV, the story is straightforward and simple. It’s an entertainment bit to keep them occupied for 30 minutes at a time. There are exceptions, though, and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is one, IMHO. My boys, ages 6 and almost 5, are seriously into TMNT, the four shellbacks who mutated into walking, talking, pizza-eating turtles and who became ninjas under the guidance of their sensei, Splinter, a former-human-now-rat.
Every now and then, I’ll sit down with the kids and watch it with them. In the past, I haven’t paid that much attention to the overall plot, so I would ask my kids lots of questions about what’s going on. In Nickelodeon’s revamp, one of the plot lines has the Turtles battling the Shredder, Splinter’s foe. Splinter and Shredder go way back. They used to be friends, but a bitter jealously on Shredder’s part caused pain and heartbreak for Splinter…while still human, he lost his wife and his daughter at Shredder’s hands. The Turtles and Splinter attempt to keep Shredder and his ninja-butt-kicking daughter, Karai, at bay; Shredder wants nothing more than to see Splinter and the Turtles dead. It seemed pretty straightforward to me — Good Guy vs. Bad Guy.
I don’t think that anymore.
A recent episode showed me there’s more to TMNT than good vs. bad…there’s actually good story, and for kids! In this episode, Shredder had finally lured Splinter to his lair fight him, and fight they did. Splinter gets the upper hand, and just as he’s about to kill Shredder, Karai arrives to save her dad. Splinter is prepared to kill Karai, too, until Shredder whispers to him that Karai is actually his daughter — Shredder didn’t kill her all those years ago; he abducted her and raised her as his own…and raised her to hate Splinter. Needless to say, it’s a huge, revealing moment for Splinter.
Now, I may be a bit obtuse in the plot department, but I didn’t see the abduction-raise-her-as-my-own thing coming. My jaw (and my husband’s — he was watching, too) literally hit the floor, and I had a sudden, new respect for the show’s writers. What a great wrench to throw into the story, taking it in a whole new direction!
Of course Splinter won’t fight Karai, his daughter, nor will he kill Shredder, because he doesn’t want to do anything to hurt her — physically or emotionally. After all, she thinks Shredder is her dad! He also can’t just blurt out, “Hey, you’re my daughter!” So he leaves the lair, his mind clearly spinning, with Karai screaming for him to fight her and calling him a coward.
That one momentous revelation changed everything for Splinter, including the nature of the conflict (can’t really fight Shredder anymore, because Karai thinks he’s her dad; won’t fight Karai even though it’s what she wants), his goals (wants to protect his daughter from Shredder; also wants his daughter to learn the truth…he wants her to be his daughter), and his motivation (he lost his daughter once…he doesn’t want to do it again). He also has to adjust the goals and motivations of his Turtles, too, but without revealing to them why. At a minimum, that will create mini-conflict between the master and his ninjas. In other words, it makes for good story.
We all know there are good kid stories out there: “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “Frozen,” “Shrek,” and “How To Train Your Dragon,” just to name a few. However, I believe we have high expectations for story in a movie, not to mention the fact that the movies aren’t targeted JUST to kids. How many of us expect good story from a kids’ cartoon? I admit I didn’t, but I’m changing my opinion now. Sometimes, a good story hits you when you least expect it.
When has a good story surprised you?