I don’t believe I’ve ever made this apparent through my writing, but I absolutely love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I just haven’t had a whole lot of occasion to mention it over the past few years.
I was firmly entrenched in the battlefields of GI Joe from 1982 until 1988. I’ve never given it much thought before, but the transition away from GI Joe was kind of ridiculous. I lost interest in GI Joe because the franchise was getting too outlandish. All the ninjas, outer space stuff, neon-colored EPA officers, and finally a guy called the Ice Cream Soldier were too much. Here are the two reasons I say this was so absurd:
- The GI Joe toy line couldn’t out-absurd the cartoon series on the most absurd day of its life with an electric absurding machine. I loved the cartoon and it didn’t put me off even with the whole Cobra-La business. But put one dayglo orange ninja in the toy line and I throw in the towel.
- The line that replaced GI Joe? TMNT, which was not only the most ridiculous concept ever to come down the pike; but also featured innumerable silly characters with terrible puns for names. Who often dressed in neon.
And – as tends to happen – before you know it I had a huge collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures. Genghis Frog, Muckman, Baxter Stockman, Panda Khan, Scumbug, Ace Duck – on and on until the breakadawn. Very rarely was there a new character that I didn’t like. Not to mention the Party Wagon, the (inner tubes), and the somewhat inexplicable Turtle Blimp. I loved that toy franchise and dove in headfirst; for the most part to the exclusion of all else in the world of toys.
Of course, along with the toy line came the cartoon. As with almost every licensed cartoon series back in the 80’s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started with a miniseries. It first debuted in December of 1987 and I’m almost positive I didn’t see it then. I say that because I’m pretty sure I bought the toys before I saw the cartoon. I doubt very much the cartoon would have put me off the toys, but I know it never sat quite right with me. It was just a little too silly; if that doesn’t seem like an idiot thing to say about something called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. It also really bugged me that they had pupils in the cartoon. But it was about the Ninja Turtles and it was good enough to watch when I got home from school.
One day when I was in the comic book shop I saw something larger than a comic with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” across the top and a somewhat crude and dark picture of the Turtles on the front. I didn’t know what it was, but I was prepared to spend money on pretty much anything with those green guys on it. It turned out to be the first collection of color reprints of the original Mirage comics. There were four volumes of these reprint collections and I went back and bought the next three as soon as I could. They were amazing. These Turtles were violent. They actually cut people with their swords. Shredder was a genuine threat. Baxter Stockman… well, he was just a guy. But an evil guy. And there was no Krang. Instead there was a whole race of Krangs and instead of being in some stupid robot that looked like a giant baby, these Krangs were housed in what basically amounted to fancy T-800s.
I loved these Turtles. This was how things played out in my head – not the silly action that happened on the cartoon. I converted to the print Turtles and sought out everything Mirage published. Like an idiot I got rid of those color editions – I think I got all snooty about the fact that they were “supposed” to be black and white – but I still have the black and white collections that were released. The stories hold up just as well today and it still amazes me to see the art progress.
In 1990 we got a live-action TMNT movie. I can tell you right now that my anticipation level for that movie was right up there with how I felt about Transformers: The Movie, Batman, and UHF. The Turtles looked absolutely amazing and I could not wait to see it. Also adding to the hype was the fact that it was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina. That’s common now to the point where Wilmington is being referred to as “Wilmywood” or “Little Hollywood”, but back then it was a slightly bigger deal. Especially to me since my family lives up there. My Granny cut out some newspaper articles about the movie filming up there. I remember her trying to describe some of the costumes to me over the phone. I think she was describing Splinter when she told me they were filming a bear in a bathrobe.
The movie itself was extremely satisfying. It stuck closer to the comic than the cartoon had, the Turtles really did look amazing, It was certainly more violent, and Casey Jones was badass. Elias Koteas’ portrayal of the hockey-masked vigilante made me a fan to the point where I sat through Almost an Angel and Exotica in their entirety. I even bought the movie’s soundtrack on cassette and absolutely wore that thing out. (group’s) “T.U.R.T.L.E. Power” was about my favorite song ever that year.
I still know every word of that goofy song. And it still bugs the crap out of me that they incorrectly identify Raphael as “the leader of the group”, though he is, indeed “transformed from the norm by the nuclear goop”. Of course, we wouldn’t find out the true Secret of the Ooze until the next movie.
Two more movies followed. I enjoyed the second just as much as the first except for the appearance of Vanilla Ice. I’ll admit to liking “Ice Ice Baby” the first couple hundred times I heard it, but it wore thin after that first week. I think even at that young age I could detect artificiality, I just didn’t quite recognize it fully yet. Just enough to bug me. I remember waiting breathlessly to see “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel as Super Shredder (whatever the heck that was) and being disappointed that you couldn’t even tell it was him. I have no idea how I knew that Kevin Nash was in the role, but I remember waiting for it. I guess I either saw it in a WWF magazine or maybe one about the movie itself. I also knew about the evil mutants beforehand.
