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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday Morning: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Almost every generation seems to have some sort of cartoon fad surrounding it.

What I mean by cartoon fad is that in my experience, there's one cartoon that seemingly defines a whole generation because it was one that it seemed that everyone else watched.

Supposing that one was born in, say, 2001, for example.  A lot of the shows that kids born in that year may have watched back then were Hannah Montana and Spongebob Squarepants.  Certainly, my nephew, who was born in September 2000, watched both of these, as did quite a few kids.

Or, take someone born in 1991, for example.  In those days, a lot of kids born during that time period watched shows like Pokemon, because a lot of kids from that period played Pokemon games and watched the Pokemon movies.

It's been my experience that certain shows can define a whole generation.

Now, we'll go back to 1981...the year that yours truly was born in.  What cartoons best defined our generation?

It's kind of hard to say for the girls of '81.  Right around the late 80's, early '90's, many girls were addicted to the New Kids On The Block, and when a cartoon based on the band premiered around my third grade year, almost all the girls watched that show.  It made sense too, considering that all the girls in third grade listened to the tapes on their Walkmans, and kept NKOTB pencils inside their NKOTB pencil cases, and scribbed in their notebooks, I LOVE JORDAN KNIGHT!!!

But what were we boys watching?  Here's a hint.  They wear their armour on their backs, and they have an appetite for pizza.

Give up?  Okay, here you go.

(I really wanted to post the actual opening, but couldn't find one that had the greatest of quality, so this will have to do).

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a huge part of my childhood growing up, as I'm sure they were for millions of boys born around the same time I was.  Heck, even a few girls that I went to school loved these guys turtles.

You had Raphael (red), Donatello (purple), Leonardo (blue), and Michelangelo (orange) teaming up against the evil Shredder and his henchmen to save New York City, and in some cases, the world itself, from evil.

Most people (such as myself) were introduced to the Ninja Turtles through the original animated cartoon series, which debuted as a miniseries on December 28, 1987, and ended up running straight through until 1996.  But, did you know that the whole Ninja Turtle empire was started off in the form of a comic book?

In early 1984, the comic was put together at a company known as Mirage Studios, based out of New Hampshire.  The characters were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and it started off as a result of a brainstorming session.  Together, they self-published the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and initially, the creation was meant as a parody of other superhero comics of the day, including Daredevil, Ronin, New Mutants, and Cerebus.

The first issue was released in the spring of 1984 (publication date of May 1984), and only 3,000 copies of the original printing were made (which translates to a very HIGH value as of July 2011, so if you have one, keep it in good condition!).  The comics attracted a cult following over the next two years, but it wasn't until the duo of Eastman and Laird formed a partnership with licensing agent Mark Freedman to expand their creation into a more mainstream audience.

The idea to create action figures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was tossed around as early as 1986, and a company by the name of Dark Horse Miniatures created a set of 15mm lead figurines.  Eastman and Laird wanted to get Playmates toys to work out a deal to create the action figures of each of the characters, but initially they were uneasy to come up with the patent for the action figures without a television deal being acquired first.

So, in December 1987, the Ninja Turtles miniseries aired for the first time.  To those of you real fans of the turtles, you'll know that the first part of the miniseries is almost identical to the 1990 movie adaptation.  We're introduced to April O'Neil, who works as a reporter for a New York City television studio (in the movie, it's Channel 3, and in the cartoon, it's Channel 6).  She gets attacked by a group of thugs and is knocked out cold, but is saved by Raphael, who brings her to their underground lair.  There, she wakes up and immediately is frightened by the sight of four overgrown turtles and their giant rat friend.  Eventually, she calms down, and she learns of the Ninja Turtles and how they got there.  Apparently, all four turtles were coated in ooze from up above that mutated them into humanoid creatures.  Splinter found the turtles and helped raise them. 

Splinter, of course, is the rat-like master of the turtles.  He named each of them after renaissance painters, and taught them all sorts of martial arts moves, with each one mastering a specific weapon to use in combat.  How Splinter got to be that way differs a lot between the comic book and the animated series.  Just because we're talking about the animated series, I'll explain that way instead.  In the television series, Splinter (whose original name was Hamato Yoshi) was banished from the Japanese Foot Clan by Oroku Saki, who pinned Yoshi's dogi to the wall, which prevented him from bowing to the sensei...a grave insult in Japanese culture.  When Yoshi removed the blade, the sensei jumped to the wrong conclusion, and threw Yoshi out.

When Yoshi found the turtles, the ooze caused Yoshi the human to morph into Splinter the rat.

Oh, and Oroku Saki? 

You know him better as Shredder, the chief antagonist of the Ninja Turtles.  Though the turtles would face many, many enemies throughout the course of the show, Shredder was the one who just couldn't take no for an answer.

The miniseries took a couple of airings for people to take notice, and by the summer of 1988, the first Ninja Turtle action figures hit the shelves.

Weren't they cool looking?  (And, yes...I owned all four, though it took me forever to find a Leonardo!)

The action figures hit store shelves and immediately garnered great interest.  By that time, the miniseries had aired a third time, and this time was so successful that the animated series was picked up for a full season, beginning on October 1, 1988.

