Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles originated in an American comic book published by Mirage Studios in 1984 in Dover, New Hampshire. The concept arose from a humorous drawing sketched out by Kevin Eastmanduring a casual evening of brainstorming with his friend Peter Laird. Using money from a tax refund together with a loan from Eastman’s uncle, the young artists self-published a single issue comic intended toparody four of the most popular comics of the early 1980s: Marvel Comics’ Daredevil and New Mutants, Dave Sim’s Cerebus, and Frank Miller’s Ronin.
Much of the Turtles’ mainstream success began when a licensing agent, Mark Freedman, sought out Eastman and Laird to propose wider merchandising opportunities for the offbeat property. In 1986, Dark Horse Miniatures produced a set of 15 mm lead figurines. In January 1987, they visited the offices of Playmates Toys Inc, a small California toy company who wished to expand into the action figure market. Development initiated with a creative team of companies and individuals: Jerry Sachs, ad man of Sachs-Finley Agency, brought together the animators at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, headed by award-winning animator Fred Wolf. Wolf and his team combined concepts and ideas with Playmates marketing crew, headed by Karl Aaronian and then VP of Sales, Richard Sallis and VP of Playmates, Bill Carlson. Aaronian brought on several designers and concepteer and writer John Schulte and worked out the simple backstory that would live on toy packaging for the entire run of the product and show. Sachs called the high-concept pitch “Green Against Brick”. The sense of humor was honed with the collaboration of MWS’s writers. Playmates and their team essentially served as associate producers and contributing writers to the miniseries that was first launched to sell-in the toy action figures. Phrases like “Heroes in a Half Shell” and many of the comical catch phrases and battle slogans (“Turtle Power!”) came from the writing and conceptualization of this creative team. As the series developed, veteran writer Jack Mendelsohn came on board as both a story editor and scriptwriter. David Wise, Michael Charles Hill, and Michael Reaves wrote most of the scripts, taking input via Mendelsohn and collaborating writer Schulte and marketing maven Aaronian.
The miniseries was repeated three times before it found an audience. Once the product started selling, the show got syndicated and picked up and backed by Group W, which funded the next round of animation. The show then went network, on CBS. Accompanied by the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 TV series, and the subsequent action figure line, the TMNT were soon catapulted into pop culture history. At the height of the frenzy, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Turtles’ likenesses could be found on a wide range of children’s merchandise, from Pez dispensers to skateboards, breakfast cereal, video games, school supplies, linens, towels, cameras, and even toy shaving kits.
On October 21, 2009 it was announced that cable channel Nickelodeon (a subsidiary of Viacom) had purchased all of Mirage’s rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property. Mirage retains the rights to publish 18 issues a year, though the future involvement of Mirage with the Turtles and the future of Mirage Studios itself is unknown. Nickelodeon plans to develop a new CGI-animated TMNT television series and will partner with fellow Viacom company Paramount Pictures to bring a new TMNT movie to theaters. The T.V. series is expected to debut in 2012 and the movie is still looking for a director with a loose 2013/2014 release date.
- For supporting characters see the Mutant Biographies
- Leonardo (Leo) — The courageous leader and devoted student of martial arts, Leonardo wears a blue mask and wields two katana. He is the oldest of the four and the most skilled fighter of the turtles. Leonardo was named after the Italian polymath, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, and painter, Leonardo da Vinci.
- Raphael (Raph) — The team’s bad boy, Raphael wears a red mask and wields a pair of sai. He has an aggressive nature and seldom hesitates to throw the first punch. He is an intense fighter. He would usually speak in a Brooklyn accent. His personality can be alternately fierce and sarcastic, and oftentimes delivers deadpan humor. Still, he is intensely loyal to his brothers and sensei. Raphael is good friends with Casey Jones. He is named after the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, Raphael.
- Michelangelo (Mike or Mikey) — Easy-going and free-spirited, Michelangelo wears an orange mask and wields a pair of nunchaku. Michelangelo provides much of the comic relief. Most of the time, he is youngest of the four Turtles. While he loves to relax and eat pizza, this Turtle also has an adventurous and creative side. He’s something of the “surfer” boy, speaking usually in a Southern California accent. He is named after the Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer Michelangelo Buonarroti. His name was originally misspelled “Michaelangelo” by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.
