Big Screen Childhood

With the release of the latest film in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, people in my age group (late 20’s/early 30’s) are unsurprisingly criticizing the film before they even see it. Freakish CGI for the turtles themselves, lame trailers, and the fact that it’s produced by Hollywood’s explosive, action porn director, Michael Bay, just have droves of people avoiding it at all costs. But really, were the TMNT movies you grew up with really any better? Hell, did ANY show or cartoon from your childhood have an amazing cinematic payoff? Well, thanks to the internet, we can answer that question. Let’s take a look:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of the most popular children’s animated series of the 1980s. What kid wouldn’t love a group of reptiles who use martial arts and love pizza? Growing up, we all loved watching the wisecracking brothers, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, use their respective weapons to battle the evil Shredder and toss around his Foot Clan every week. We all bought the toys, played the video games, and read the comics but when we finally learned that there was a live-action feature film being released, we all collectively lost our minds. We all got our wish in the spring of 1990. I vividly remember my mother taking me to see the first TMNT film as a child. It was a rainy day so I was wearing my Raphael raincoat and I couldn’t have been happier as a 4-year-old in the theater that night since I was watching my childhood come to life. This was before CGI was common so unlike the new film, the turtles were actors dressed in elaborate costumes. I loved it as a child and played the VHS tape countless times during the day but was it a legitimately good film? I can say without hesitation that the answer to that question is “hell no.” Despite that, it still has a cult following. Oh, and Sam Rockwell has one of his very first acting roles in a very small part as a thug.

The turtles movie was only the first attempt at a film adaptation of the series. A sequel was released the following year in 1991 and was received a lot better by audiences than its predecessor (it certainly was the best in the series in my opinion). A critically panned third film came out in 1993 which more or less killed off the TMNT franchise for awhile. A CGI animated film simply titled TMNT featuring the voices of Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, and Chris Evans was released in 2007 to very mixed reviews. Thanks to the latest Nickelodeon series of TMNT, the turtles are back, are more popular than ever, and are exposed to a newer generation of fans.

 

The Flintstones (1994)
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Hanna-Barbera’s classic prehistoric-set cartoon from the 1960s continued to air on broadcast television well into the 90s. Its popularity lasted for decades and spanned several generations. Finally, in the early 90’s, a live action feature film of the show was made for the big screen. John Goodman stars as Fred Flintstone, the blue collar caveman living with his wife, Wilma, and daughter, Pebbles in the town of Bedrock. The film boasted one of the last cinematic appearances of Rick Moranis as Fred’s beat friend, Barney Rubble, and an early on-screen role for Halle Berry. I honestly wasn’t much of a Flintstones fan before I watched this film. My knowledge of the series didn’t go beyond a few episodes along with commercials for Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles. I liked the film as a child but don’t care much for it now. I could see why a child would like the silliness of a child’s version of The Honeymooners.

Six years later, a sequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas was released in theaters to overwhelmingly negative reviews. It also failed at the box office making only $60M on a $80M budget. It was pretty horrendous.

 

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)
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Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers changed children’s programming forever when it premiered in 1993. Adapted from a Japanese television show, Super Sentai, six selected superheroes from Angel Grove try to bring down the unearthed Rita Repulsa (and later, Lord Zedd) who creates monsters to try and bring them down. It was an instant recipe for success and launched tons of merchandise. As a seven-year-old, I was immediately drawn to the action, the costumes, and over the top theatrics including the Megazord. The blue ranger was always my favorite because my favorite color was blue and I admired the man behind the mask, Billy, for his intelligence, using his mind to the help the rangers but also not being afraid to kick some Putty ass when necessary. The show’s popularity soared which was met with a cinematic adaptation in 1995. In the film, a new villain, Ivan Ooze is mistakenly resurrected and brainwashes the residents of Angel Grove.

The movie was amazing as a child but as you can probably guess, it’s pretty atrocious today watching it as an adult. One good thing I’ll say is that movie had a surprisingly decent soundtrack that I still own to this day. It introduced me to bands I never heard before and this was before I really started getting into music. They Might Be Giants, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Van Halen all contributed tracks and the latter two would become two of my favorite artists in music.

