When I was around four or five, my life centered around television and action figures. The entire family room pretty much belonged to me because that’s where the TV and my toy box was. I was sitting in front of the TV watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure for the fourth time that day when my mom asks me if I would like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tape. I wasn’t too familiar with the TMNT at the time. I had seen the ads for the toys and the cartoon countless times but have never actually watched the show. But, hey, a new tape? Hell yeah, ma!
Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to have the tape handy. Apparently, the tape would be sent in the mail within the next two to six weeks. I had no idea what a “week” was, but sure enough, a few days later, I received the TMNT episode, “Invasion of the Punk Frogs” in the mail.
I watched it and I immediately fell in love with this show. It had so much action and bright colors! It was funny and had lovable characters! I started begging my parents to buy me more Ninja Turtle tapes and toys.
To me, the TMNT cartoon was the end all be all source of entertainment. Any sort of deviation from the show confused me. Why do the Turtles act so happy and carefree in the show when they look so angry as action figures? Where were the Turtles’s eyes? What’s with all the extra belts? Why is Shredder shirtless and wearing blue and purple armor? And why the hell is he posed so awkwardly?!
The toys weren’t the only thing that confused me. I remember getting the TMNT NES game as a present for Christmas back in 1989. Again, why do the Turtles look so angry? Where are their eyes? And why is every Turtle wearing Raphael’s mask?! Of course the cover on the game cartridge didn’t reflect the gameplay. Despite being incredibly difficult, the game represented the cartoon fairly well... for the most part.
Then in 1990, I started seeing commercials for a TMNT show that WASN’T animated. The Turtles in real life? It was far too much for my five year old brain to handle. I asked my mom to get me that tape, but she told me she couldn’t because it wasn’t a tape. Apparently, I could only see this tape in a “theater”.
Shortly after that, my mom took me into this big square room with a bunch of seats facing the biggest TV screen I’d ever seen! I remembered this place. A year earlier my brother and dad took me to a place just like this to see the new Ghostbusters movie and I was too scared by the big TV to watch, so we had to leave (had my brother and dad told me I was gonna watch Ghostbusters, I might not have been so scared). But this time was different. I HAD POPCORN!
The film was amazing. I was far too young to appreciate the impressive feat of bringing the Turtles to life thanks to a combination of very talented puppeteers and actors. And for the first time, the departures from the cartoon didn’t bother me. A few months later, the movie was released on VHS, complete with a simple but very cool box of the Turtles posing in front of a black background and the figures and logo popping out like a 3-D image.
By this time, the cartoon was on daily (Channel 12 at 4 pm) and everyday after school, I’d watch the Green Machine battle it out with the Shredder and Krang while I did my homework. The following year, I started seeing commercials for something called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, another non-cartoon movie. Of course this meant I had to return to that “theater” place. Unfortunately, on the day my mom took me to see it, I wasn’t feeling very good (I’m pretty sure I was experiencing my first migraine ever) and the entire experience was hindered by it, but I didn’t want to tell my mom I was sick if it meant missing this movie.
Not only was I not feeling well, but some things about this movie were far too distracting, and rather than compare this film to the cartoon, I found myself comparing it to the first movie. Why doesn’t Donatello sound like he did in the first movie? Why is the Shredder purple? That’s not April! Where’s April?? This, ladies and gentlemen, I found out years later is called, “nit picking”.
In the mid 90s, the Turtles’s popularity started to die down. It became far too silly and even I began to feel myself distancing away from the Heroes in a Half Shell and were soon replaced by five teenagers with attitude. In 1996, after 10 seasons and 193 episodes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was canceled. Shortly after, several attempts were made to bring the Turtles back to the small screen. In the late 90s, a five minute CGI pilot was created. Thankfully, it was never picked up.
In 1997, the Turtles DID return to TV thanks(?) to Saban Entertainment, this time in live action. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, followed the continuity of the movies and added a fifth, female Turtle, Venus DeMilo. The show was insanely campy and over the top, and was canceled after only one season.
Around the time I started high school, my sense of nostalgia took over and I gave the Turtles another shot. This time, however, I attempted another medium. My love of comics and the Turtles clashed when I learned that they originated in a very dark and stylized comic book by independent comic book artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. I learned the cartoon which I loved so much was drastically different from the comic and had more in common with the live action films. I started collecting the comics and loving the original material the Turtles came from.
Unbeknownst to me (and pretty much anyone else at the time) Kids WB! was getting the ball rolling for another TMNT animated series, with a story and art style very similar to Eastman and Laird’s original comic. An animatic was produced, and in my opinion, looked pretty promising. Unfortunately, the series wasn’t picked up.
In 2002, it was announced that 4Kids TV had picked up a new TMNT animated series that would be similar to the original comic’s story and have animation that was similar to Batman The Animated Series’s Bruce Timm’s style. I found the show to start off very promising, but as I got older, the story got very confusing and I lost interest. The series ended with a full length animated movie, Turtles Forever where the TMNT from the 2003 animated series would team up with the TMNT from the 80s and the original Mirage Studios version. A very interesting and promising idea, however, the lack of respect for the original show (and the original voice cast) left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.
Shortly after the 2003 series began, it was announced that a CGI TMNT film would be released in 2007 and follow the continuity of the theatrical films. I remember seeing it with my good buddy Josh (a fellow lifelong TMNT fan) and his girlfriend. We asked if she knew anything about the Turtles.
“Not much,” she answered. “ I did see one of the movies a long time ago. The one with the rat.” We had a good laugh at that one.
The 2007 film by Imagi, titled TMNT, wasn’t half bad. The animation was very impressive and it did what not many comic book movies do anymore: Create original ideas. The Turtles were up against new villains and new challenges we haven’t seen before.
Seeing a new Ninja Turtles movie in theaters filled me with a feeling of nostalgia. I remember seeing that first movie in the theater and being in awe at the characters coming to life before me. I remembered why I was able to relate so well with Raphael’s short fuse, Michelangelo’s goofy and carefree nature, Donatello’s nerdy personality, and Leonardo’s all too serious attitude and how these characters helped shape me into the person I am today.
Then I looked around the theater and I noticed something. There were several people around my age watching the film with children. Children who watched the 2003 animated series at home, played with the action figures, and just experienced their first movie in a theater. Then it hit me. Like Batman and Superman, these characters are constantly being reinvented for a new audience, a new generation, and inspiring fans for years.
Are you a fan of the Heroes in a Halfshell? What’s your favorite Turtle moment? Be sure to let us know in the comments below and be sure to share this article with all your fellow Refugeeks.