- Donatello (Don or Donny) — The knowledgeable scientist, inventor, engineer, and technological genius, Donatello wears a purple mask and wields the bō staff. Donatello is perhaps the least violent Turtle, preferring to use his knowledge to solve conflicts. He is named after the sculptor Donatello.
- Splinter — The Turtles’ sensei and adoptive father, Splinter is a Japanese mutant rat who learned the ways of ninjutsu from his owner and master, Hamato Yoshi. In the 1987 TV series and Archie Comics series, Splinter was Hamato Yoshi mutated into a rat instead of being just Yoshi’s pet.
- Shredder — A villainous ninjutsu master called Oroku Saki. In every incarnation of the TMNT franchise, he has been the archenemy of Splinter and the Turtles. Shredder prefers to use his armor instead of weapons in some versions. He is also the leader of the Foot Clan.
- April O’Neil — A former lab assistant to the mad scientist Baxter Stockman, April is the plucky human companion of the Turtles. April first met up with the Turtles when they saved her from Baxter’s Mouser robots. She embarks on many of the Turtles’ adventures and aids them by doing the work in public that the Turtles can not. In the 1987 TV series, Archie Comics series and subsequent three films, April was a television news reporter.
- Casey Jones — A vigilante who has become one of the Turtles’ closest allies as well as a love interest to April. Casey first met up with the Turtles after having a fight with Raphael. Casey fights crime with an assortment of sporting goods (baseball bats, golf clubs, ice hockey sticks, cricket bat, etc.) while wearing a hockey mask to protect his identity.
Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiered in May, 1984, at a comic book convention held at a local Sheraton Hotel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was published by Mirage Studios in an oversized magazine-style format using black & white artwork on cheap newsprint, limited to a print run of only 3,000 copies. Through a clever media kit that included an ad placed in Comic Buyer’s Guide #545, the public’s interest was piqued and thus began the Turtle phenomenon. The small print runs made these early comics and trade magazines instant collector items, and within months they were trading for over fifty times their cover price. The name “Mirage Studios” was chosen because of Eastman and Laird’s lack of a professional art studio at the start of their career, before their creation made them both multi-millionaires.
Mirage also published a bi-monthly companion book entitled Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, featuring art by Ryan Brown and Jim Lawson, which was designed to fill in the gaps of continuity in the TMNT universe. This put the original series and Tales in the same mainstream continuity, and the two are thus canon to each other. The title’s first volume was from 1987–1989, released in alternating months with the regular Eastman and Laird book. All seven issues of Volume One have been collected in trade paperback form twice, and twenty-five issues of Volume Two have been collected in trades of five issues each.
As the TMNT phenomenon proliferated to other media, Eastman and Laird would find themselves administrating an international merchandising juggernaut. However, this prevented the two creators from participating in the day-to-day work of writing and illustrating a monthly comic book. For this reason, many guest artists were invited to showcase their unique talents in the TMNT universe. The breadth of diversity found in the various short stories gave the series a disjointed, anthology-like feel. Fans stuck with the series, and what was originally intended as a one-shot became a continuing series that lasted for 104 issues spanning four separate volumes.
In June, 1996, Image Comics revived the title in what is considered “Volume 3” of the comics. It was a slightly more action-oriented TMNT series and although notable for inflicting major physical changes on the main characters, Peter Laird, co-creator of the TMNT, has said this volume is no longer in canon as he began publishing Volume 4 at Mirage Publishing. As an explanation, he offered in the pages of Volume 4’s letter column: “It just didn’t feel right.”
After taking back the series from Image Comics, Mirage Studios resumed publication of a fourth volume in December, 2001, under the simple title TMNT. After the publication of issue #28, writer Peter Laird placed the series on an eight-month hiatus to devote himself to production of the recent TMNT movie. However, after that eight months had passed Mirage’s official website went on to list the series as in “indefinite hiatus”. In January 2008 Mirage had finally confirmed that the series would return in May 2008. Issues 29 and 30 had a limited printing of 1,000 copies each, and were available through the official TMNT website. Although the purchase agreement with Nickelodeon allows Laird to produce up to 18 comics a year set in the original Mirage continuity, no new material has been released since the sale with the exception of #31 from Volume 4 being released digitally on Peter Laird’s blog.
