As far back as I can remember, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn't wear pants. They darted through the streets of New York, partially nude reptiles on the run from Shredder, the Foot Clan, and social mores. They were free. Or, they were. In 2016, Turtles wear pants.
Over the weekend, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, the sequel to 2014's gritty Michael Bay-produced reboot, racked up over $35 million at the box office, earned the mixed reviews one expects for a film about half-shelled critters, and changed fashion forever by putting pants and shorts around each Turtle's waist. This is a big deal. After so many years of pants-less anarchy, why are the Turtles suddenly covering up?
It's a complex question, one Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman took very seriously when we rang him up looking for answers. Turns out, when you're producing a giant Hollywood blockbuster, pants unlock true turtle power.
First, a little sartorial history: in the original comic created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman in 1984, the Turtles only wore masks, belts, wrist bands, elbow pads, and knee pads. As the series took off, first with a popular animated series and then the original 1990 live-action film, designers tweaked the costumes, like giving the Turtles different-colored masks to make them easily identifiable. But pants were never an essential part of their wardrobe. The Turtles aren't chic. Pants do appear when they occasionally dress like silly pimps, though their favorite disguise is a trench coat sans pants. Even in space, they say no to pants.
As Chandler from Friends will smugly remind you, anthropomorphic characters have odd, tension-filled relationships with their groins. Donald Duck hates pants; Mickey loves them. You could tell the 2014 Turtles movie, which pursued a more realistic, computer-generated look than the Jim Henson puppet-work of the '90s series, had a simmering anxiety about the P-word. Perhaps compensating for something, the turtles tied sweatshirts around their waists, wore sumo-like protective battle-gear, and wrapped tape around their upper thighs to cast their crotches in shadows.