The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have stood the test of time. Since the mid-eighties they have managed to grace both the small and big screen as well as printed media, spanning now several generations and continuing to go strong even after all this time and many franchise reboots.
Your favourite Turtles carnation may very well depend on your age and personal memories, and even I would be hard pressed to pick a definitive version of the turtles that I would be happy to settle with if I could take only one on a desert island with. So let’s briefly explore the contenders, starting with where it all began….
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Original Comic Book series (1984)
The original comic book was independently produced and a classic example of two artists trying to break into a competitive industry, using their own money to fund it and ploughing most profits back into it to expand. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are the real heroes, of course. It would be more than fair to call their original designs quite crude, but this was very much of the era and, personally, the style fitted the nature of the stories and the black and white medium.
INTERESTING FACT: When it came to producing coloured issues, the turtles all wore the same red ninja headbands but were still distinguishable by their weapons of choice.
Teenage Mutant Ninja/Hero Turtles – Original Cartoon TV series (1987)
It was without doubt the late eighties cartoon TV series that put the turtles on the map, and rocketed their fame (and fortune) to a whole new dimension *clever pun usage*. The design of the turtles, however, took a fairly big change of direction. They definitely became more child-friendly, with much more rounded, humanoid features and vivid colouring. It also saw the now distinctive ninja headband colouring scheme for each turtle, and their initials on their belts.
INTERESTING FACT: The cartoon changed the origin story of Splinter and the Shredder, something that was reinstated for the first live action film.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Original Live Action Movie (1990)
The first live action film was a knee-jerk reaction to the cartoon’s success. Production was fairly rushed and the time scale that Jim Henderson’s Creature Shop had were pretty tight, but what a wonderful job they did. Their task was no mean feat either, with the aim to make these turtles look like they could actually be living and breathing beings, while having the ability for the actors underneath performing their martial arts business. However, the third film, TMNT III, saw a change of company making the costumes and consequently the quality did drop, particularly with the more budget animatronics.
INTERESTING FACT: Despite being a baby, actor Ernie Reyes Jr. played both pizza delivery boy Keno in TMNT II and acted as the Donatello stunt man/boy/baby since the first film.
Ninja Turtles The Next Mutation – Live Action TV Series (1997)
Oh dear. This ill-fated series only lasted one season (I wonder why). If people didn’t like the cheaper turtle costumes from the third live action film, then they’d love this shows efforts. This series was regarded as more of a continuation from the live action films, rather than the cartoon series, due to several visual cues it took from them. It also introduced a new character in the form of Venus, a female teenage mutant ninja turtle.
INTERESTING FACT: This series is STILL available to watch on UK Netfilx!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Cartoon TV Series (2003)
The Next Mutation looked like it may have started the coffin building process for the turtles, but thankfully it was decided to revive the TV cartoon series for a new generation. This series went for a much darker tone compared to its 80s counterpart, with the turtles looking sharpe and angular, clearly being influenced by East Asian animation – which was no surprise given a South Korean company took control of the animation. It also carried on the sibling rivalry between Leonardo and Raphael from the live action films.
This series can often get overlooked, particularly by first gen fans, so even I’m planning on revisiting this series to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for it.
INTERESTING FACT: The action figures for this series actually looked much more like their cartoon versions, unlike the original action figures for the 80s cartoon series which, on reflection, had little resemblance to the source material. We didn’t complain though.
To be continued….