In April 2011, IDW Publishing announced that they had acquired the license to publish new collections of Mirage storylines and a new ongoing series. It is scheduled to start in summer 2011. The first issue of the new series is scheduled to come out August 24, 2011 and Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Turtles, is co-writer with Tom Waltz, and also doing alternative covers. Dan Duncan is the main artist on the series with Ronda Pattison coloring.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures was a comic book series published from August 1988 to October 1995 by Archie Comics. The initial storylines were close adaptations of the 1987 TV series, but with the fifth issue Eastman and Laird decided to hand the series over to Mirage Studios employees Ryan Brown and Stephen Murphy who immediately abandoned the animated series adaptations and took the title in a decidedly different direction with all-new original adventures.
In 1989, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created a special three-issue series of full-color mini comics for the Ralston-Purina Company. These comics were offered for kids to collect and were only available as premiums in boxes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal.
A monthly comic inspired by the 2003 TV series was published by Dreamwave Productions from June to December 2003. It was written by Peter David and illustrated by LeSean Thomas. In the first four issues, which were the only ones directly adapted from the TV series, the story was told from the perspectives of April, Baxter, Casey, and a pair of NYC cops, instead of the Turtles.
The Turtles have also appeared in many manga series: Mutant Turtles (ミュータント・タートルズ Myūtanto Tātoruzu?) was a 15-issue series by Tsutomu Oyamada, Zuki mora, and Yoshimi Hamada that simply adapted episodes of the original American animated series. Super Turtles (スーパータートルズ Sūpā Tātoruzu) was a three-issue miniseries by Hidemasa Idemitsu, Tetsurō Kawade, and Toshio Kudō that featured the “TMNT Supermutants” Turtle toys that were on sale at the time. The first volume of Japan’s anime miniseries followed this storyline. Next was Mutant Turtles Gaiden (ミュータント・タートルズ外伝 Myūtanto Tātoruzu Gaiden?)by Hiroshi Kanno, which was a re-interpretation of the Turtles story with no connection to the previous manga. Also of note was Mutant Turtles III, an adaptation of the third feature film by Yasuhiko Hachino.
A daily comic strip written and illustrated by Dan Berger featured an adventure story Monday through Friday and activity puzzles on weekends (with fan art appearing later). The comic strip was published insyndication until its cancellation in December, 1996. At its highest point in popularity, it was published in over 250 newspapers.
First animated series (1987–1996)
When little known Playmates Toys Inc. was approached about producing a TMNT action figure line, they were cautious of the risk and requested that a television deal be acquired first. On December 28, 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ first cartoon series began, starting as a 5-part miniseries and becoming a regular Saturday morning syndicated series on October 1, 1988 with 13 more episodes. The series was produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson Film Productions Inc. Mirage Studios does not own the rights to this cartoon series. The show places a much stronger emphasis on humor than the comics do. Here, the Ninja Turtles are portrayed as four wise-cracking, pizza-obsessed superheroes who fight the forces of evil from their sewer hideout, and make their first appearance in masks color-coded to each turtle, where previously they had all worn red. The cast included new and different characters like Bebop and Rocksteady and the Neutrinos. Original characters like Splinter,Shredder, and the Foot Soldiers stayed true to the comics in appearance and alignment only. Instead of being Hamato Yoshi’s mutated pet rat, Splinter was a mutated Hamato himself. The Foot Soldiers changed from human ninja to an endless supply of robotic grunts, allowing large numbers of them to be destroyed without anyone dying (this was a very important decision in terms of the show’s child audience; excessive violence would have alienated parents of children, the show’s target demographic). Krang, one of the series’ most memorable villains, was inspired by the design of the Utrom, a benign alien race from the Mirage comics. The animated Krang, however, was instead an evil warlord from Dimension X. Baxter Stockman, whose race was changed from black to white either due to apprehension toward depicting a villanous African American character in a children’s cartoon or that for Shredder to boss around a black Stockman would be perceived as racist. Either way, Stockman was rewritten as a shy and meek lackey to Shredder, later mutating into an anthropomorphic housefly.
Starting on September 25, 1989, the series was expanded to weekdays and had 47 more episodes for the new Season. There were 28 new syndicated episodes for Season 4 and only 13 of those episodes aired in 1990. The “European Vacation” episodes were not seen in the United States until USA Network started showing reruns in late 1993 and the “Awesome Easter” episodes were not seen until 1991. These episodes were delayed because of animation or schedule problems.
On April 21, 1990 a drug prevention television special was broadcast on ABC, NBC, and CBS named Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue that featured some of the most popular cartoons at the time; representing TMNT was Michelangelo, voiced by Townsend Coleman.