By 1990, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were EVERYWHERE.  The movie version had come out on March 30 of that year, which created even more buzz, and which spawned two sequels.

The action figure line expanded that year as well.  Along with the four turtles, you could also purchase action figures of Shredder, Splinter, April O'Neil, Bebop the warthog, Rocksteady the rhino, Krang, assorted Foot Soldiers, and many more.  You could even get the vehicles used in the animated series, like the Pizza Thrower, Party Van, and Turtle Blimp.  And yes, I will admit to playing with all of those characters and more.

Before long, Ninja Turtles cereal and juice boxes appeared in supermarkets, and Ninja Turtles bubble bath stocked the shelves of pharmacies all over the world.

They even had lunchboxes. 

And, yes, I too owned a Ninja Turtle lunchbox.  Only not the one up above.  Mine was fluorescent orange and had a picture of the Turtles battling against the Technodrome on it.  It was still cool.  I wish I still had it.

But, just why was I so entranced by the Ninja Turtles at a young age?

Let's state the obvious.  The Ninja Turtles were marketed towards boys, and well, I definitely fit well within their target audience.  Heck, my whole 9th birthday party was Ninja Turtle themed, and as it so happened, I only sent invites to the boys in my class, as girls made it clear that they hated the Ninja Turtles.

Looking at it through a thirty year old man's perspective though, there's a part of each turtle...a character trait, that I wish I had in each of them...and in some cases, I was more like some turtles and less like others.

Let's take Donatello, for instance.  Donatello was the turtle who wore purple, and used a bo as a weapon.  I'll let you in on a secret here.  On any Ninja Turtle themed game, Donatello was one of two turtles that I always played with mainly because his weapon was the best defense against Foot Soldiers.  Donatello was probably the Ninja Turtle that I was most like.  Donatello was the brains behind the turtles.  He built inventions, loved studying books and literature, and even had a nerdy-like voice.  He was your mad scientist of the group, and made no effort to hide it.  It's easy to say that Donatello is my favourite Ninja Turtle of the group now, but I actually had another favourite when I was a kid.

Leonardo was actually my favourite Ninja Turtle for many years.  As far back as I can remember, Leonardo just always seemed to strike a chord with me.  He was the other turtle I chose for combat in the video games (aside from Donatello), and his katana sword made quick work of enemies.  Decked out in blue, he took on the role as the team leader in the animated series (in the movie, it was Raphael).  I think that's why I ended up liking Leonardo, was because he was a leader.  Unfortunately, Leonardo seemed to take his leadership a little too seriously at times, and came across as a killjoy in some episodes of the show, but when it came down to it, whenever a problem needed fixing, Leonardo was always the turtle that people counted on to be there, and I think that was one of the reasons I wanted to be like Leonardo.  As a kid, I wanted people to look up to me, and see that I could work my way through problems.  Granted, leadership has never really been one of my top qualities, but I'm trying to work my way through that.

From Leonardo in blue, we head on to Michelangelo in orange.  If you were to ask me now who my least favourite Ninja Turtle is, Michelangelo would be at the top of my list.  I do like all four turtles, don't get me wrong, and I will say that I must have liked Michelangelo at one time to dress up as him for two Halloween seasons.  But looking at him now, Michelangelo was only good for one thing...his constant surfer talk.  Really, it was like someone transplanted a California Valley Boy personality in the ooze that morphed Michelangelo.  It was fun at first, but eventually, it got really old, really fast.  Oh, and he used nunchucks, which were okay (though funnily enough, any scenes of Michelangelo swinging nunchucks were banned in Europe).  I'm not denying his popularity was huge (he was the only Turtle to appear in the 1990 drug awareness special Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue), but I see him now as just a one-trick-pony.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the red-bandana wearing Raphael (or, black suited Turtle if you read the Archie Comics adaptation of the Ninja Turtles comic book serial).  I'd have to say that while I rarely ever used Raphael for the video games (his sai weapon really sucked, in my opinion), I did find Raphael to be the funniest turtle in the whole show.  To be truthful, I think Raphael was a perfect combo of the other three turtles.  He couldn't do science experiments like Donatello, but he definitely could think quick on his feet.  Whenever Leonardo was out of commission as leader, Raphael stepped into the role almost flawlessly.  I actually even found Raphael having more of a personality than Michelangelo.  Basically, Raphael was the turtle that seemed to be jack of all Turtles.  He wasn't a master in a specific field, but he knew enough of them to be the most well-rounded one of the group.

Personally speaking, I think I would want to be just like Raphael, though I still have Donatello as my favourite.

The original series ended in 1996, and since then we've had a couple of reboots of it over the years (such as the picture up above), but nothing will ever recapture the original series, which held my attention, as well as the attention of other boys during that time.

A lot of men my age are now having sons and daughters of their own, and from what I hear, a new adaptation of the animated show is due to air sometime in 2012.  I'm a bit old to tune in to see it now, but I hope that a new generation of kids can grow to enjoy the same characters their fathers did before them. 

That would be totally tubular man, like a resurrection of the heroes in a half shell, dude!

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