Also worth noting was the recasting of April O’Neil. While Judith Hoag was good in the first movie, Paige Turco was a good April and a babe. She was probably one of my first real redhead obsessions. Well, her and Kari Wuhrer.
Also, now that I think about it, I was tremendously bothered by the way they changed the story of the ooze. I understand now that introducing an alien race into the story would have been a bit much for a ninety minute movie that had to fit Shredder in somehow, as well, but I had really loved the Utroms in the comics and wanted to see them on screen. The story that got substituted in was significantly less interesting.
The third movie came along a little late. I don’t think I had moved past the Turtles, but I think the concept put me off. I really didn’t have much interest in the movie Turtles traveling backwards in time. I didn’t see it in the theater, but I did rent it once it came out on VHS. I think I’ve only watched it the one time. I should probably give it another chance, especially now that Lil’ Troublemaker is starting to show an interest in the amphibious teens martial artists.
I never saw a single episode of The Next Mutation. By that time the live action Turtles had gotten so goofy and played out that I just didn’t have any interest. I had given up on the original cartoon long before it ended. At some point the animation style changed and the show got even more cartoony than it already had been. So I went a few years without any TMNT media.
When my parents moved out of state I went to their house and got what remained of my stuff. A tub of Ninja Turtles figures was one of the most intact things. All of the weapons and little buddy figures were still there. I kept a couple of those and did whatever I did with the rest. I can’t remember if I sold them or gave them away. I’m kicking myself for it now, as after all those years of the fabled “keep your old toys for your kids” those Ninja turtles are the one line that Lil’ Troublemaker would love to have and play with.
In 2007 a new theatrical movie came seemingly from out of nowhere. It was all CGI, something I was not at first comfortable with. While I have grown to accept CGI more over the last few of years (mostly thanks to Pixar), I will always prefer traditional animation. But this movie won me over. The designs were excellent, the voice acting was top-notch, and the story was strong, if a bit heavy on building sympathy for the villains. I also bought figures from the resulting line. All of the first series, as a matter of fact. Lil’ Troublemaker has ‘em now.
Speaking of figures, it was sometime between then and now that NECA released their own line of Turtles. These were based on the original Mirage comics and were available in color and black and white. They were pricey (or seemed so at the time) and not available at retail. I really didn’t want to pay the seemingly high price plus shipping for them, so I waited to see if I could find them somewhere – either a con or maybe a specialty store. No luck. Now the set of four turtles is prohibitively expensive and I think I’m just going to have to do without.
I didn’t catch the 2010 Turtles Forever special. I was very curious to see how they would mix the different iterations of the turtles, but I forgot to set the DVR to record it and it apparently only aired once. From what I understand the home release is severely edited and I have no interest in paying money for something that has been reduced in that way.
Which brings me to the new series. The first I knew of it was the toys that Playmates debuted back at Toy Fair. They looked amazing, and as soon as I saw them and the massive sewer playset I began plotting to indoctrinate Lil’ Troublemaker into the world of TMNT just so I would have an excuse to start collecting another toy line. I didn’t know anything at all about the cartoon itself at that point – other than the fact that Nickelodeon was going to be showing it – but the toys seemed consistent with my ideas about what the Turtles should be. And they didn’t have pupils.
Now it’s five months later and not only have more details surfaced, we have actual clips and the intro to enjoy:
I don’t mind the new theme song at all. Some have complained about it, but going back to the first live action movie, hip-hop and Ninja Turtles have always gone hand-in-hand to me.
As for the clips, I like them. A lot. The combination of humor and action seems very good. Watching the Turtles slice the Kraang robots apart is very satisfying, and Raphael’s comment to Michelangelo cracks me up – “How can you be right and still look so stupid?”
We also know now that Nickelodeon owns the Turtles’ green asses lock, stock, and barrel. Everything that has ever been done with TMNT now belongs to Paramount except for the Saban series – The Next Mutation. Peter Laird still retains rights to produce twelve comic books a year about the turtles and can apparently do pretty much his own thing with them.
The new cartoon – simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuts September 29th on Nickelodeon. I have high hopes. Also worth noting is the fact that Nicktoons – a separate channel – will be airing the 2003 series. I haven’t heard anything yet about new broadcasts of the original cartoon, but I’m sure it’s coming.
In all, it’s a pretty good time to be a TMNT fan. It looks like the franchise is in good hands, Playmates has absolutely killed it with the new toy line, and you can buy (But not download sadly) the original movie soundtrack from Amazon.