The turtles are also well known for their use of idiomatic expressions characteristic of the surfer lingo of the time, especially by Michelangelo. Words and phrases, such as “bummer,” “dude,” “bogus,” “radical,” “far-out,” “tubuloso,” “bodacious,” and possibly the most recognized, “cowabunga.”
Starting on September 8, 1990 (with a different opening sequence), the show began its run on CBS. The CBS weekend edition ran for a full hour, initially airing a couple of Saturday exclusive episodes back to back. There would also be a brief “Turtle Tips” segment in between the two episodes which served as PSA about the environment or other issues.
The series ran until November 2, 1996 when it aired its final episode. Its enormous popularity gave rise to its numerous imitators, including the Battletoads, Cheetahmen, Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa,Stone Protectors, Street Sharks, Extreme Dinosaurs, and Biker Mice from Mars.
Currently, 178 episodes are available on DVD.
Live-action series (1997–1998)
In 1997–1998, the Turtles starred in a live-action television series called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation that follows the events of the movies. A fifth turtle was introduced, a female named “Venus de Milo” who was skilled in the mystical arts of the shinobi. The series seemed to be a loose continuation of the movie franchise, as Shredder had been defeated and the Ninja Turtles encountered new villains. Other connections to the feature films include the fact that Splinter’s ear was cut, the Foot Soldiers were humans, and the Turtles lived in the abandoned subway station seen in the second and third movies. The Next Mutation Turtles made a guest appearance on Power Rangers in Space.
It was canceled after one season of twenty-six episodes. Since its cancellation, Peter Laird has disavowed the character Venus de Milo, while Kevin Eastman is more open to talk about her.
Second animated series (2003–2009)
In 2003, a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series produced by 4Kids Entertainment began airing on the “FoxBox” programming block. It later moved to “The CW4Kids” block. The series was co-produced by Mirage Studios, and Mirage owned one-third of the rights to the series. Mirage’s significant stake in creative control resulted in a cartoon that hews more closely to the original comics, creating a darker and edgier feel than the 1987 cartoon, but still remaining lighthearted enough to be considered appropriate for children. This series lasted until 2009, ending with a feature-length television movie titled Turtles Forever, which was produced in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the TMNT franchise and featured the Turtles of the 2003 series teaming up with their counterparts from the 1987 series.
4Kidstv.com featured all the episodes of the series, up until September 2010. As of that date, 4Kids no longer owns the license to the show, meaning that it can no longer be viewed at 4Kidstv.com. Nickelodeon now retains all rights to the 4Kids series.
Third animated series (2012)
Nickelodeon has acquired the global rights to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the Mirage Group and 4Kids Entertainment, Inc. and have announced that they are moving forward on development on a new CGI-animated TMNT television series consisting of at least 26 half-hour episodes, and which will premiere the fourth quarter (or summer) 2012.
A teaser for the upcoming 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series is available. The video hints at some changes, namely the two Turtles who traditionally carry blunt weapons have had their weapons changed to similar bladed versions. Donatello uses a naginata instead of a bo, and Michelangelo uses a kusarigama instead of nunchaku.
At the Nickelodeon Upfront Conference, it was announced that actor Jason Biggs will voice Leonardo and Rob Paulsen, who voiced Raphael in the 1987 series, will now voice Donatello in the upcoming series. In June 2011, it was confirmed that Sean Astin would voice Raphael and Greg Cipes would voice Michelangelo. On August 8, 2011, it was revealed that Mae Whitman will be the voice for April O’Neil. In July 2011, it was revealed that Hoon Lee will be the voice of Master Splinter.
In addition to the American series, a Japanese exclusive two-episode anime OVA series was made in 1996, titled Mutant Turtles: Choujin Densetsu-hen. The OVA was similar in tone to the 1987 TV series and uses the same voices from the Japanese dub of the 1987 TV series.
The first episode was made to advertise the TMNT Supermutants toys. It featured the Turtles as superheroes, who gained costumes and superpowers with the use of Mutastones, while Shredder and Bebop and Rocksteady gained supervillain powers with the use of a Dark Mutastone. As with the Super Sentai and Power Rangersfranchises, the four Turtles could combine to form the giant Turtle Saint.
The second episode was created to advertise the Metal Mutants toys in which the characters gain Saint Seiya-esque mystical metal armor that can transform into beasts. The seven Japanese Mutanite stones encased in a magic mirror that control the Metal Beasts are based on the sun, moon, and the Five Elements.
