Justine: Good Stories Aren’t Just for Adults

tmnt, ninja turtles, good story, plot

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (c) 2014 Viacom International, Inc.

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.

3228172-splinter

Splinter vs. Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (c) 2014 Viacom International, Inc.

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?

10 thoughts on “Justine: Good Stories Aren’t Just for Adults

  1. I’m not sure surprised is the right word for me, but I did have some guilty secrets — when my girls were little, I watched a lot of Kim Possible, and also Teen Titans — both of which I loved for their quirky characters and exciting plottage. Maybe I should go back and take a look at those stories! Especially in Kim Possible, the Evil Guy Drakken had a lot of development — he used to work with Kim’s dad, for example, and he’s still stuck battling teenagers, while his classmates moved on to creating stuff and getting stuff done in the “real world.”

    (-: I always meant to get into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So many stories, so little time.

    • The new season (new episodes, anyway) start on Feb 2nd and I’ll probably pay more attention now, because I want to see what’s going to happen with Splinter and his daughter, Karai. 🙂

  2. I was surprised when I started to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer at how much I enjoyed it. I was very late to the game on that show, despite the wonderful title, because a male co-worker loved, loved, LOVED Buffy, and I knew what else he liked, and I just thought the ick factor would be very high. So I never watched because of him. Then there was all the hype about the “Once More with Feeling” episode in season 6, I think it was, when all the lines were songs and they all sang. So I watched that episode for the novelty and I could tell the show was brilliant and I had no clue what was going on. So the good part was that I got the previous five seasons on Netflix and gorged on it for a few weeks. I was as entertained by it as I expected to be, but also the writing was a lot more emotionally engaging and thought-provoking than I expected. I was just thrilled with the whole thing. It was like seeing a Christmas stocking with a bike in it when you thought you were getting a lump of coal.

    • It goes back to what Andrew Stanton said in his Ted talk that Kat mentioned in her post earlier this week — make them care. There’s something about Buffy that made you care (whether it was the characters or the novelty or whatever) and hence the show does become like a Christmas bonus!

  3. I remember back in the day reading in our local newspaper about a little-known children’s story that was becoming a word-of-mouth hit. I hadn’t heard of JK Rowling but the review sounded interesting so I walked up to the local bookshop and found one copy (one copy) of the first and second Harry Potter books, buried in the children’s section. I still remember reading a couple of pages in the shop and getting that ‘wow!’ feeling. Obviously I wasn’t the only one 🙂

    • I’m so excited to start my boys on Harry Potter! I think I need to wait another year or two, but they love for me to read stories to them (we’re reading Charlotte’s Web right now). I get great joy out of reading to them, too.

      I also loved Harry Potter, but I didn’t start reading it until all of her books were finished (that was my “heavy into romance” time…it’s about all I read). My husband is not a great reader, but I remember him going to Barnes and Noble at midnight when the last book was released. He was that eager for it!

  4. I used to babysit for a five year old girl after school, so I watched a lot of kids’ tv and quickly realised that there were some programmes I loved because they were genuinely funny and thought provoking, and others I hated *coughdoratheexplorercough* because they were twee and patronising. Kids deserve great stories!

    • I agree completely (both about Dora and kids deserving great stories). My son writes his own stories in school each week (purely phonetic spelling, of course…he’s only 6) and I talk to him about what makes a great story. I think kids surrounding themselves with good story is the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

      • I used to love writing stories when I was a kid. I’d love to get back into it but now I’m an adult I have so little time, and I’m so much more self-conscious. Treasure this time with your children, it’s such a great age! I’ve just seen in the other comments that they haven’t read Harry Potter yet… What joy they have ahead of them! I was a prolific reader and my brother hated reading with a passion, but we both loved Harry Potter. They’re such great stories! Have your kids read any Roald Dahl?

        • No, not yet. The boys read “Magic Treehouse” and “Flat Stanley” series books…they love those. Good adventures for little boys. We’ll see how they do with Stuart Little, then go from there. At least they’re to the point where I don’t need to read picture books all the time. I really like that they’re learning to form the pictures in their heads!

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