The TV and cinematic evolution of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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It’s been almost thirty years since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared on a TV screen. Almost three decades of watching men in rubber suits kick the silly out of each like a drunken brawl behind the scenes on a Godzilla movie during the 1960s. And every minute of it has been oddly engrossing. Sure, some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appearances may be dated, but there’s no denying the impact that the half-shell heroes have had on the mainstream line of pop culture.

But man, some of it has been properly weird. Here’s a look back at all of that, Jack.

Note: Here’s the YouTube link, which thanks to a raging DRM boner forced me to trim a substantial part of the video away.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 1987-1996 animated series

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For a comic book series that started out as a joke, the first animated series was dead serious. Dead serious on merchandising the f*** out of the Turtles. And it worked, beautifully. This is where most people were introduced to the Turtles: Wise-cracking ninjas who regularly fought the Shredder, mutants and Krang’s really weird bodybuilder that looked like Principal Weatherbee from the Archie comics on steroids.

But hey, kids freakin’ loved it! The Turtles were a hit, toys regularly sold out and the series lasted well into the 1990s before it finally wrapped up. This is where the Turtles found their personalities, as they became obsessed with Pizza and each member of the team developed individual character traits that would define them in every single appearance since then. Fun fact: The Shredder was voiced by none other than James Avery, who you might recognise as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Mutant Turtles: Choujin Densetsu-hen – 1987 anime series

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And then the Japanese wanted a slice of the pizza pie. Look, Mutant Turtles: Choujin Densetsu-hen is an even bigger and more shameless attempt to sell toys. The whole idea of the Turtles being able to go over 9000 with mutation stones was done so that that damn Saint Seiya could stop hogging all the shelf space at toy stores. No wonder this series only ran for two OVAs in total.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 1990 movie

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It may be dated as can be, but back in 1990 this movie was magical. Nothing like this had ever been attempted on the big screen before, and yet somehow it all worked. You had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in live action, with costumes from the Jim Henson workshop that were too good to be true. It was goofy, family fun that built on the massive popularity of the cartoon and was a runaway success story.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze – 1991 movie

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And quicker than you can say shameless sequel, a follow-up arrived. Now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze had all the right elements. The Turtles were established, the Shredder was back and the budget was bigger.But the film was missing something. It might have been the fact that it was even more unbearable than ever for parents to watch when they took their kids to go see it. It might have been the inclusion of Vanilla Ice that made no sense at all.

But the sequel just felt like a rushed and terrible way to exploit the franchise. But it’s not the lowest point of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at all.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 – 1993 movie

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Because the third film is a strong contender for that. Seeing the turtles hurtled back in time to feudal Japan, the third movie is bonkers. And not in a good way. The costumes had somehow dropped drastically in quality, the story made no sense at all and the film was generally kept locked away and only used when CIA black ops agents needed to quickly torture information out of captured terrorists. As far as movies go, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 makes Howard the Duck look like Citizen Kane in comparison, it is that damn bad.

Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation – 1997-1998 live-action series

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But not as bad as the TV series, which lowered the bar so far that Satan keeps bumping his head on it. Visually, the series was a blast. The Turtles had updated costumes, the actual puppeteering was ace and the design showed off plenty of attention to detail. But the end result was like watching the Teletubbies cosplay as ninjas.

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It was baffling terrible stuff, juvenile to the bodacious max in a manner that was peak 90s and managed to make the Power Rangers look hardcore. And it also introduced the long-lost sister of the Turtles, Venus. A character who has in recent years been considered the Voldemort of the show, as she shall not be named by anyone involved with her creation.

Power Rangers In Space – 1998 Crossover Episode

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Yes, this actually happened. And ended with the Turtles surfing in space. Moving on.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2003-2009 animated series

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Oh man, this series was needed like milk in a chilli-eating contest. The 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had the tall order of making the sewer-dwellers respectable again. And it actually managed to achieve that over several seasons. Make no mistake, this show was still meant for kids, but it was surprisingly grim at times and balanced humour with action on a knife-edge. It was the kind of series that you could actually watch without wanting to stab your eyes. And that’s no small feat.

TMNT – 2007 CGI movie

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But the 2007 film took everything that the current animated series had managed to achieve, and turned it up to 11. This was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that you would pay money to see on the big screen. A film about brothers, magic and high stakes action. And possibly one of the best fights ever done in the CGI genre, as Raphael locked sais with Leonardo and the two duked it out in one of the best films of the year. Seriously worth a watch.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2012-Present CGI animated series

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And then we come full circle to the current incarnation. The best version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ever created, and that’s because the Nicklelodeon series doesn’t try to hide its past. Instead, it fully embraces it, with sly nods and tweaks that incorporate almost thirty years of continuity into a series that is consistently entertaining with every single episode released.

It’s an updated take on a franchise that we worshipped as children, and are now seeing a new generation adore. What’s not to love?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2014 live-action movie

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a bad movie, but it’s not a bad movie if you get my drift. It’s bodacious stuff with nightmare fuel CGI and an antagonist whose superpower is that he pilots a mech-suit made out of every single knife ever created. What’s not to love?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows – 2016 live-action movie

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Next month, the first sequel arrives. Will it be as wonderfully bad as the original? I sincerely hope so. Because there’s no shame in taking one of the biggest comic book jokes ever printed on a dare, and running wild with it.

Last Updated: May 23, 2016

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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