The Turtles have featured in four feature films. The first three, produced in the early 90s and released by New Line Cinema, feature live-action, with the Turtles played by various actors in costumes featuringanimatronic heads. The first live-action film was distributed by Golden Harvest overseas, whereas the second and third films were distributed by 20th Century Fox outside of North America. The fourth, released in 2007 by Warner Bros., was an all-CGI animated film.
A new feature film is expected in 2012 as part of the acquisition of the franchise by Viacom. It was announced on May 27, 2010 that Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company had landed the rights to the new film. It is expected that Bay, Bradley Fuller and Andrew Form will serve as executive producers. TMNT will be a co-production between Paramount and Nickelodeon. However, it will be a reboot film as opposed to another sequel.
Among the first licensed products to feature the Ninja Turtles was a pen and paper RPG titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, published by Palladium Books in 1985 and featuring original comics and illustrations by Eastman and Laird themselves. The game features a large list of animals, including pandas and sparrows, that are available as mutant player characters. There were several more titles in this genre, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, Truckin’ Turtles, Turtles Go Hollywood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Guide to the Universe, and Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In 1986, Dark Horse Miniatures in Boise, Idaho produced an attendant set of lead figurines; unlike later incarnations the bandanas on the store’s display set were painted all black before the multicolored versions were released to help younger readers distinguish between the four characters other than their weaponry. Palladium allowed the license to lapse in 2000, in part due to declining sales stemming from the “kiddification” of the animated and live-action incarnations to that point. However, Palladium’s publisher, Kevin Siembieda, has indicated a potential willingness to revisit the license given the franchise’s recent moves closer to its roots.
During the run of the 1987 TV series, Playmates Toys produced hundreds of TMNT action figures, along with vehicles, playsets, and accessories, becoming one of the top collectibles for children. Staff artists at Northampton, Massachusetts-based Mirage Studios provided conceptual designs for many of the figures, vehicles, and playsets and creator credit can be found in the legal text printed on the back of the toy packaging. The line featured many different variants of the TMNT, such as “Farmer Mike” and “Classic Rocker Leo”. In addition, Playmates produced a series of TMNT/Star Trek crossover figures, due to Playmates holding the Star Trek action figure license at the time. Playmates employed many design groups to develop looks and styles for the ongoing toy line, including Bloom Design, White Design, Pangea, Robinson-Clarke, and McHale Design. Comic reality was maintained by visual artists at each of the firms, creating a wide range of compelling styles. The writing on the packaging came predominately from Pangea and White Design. Ancillary in-pack items, like the Turtle Maps and joke books were also wildly popular. All in all, the shows were often inspired by the collaboration of all these visual and written elements coming together. The Marketing VP of Playmates, Karl Aaronian, was largely responsible for assembling the talented team of designers and writers, which in turn, helped germinate continued interest in the toy line. Never before in toy history did an action figure line have such an impact for over two decades, generating billions of dollars in licensing revenue.
The series was highly popular in the UK where, in the run-up to Christmas, the Army & Navy Store in London’s Lewisham devoted its entire basement to everything Turtle, including games, videos, costumes, and other items.
Playmates continues to produce TMNT action figures based on the 2003 animated series. The 2007 film, TMNT, also gave Playmates a new source from which to make figures. And in September 2007, NECAannounced that they would produce figures based on character designs from the original Mirage comics. As of April 2008 there have been toys released of the four turtles with their weapons, a piece of an interhooking platform, a can of ooze, an unmutated turtle toy, and two alternate hands. It features a detailed color/design job as well as 20 points of articulation. August 2008, NECA announced a second wave, featuring Shredder, Casey Jones, and a Foot Soldier, but the future of the NECA line is unknown with Playmates releasing 25th anniversary TMNT toys.
The first Famicom/NES TMNT game was the single-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, released by Konami/Ultra in 1989. It was unique in that at any point, the player could switch from one turtle to the next to take advantage of each Turtle’s strengths. In addition, the player starts off in a strategic map where the player may explore sewer holes as well as engage patrolling enemy foot soldiers before entering any in-game portals. The game was also released on the many home computers, but these conversions were hastily made and got negative reviews. Years later the game was released for the Wii on the Virtual Console.
