Of all the wonderful franchises concocted by the fat, greasy, greedy swine in charge of coming up with products for children, the Ninja Turtles sit proudly at the top of the pile. Simultaneously the most entertaining 90s TV show, 90s toy brand, and 90s movie trilogy, this juggernaut of a cultural obsession showed that they were more than just Ninja Turtles. They were TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.
Now, everyone is familiar with the origins of these adorable reptiles (hopefully), but for those who aren’t, it goes as follows. A man named Hamato Yoshi flees from Japan and ends up in New York city where, for some creepy reason, he decides to live in the sewers. One day, a careless child trips while carrying a fishbowl full of his pet turtles and spills them down into a sewer grate. Shortly thereafter, Hamato Yoshi stumbles upon the little turtle dudes while he is feeding his pet sewer rats. Curiously, the turtles are covered in a strange, glowing green ooze. The ooze is no ordinary green goo and instantly starts a strange chemical reaction in both Yoshi and the turtles. The turtles, having most recently come into contact with Yoshi, begin to turn human. Yoshi, having most recently been in contact with his pet rats, begins to turn into an overgrown, talking rat. Makes perfect sense, right?
As the turtles begin to grow and mature over the years, Yoshi trains them to master the art of ninjitsu. In addition to bestowing them with awesome ninja ass-kicking skills, Yoshi (adopting “Splinter” as his own new moniker) also gives them badass names in the spirit of his favorite renaissance painters. Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo are born.
Also, for good dramatic measure, an unforgettable villain is thrown into the mix. Oroku Saki, better known as the Shredder, is a thorn in Splinter’s side from back in Japan and followed him to America where he leads an evil criminal organization called the Foot Clan alongside a talking brain named Krang.
Before I’m reminded, I’m aware that this origin story differs from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books. It differs vastly from the cartoon origin story that I’m using, but I wasn’t aware of this contrast as a child. The comics were a bit darker and I eventually read and enjoyed them, but I’m sticking to the early 90s franchise climax for the sake of this article.
My childhood was full of these lovable, wisecracking turtles and I have nothing but fond memories. I was truly a die hard fan. Maybe I was a bit spoiled, but I must own over a hundred of the TMNT action figures, vehicles, and play sets. They’re all still tucked away in a Rubbermaid bin in our spare bedroom. Everything from the turtle blimp to the turtle van to the pizza shooter and technodrome. There were even themed figures like baseball player Raph and prehistoric Leo. They were all amazing in their own way.
It wasn’t just the toys that moved kids to the point of tears and tantrums, though. The movies played a pretty big part in my memories of the franchise as well. The first film was more based on the comics than the cartoon series and and it shared the same dark themes. It was the best film of the series in terms of writing, but I don’t think I appreciated it as much as a child as I do now. I do remember the introduction of Casey Jones, though. You can’t forget a vigilante who knocks people senseless with assorted sports equipment.
The second film was much more my speed and catered to the short attention span of American children. It followed the cartoon closely and toned down the violence and grim themes in favor of goofy humor and product placement. It was the perfect formula for box office success.
The third film, unfortunately, should not be spoken of. Turtles traveling back in time to feudal Japan does not make for a good film. No Shredder? No care.
The turtle train didn’t stop with just movies and toys. They expanded the franchise into musical concert tours, fan magazines, clothing, and even video games. They all had their own charm, but the cartoon series reigns supreme. Before the days of DVDs, I used to buy episodes of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series on VHS. They came in three episode bursts and I’m surprised I never wore out the tapes. I must’ve watched them each over a hundred times.
Recently, I discovered they’ve released the entire run of the original cartoon series on DVD. I picked up the first season and I’m psyched to purchase more. I love buying little pieces of my childhood.
The word on the street is that Nickelodeon is resurrecting the franchise for a new animated TV show.