Since one movie is never enough, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie kicked into theaters world wide in 1997. I actually stopped watching the Rangers around this time and I thought it was pretty unbelievable that they introduced a new Blue Ranger who was only a little kid at that time. Still, I watched this one and it was pretty bad. Even as a kid I realized this.

Don’t fret old school Rangers fans, a film reboot of the original series is planned for 2016. Let’s see how the children of today take it in.

 

The Rugrats Movie (1998)
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Rugrats was one of Nickelodeon’s most popular programs. The toddlers exploring the world through an infant’s eyes while unattended by their parents quickly caught on with children everywhere. It aired for more than five years before finally making its way onto the big screen in 1998. In the film, Tommy Pickles’ new baby brother, Dil, is born and instantly feels resentment that he’s not the baby of the family anymore. Him and his gang of babies subsequently become lost in the woods and have to use their wits to find their way home while Tommy and Dil bond. I was 12 when this movie came out and depending on who you talk to, was probably too old to still be watching cartoons. I didn’t care though, I needed to see one of my childhood favorites on the silver screen. The movie was what it was, just an extended episode of Rugrats, but it was the culmination of all my years watching the series. I pretty much stopped following the show after the movies release but hey, reruns still air on television today so tell your little ones to watch it and learn what a true children’s show is all about!

 

Scooby-Doo (2002)
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Scooby-Doo was another cartoon that transcended decades and generations but unlike the Flintstones, Scooby-Doo’s popularity is actually still running wild today. Scooby-Doo was an animated series about four hippie teenagers, Freddie, Daphne, Velma, and stoner, Shaggy, driving around in their psychedelic painted van dubbed The Mystery Machine solving mysteries. It first premiered in 1969 and was also produced by Hanna-Barbera. Scooby-Doo’s popularity was always at large and later produced numerous series spin-offs after its original run, including cartoons featuring Scooby’s younger nephew, Scrappy-Doo. I remember watching the show on Cartoon Network every night before bed in elementary school. I was highly amused by Shaggy’s humor and Velma’s quirkiness. JINKIES!

In 2002, an eponymous live action film based on the popular series was released, featuring a CGI Scooby-Doo. Teen heartthrobs from the Generation X era such as Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Matthew Lillard starred along with Linda Cardellini as Velma but they hardly tried to keep the film from being terrible. Lame attempts at adult humor mixed with unecessary celebrity cameos (Sugar Ray?!) made this hard to watch as a teenager.

Despite the lack of quality, it was able to make over $275 million at the box office which warranted a sequel two years later, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. The sequel had the same cast returning but was met with a largely apathetic audience. No live action Scooby films have been made since but the series continues to belt out straight-to-DVD animated features, the most recent teaming the lovable pup with the stars of WWE.

 

Garfield (2004)
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Every child’s favorite lazy feline, Garfield, was a hit from its comic strip inception in 1978. Garfield was a fat, orange cat who often slept and ate lasagna all while disobeying his owner, Jon Arbuckle, and torturing Jon’s dog, Odie. The Jon Davis animated character then crossed over into television in the early 80s but it wasn’t until Garfield & Friends debuted in 1988 that it really started catching on with children. Garfield & Friends sandwiched two shorts about Garfield and in the middle was a short about a group of characters living on a farm. This would include their leader, a talking pig named Orson, the scheming Rooster, Roy, and scaredy-cat duck, Wade, who for some reason would walk around wearing an inner tube. After its run ended in 1994, Garfield and Friends ran in syndication non-stop through the remainder of the decade. I got into Garfield in the mid-90’s. It would come on several times a day. In the morning, I would wake up at 6 am just so I can watch it before heading to school. I would then come home from school and catch it in the afternoon at 4 then again at 8. It was always on and I loved every second of it. I collected a lot of the comics and even bought the video game for Sega Game Gear. I eventually grew up and moved on from our furry friend. Then I read that they were making a live action film about him.