Also released by Konami in 1989 was the first TMNT arcade game, also titled simply Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This side-scrolling “beat ’em up” was ported to the NES as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. This led to an NES-only sequel, entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project, which used the look of the arcade game, as opposed the first NES game. The next Turtles console game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, was released in 1991 as an arcade game, and was later ported to the Super Nintendo in 1992. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist was also created for the Sega Genesis in the same year, and used many of the art assets from TMNT IV.
There was also a trilogy of TMNT video games for the original Game Boy system made by Konami, consisting of: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue.
As the video game series progressed, programmers began to incorporate unique signature moves for each Turtle, as well as game features such as “Versus mode” and “Time Attack mode”. When the Ninja Turtles’ popularity began to decline in the mid-nineties, the video games changed direction. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters was released as a one-on-one fighting game similar to the Street Fighterseries. It is of note that, whilst this game would see release on both the Mega Drive/Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles using similar art assets, the games are essentially different (a common occurrence for 16-bit licensed titles of the era, such as Disney’s Aladdin).
Konami also acquired the license to adapt the 2003 TV series into a video game franchise, resulting in a new series of games with the same button mashing gameplay as the old TMNT “beat ’em ups” (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 video game), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare). In 2006, Ubisoft acquired the rights of TMNT games, beginning with a game based on the 2007 animated feature film.
A beat ’em up, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Arcade Attack, was released for the DS in November 2009, to coincide with the series’ 25th anniversary.
In other media
During the height of their popularity (1987–1996) the Turtles had a number of food tie-ins. Among the most notable of these products was Ninja Turtles Cereal, produced by Ralston-Purina as a kind of “Chex with TMNT-themed marshmallows” which also came with a small pouch of Pizza Crunchabungas, pizza flavored corn snacks in the shape of pizzas (the commercial starred the Ninja Turtles as Will Vinton-created claymations); Hostess Ninja Turtles Pudding Pies, featuring a green sugar crust and vanilla pudding inside; and Royal OOZE Gelatin Desserts, distributed by Nabisco under “Royal Gelatin” in three different flavors: orange, strawberry, and lime. Shreddies used to give out TMNT toys in their boxes when the cereal advertising was still geared toward children. One example of a TMNT prize was rings featuring a character on the cartoon (1992). There was also green Ninja Turtle ice cream with different toppings according to which turtle flavour one ordered. Chef Boyardee also released a canned pasta with the pasta in the shapes of the four turtles themselves.
To further add to the Turtles’ popularity, a concert tour was held in 1990, premiering at Radio City Music Hall. The “Coming Out of Their Shells” tour featured live-action turtles playing music as a band (Donatello; keyboards, Leonardo; bass guitar, Raphael; drums & sax, Michelangelo; guitar) on stage around a familiar plotline: April O’Neil is kidnapped by the Shredder, the turtles have to rescue her. The story had a very Bill-n’-Ted-esque feel, with its theme of the power of rock n’ roll literally defeating the enemy, in the form of the Shredder (who only rapped about how he hates music) trying to eliminate all music. A pay-per-view special highlighting the concert was shown, and a studio album was also released. Stylistically, the music’s genre was closest to hair metal/power rock.
Since the tour was sponsored by Pizza Hut in real life, there are many references to their pizza. Empty Pizza Hut boxes are seen onscreen during the “Behind The Shells” VHS. As part of a cross-marketing strategy, Pizza Hut restaurants gave away posters, audio cassettes of “Coming Out of Their Shells”, and “Official Tour Guides” as premiums.
The original show of the tour was released on video with a making of video also released. The song “Pizza Power” was later used by Konami for the second arcade game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time.
At the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park
On June 30, 1990 the TMNT appeared in the “New York Street” section of Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Orlando. Emerging from their Turtle Party Wagon, they would “ninja dance” across the stage while April performed the theme song to the show. After the main show was done they would pose for pictures and sign autographs.
The Turtles made appearances in Walt Disney’s “Very Merry Christmas Parade” to sing their own rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. They also appeared during the Easter parade dancing to their single “Pizza Power!” The Turtles’ live shows and appearances ceased production in 1996.
Although the TMNT had originated as something of a parody, the comic’s explosive success led to a wave of small-press, black & white comic parodies of TMNT itself, including Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos, and a host of others. Dark Horse Comics’ Boris the Bear was launched in response to these TMNT clones; its first issue was titled “Boris the Bear Slaughters the Teenage Radioactive Black Belt Mutant Ninja Critters.” Once the Turtles broke into the mainstream, parodies also proliferated in other media, such as in satire magazines Cracked and MAD Magazine and numerous TV series of the period.
