Monday, August 13, 2012

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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.

Since I’ve been actively writing on the internet we’ve had a CGI feature film, a CGI television show, and a relaunch of comic books from IDW. I’ve watched the movie a few times and like it quite a bit. The voice acting and animation are outstanding and the story is a good one, if a bit odd for a standalone Turtles adventure. I watched the first few episodes of the show and liked it a lot, but I think either it got moved around or my work schedule just kept me from watching it. I’m not sure what the deal was, but I would like to go back and check it out. As far as the newest comics from IDW, I had my typical lack of faith in those. No matter how well IDW has handled its various licenses – and their GI Joe and Doctor Who comics have both been very good – I will always doubt any attempted reboot of a franchise. And honestly, I can’t imagine any stories being better or going further than the original Mirage run.


But previous to all of that I was hugely immersed in the world of the Turtles. The toys got me first.


By the time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (heretofore referenced as “TMNT’ because I just can’t keep typing the full name for the rest of this post) hit I was too old to still be collecting toys. But I still loved toys. I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but I recall coming back from one Summer break and mentioning something about GI Joes. One of the girls in my class said, “You still play with GI Joes? Aren’t you too old for that? That would be like me still playing with Barbies.” I think I might have been 11, maybe 12. It never occurred to me that there would be a reason to stop collecting and playing with toys until that day. I didn’t stop doing so, I simply stopped talking about it.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
I don’t specifically recall the first time I saw the Ninja Turtles figures, but they definitely caught my eye. I don’t think I bought them then, but they stayed on my mind until I did. I do know the first batch I purchased consisted of Donatello, Michelangelo (I was obsessed with nunchaku when I was a kid), and Rocksteady. There might have been another, but I know I had those three first. I know it took a while before I bought April or Shredder because they were just boring humans. I think it was a while before I had Bebop, too. But I can guarantee I got Leonardo and Raphael the next time I got allowance.

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.


As a matter of fact, I was so taken with those Turtles I did some of my first real action figure customization. I painted the original figures’ pads a reddish-brown and detailed their weapons. I left the masks the same colors because I did feel like differentiating between the brothers was a good idea, but I cut the short ends off the back and glued pieces of appropriately-colored fabric on so that they would hang. I wish I still had those. They looked pretty darn good.


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.


2003 brought a new Turtles cartoon. This one promised to stick more closely to the original comic books and for the most part it did. I caught the first few episodes, but it aired at a time that was not convenient for me to watch, so I basically missed out on this one. I did have a few of the toys, though. As soon as Nickelodeon – who owns the rights to everything Turtles now – puts this one out on DVD or Blu I’ll be buying it. Or at least the first season.

 

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.


I’ll be reviewing the new toys over the next week or so here and on the ESO Network. I’ll keep the Turtles here on Needless Things, but if you want to see what I think of the bad guys, go check out ESO.


P.S. - I totally forgot to mention the video games. Maybe I'll get around to them soon...

-Phantom

6 comments:

  1. I found Turtles Forever on Youtube years ago and posted all the parts. I'm pretty sure it's the unedited version (which is also why I refuse to buy the DVD.) http://toyriffic.blogspot.com/2009/12/turtles-forever.html

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  2. If you can stand watching things on youtube, I found this channel very helpful. I watched every 2003 episode plus the flash forward and return to the sewers. I loved them, and wish I had found time to watch them when they were new (although, it was around that time in 2005 that I was in the early process of becoming a toy collector, starting off by creating an ebay account to purchase all of the original 1988 turtles).

    I'm really curious to see what you think of the new toys. I'm not interested in the classics, super articulated, collection; but the basic figures are super cool! Well, at least the 4 turtles are super cool.

    I absolutely love the Neca figures, and I have a set of the colored and black and white figures. However, there is something special (probably the unique sculpts and durability) about the new playmates turtles that have me really loving them, and am looking forward to all the crazy bad guys and turtle variants.

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    1. Come back on Thursday - my review of all four Turtles will be up, followed by April on Friday. Go over to my part-time gig at the ESO Network to see my reviews of the bad guys!
      http://erthstationone.wordpress.com/

      I want a Classic Donatello just to have one to review, but I never cared for figures of the animated Turtles. I just keep reading about how amazing those are and kind of have to have one.

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  3. TMNT is is my favorite toy line/cartoon ever(slightly edges out Transformers). I first saw the show in late '88/early '89. That had me hooked on the show and the toys. When I was about 12, I saw the original comics in a local comic shop, and proceeded to buy a few here and there(at the time The Punisher was my favorite comic). To this day, I believe they are the best representation of the Turtles. I even met Kevin Eastman at a comic convention, and he did a sketch of Michaelangelo for me(Donnie's my favorite, but Mikey was my favorite for a short time when I first saw the show). I have it framed and hanging on the wall going into my kitchen. You can check it out here... http://jasonvorhees.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/looking-back-chapter-1/

    Also, I do believe that the NECA Turtles did see a retail release, as my wife bought me Donatello from a Hot Topic. I spotted it there($14.99), and told her I wanted it as my birthday gift. I would like to get the B&W set. I remember checking Amazon last year and they had the sets for as low as $40. That has probably changed with the new line and cartoon. I'm sure that everything Turtle related will be scalper-priced.

    And the name of the group that did T.U.R.T.L.E. Power, was Partners in Kryme. Thanks Phantom! Now you got the song stuck in my head!!

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    1. I must have just had terrible timing every time I've gone to look for those NECA Turtles. I've never seen a full set for under a hundred bucks.
      It's funny - as much as the Turtles do hold a special place for me and are very much a creation that speaks to my interests, I find that Now Me just doesn't have quite the same love for them. Don't get me wrong - I think they're awesome. But the franchise doesn't carry the same rosy glow of nostalgia that GI Joe, Star Wars, and Doctor Who do. I suppose maybe because I was older when TMNT hit. I dunno.

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