By the time 2004 arrived, I had just finished high school and hadn’t thought of Garfield in years. Still, I was pretty intrigued on what the film would look like. Bill Murray was selected as the voice of our main character which is absolutely picture perfect casting in my opinion. Road Trip star, Breckin Meyer starred as Jon while the sexiest 90’s star, Jennifer Love Hewitt played Jon’s love interest, Liz. Garfield was CGI’ed to perfection and while the writing did try, it fell short of enjoyment for me. That didn’t stop from a sequel dropping in two years later, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Didn’t even bother with that one.

 

Transformers (2007)
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Transformers is an 80s children’s cartoon about two breeds of robots duking it out for the fate of their world. These machines were the kind-hearted, Autobots, and the mean-spirited Decepticons. The cartoon was actually based off a toy line where the robots were able to “transform” into other objects and vehicles. The figures were some of the coolest toys a kid could ever own and hours would be wasted on staging wars between the two robot races. The show was also a giant hit among 80s kids and it eventually got its own animated feature film in 1986. Absolutely nothing about the show holds up today but that didn’t stop our good friend Michael Bay from resurrecting the series in 2007 with his own spin.

In the film, the humans are at the forefront and are some of the most unlikeable characters in action movie history. Shia LaBeouf plays Sam, a college bound kid trying to acquire his first car. Little does he know that the vehicle that catches his eye is none other than Bumblebee, an Autobot who drags him into the war with the decepticons. The action scenes actually weren’t bad, they got progressively worse throughout the latter films, but honestly, this movie would have been decent if they just didn’t concentrate on the humans so much. They pretty much ruined any enjoyment anyone could have while watching it.

It spawned three sequels and while the series as a whole is critically panned, each feature raked in a ton of cash and it’s unlikely that the franchise will stop cranking out movies anytime soon. Bay, you’ve won this round!

 

The Simpsons Movie (2007)
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The Simpsons were a staple of American television for two decades before getting a feature film. The famous family of Springfield consists of dim-witted Patriarch, Homer, his moral wife Marge, resident trouble maker, Bart, overachieving Lisa, and infant Maggie. The show’s quality waned at the start of the 2000s but still remained as popular as ever and became a pop culture juggernaut. In 2006, a live feature film was announced and while my interest in the show was lessening, I was still pumped! The promotion for the film was nuts. Fictional products from the cartoon such as Duff beer and Buzz cola were made available in 7-11 stores which were remodeled to resemble Kwik-E-Marts.

The movie was released to generally positive reviews and as a lifelong fan, I actually liked it. It wasn’t great or anything but it was highly enjoyable and gave fans their money’s worth. It’s also the only movie on this list that I actually cared to own on DVD.

 

G.J. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
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Like Transformers, G.I. Joe was another memorable 80s cartoon that was spawned from a popular toy line. This military-themed action series showcased the battle between G.I. Joe, the American army heroes against the terrorist group, Cobra. The success of the series led to several direct-to-video and DVD movies but it wasn’t until 2009 where an actual live action film based off the series was produced. While the popularity of the toys and the memories of the old cartoon still remained, no one had even thought about a possible G.I. Joe reboot. That all changed in 2009 when G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra premiered in theaters. The only thing the film had in common with G.I. Joe was its name as it was just a generic action film complete with tons of explosions. Though I suppose you can’t really expect much else from a Hollywood made, late 2000s G.I. Joe flick. I was bored by most of it but it’s hardly from the worst thing I’ve ever seen and plus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Cobra Commander!

A sequel followed in 2013, G.I. Joe: Retaliation starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bruce Willis.

 

Yogi Bear (2010)
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Yogi Bear was yet another Hanna-Barbera cartoon that was long forgotten about before its big budgeted film was released. The Yogi Bear Show premiered in 1961 and portrayed the tie and hat wearing Yogi Bear as a loveable, friendly mammal. Yogi resided in Jellystone Park and with the aid of his sidekick, Boo-Boo, Yogi would often steal picnic baskets while trying to evade Ranger Smith. The show was highly popular for its time and I would watch repeats of the decades old episode in my youth in the 1990s. Out of nowhere, a 3D live action/animated film was released in 2010 starring Dan Aykroyd as Yogi and Justin Timberlake as Boo-Boo. I never saw it but judging from the trailer, I can’t imagine be being able to sit through it. Plus, I admit to myself that I’m simply now in the right age group for a movie like this.

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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