Departure from origins
In keeping with the “grim ‘n gritty” feel of Frank Miller’s Ronin/Elektra material, the Turtles engaged in a greater amount of overt violence in the pages of the early Mirage comic book series. As the TMNT were introduced into the mainstream, they were radically redesigned for a younger audience in the children’s spinoff universes beginning with the first cartoon. This development incensed the core group of fans who had faithfully collected the independently-published comic series from its inception. They accused Eastman and Laird of selling outtheir indie roots in favor of corporate greed. In issue #19 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the creators published an editorial addressing these concerns. It stated, in part: “We’ve allowed the wacky side to happen, and enjoy it very much. All the while, though, we’ve kept the originals very much ours – forty pages of what we enjoy and want to see in our books, whether it comes from our own hands or from those of the talented people we work with.”
In the film Turtles Forever, the original Mirage Turtles refer to their descendents as “sell-outs,” in reference to their colorful accessories (the originals are conveyed in black and white).
Teenage Mutant “Hero” Turtles
Upon TMNT’s first arrival in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Poland, Austria, Germany, and some other countries in Europe, the name was changed to “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles” (or TMHT, for short), since local censorship policies deemed the word ninja to have excessively violent connotations for a children’s program (in Ireland, however, the first season aired as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” before changing to “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles”). Consequently, everything related to the Turtles had to be renamed before being released in these nations (comic books, video games, toys, etc.) The lyrics were also changed, such as changing “Splinter taught them to be ninja teens” to the “Splinter taught them to be fighting teens.”
The policies also had other effects, such as removing use of Michelangelo’s nunchaku (which were at the time banned from appearing in 18-rated movies) and generally toning down the usage of all the turtles’ weapons. After many seasons of never using his nunchaku, they eventually disappeared entirely, replaced by a turtle shell shapedgrappling hook called the “Turtle Line”. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, they kept Michelangelo’s Nunchakus and kept the same title but translated. Also, The Italian andPortugese dubs had few edits. In Spain the cartoon had different dubs depending on the region, as well as Castillian Spanish, for example Galician, Catalan and Valencianlanguage, among others.
However, when the live-action movie came out in 1990, the “Ninja” of the title was kept even in the UK. In time, nunchaku scenes were retained in previously-censored movies such as those of Bruce Lee. The same went for the PAL releases of the early video games, which had Michelangelo’s weapon of choice fully visible and usable.
By the time of the 2003 TV series, these censorship policies had been abolished, and no changes have occurred in the content of the show. The name “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” remained unchanged for the 2003 TV series. As a result, in the UK, the 1987 TV series is still called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and the 2003 TV series is called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, hence a disambiguation between the two TV series.
On May 25, 2009, Lionsgate Home Entertainment released the 25th Anniversary Collectors Edition on Region 2 DVD in the UK. This 3-Disc set contains all the episodes of Seasons 1 and 2 and 4 episodes from the final season, as well as a 1-Disc DVD with the first few episodes of Season 1. This release features the original, unedited episodes under the Ninja Turtles title, and also marks the first time the show has been released uncensored in the UK.
Due to various movie and television deals, the various TMNT films & television series have split between various companies, with Mirage Studios having retained copyright and trademark until October 19, 2009, at which point the rights for the entire TMNT franchise were sold by co-creator Peter Laird to Nickelodeon.
The original animated series (1987–1996) was produced by Fred Wolf Films Dublin (as Murakami Wolf Swenson (MWS) and Murakami Wolf Dublin (MWD) during earlier seasons), and syndicated by Group W. The series itself is owned by Wolf Films, home entertainment rights reside with Lionsgate, and until recently, syndication rights belonged to former Nickelodeon corporate sibling CBS Television Distribution.
Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was produced by Saban Entertainment, and as of September 2011, is owned by Saban Brands and distributed by MarVista Entertainment.
The second animated series (2003–2009) was a co-production between Mirage Studios and 4Kids Entertainment. Nickelodeon’s October 19, 2009 buyout of the TMNT franchise included an approximate $9.75 million payment to 4Kids to terminate its right to serve as the merchandise licensing agent prior to the scheduled expiration of the representation agreement in 2012. Due to the buyout, all future TMNT film and television series rights are owned by Nickelodeon.
Nickelodeon is scheduled to begin a new CGI animated series in fall of 2012.