Remember Whensday | Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mania

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made some of the best toys for kids ever.
Credit: NECA

I don’t know about any of you, but I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Presently in 2020, we have now had six feature films, an awesome plethora of comic books, and four different animated series (including a 2018 cartoon still currently running). All of which feature these 4 lovable reptilian heroes. [See the big list of their legacy, thanks to IMDb.]

Although they have legions of fans and followers today, there is nothing quite like the peak of their popularity that ran from 1987 – 1993.

Let’s Remember Whensday and look back at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles whirlwind.

Dark Beginnings

Credit: Mirage Studios/Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman

Created in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ were originally a parody of dark, martial arts action comics like Frank Miller’s ‘Ronin’ and his comic series run of ‘Daredevil.’

In contrast to the kid-friendly heroes the world would come to know and love; these ninja turtles were extremely violent. The black and white art of the original comics by Mirage Studios add to the dark and grimy nature of their early stories.

Shortly after a brief run of successful comics, Murakami-Wolf animation studios began to develop an animated TV series for children; which of course included tie-in action figures.

In 1987, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon debuted on CBS and became a staple of the heyday during Saturday Morning cartoons. This was the spark of the pandemonium that would follow.

Turtle Power

Source: CBS/Viacom

The animated series was a rousing success and the world was introduced to four “heroes in a half-shell” named after classical artists: Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello.

The show was fresh, colorful, and full of fun, obscure pop culture references (I wonder how many kids in the ’80s knew who Humphrey Bogart was). The violence was toned-down considerably and the humor cranked up to 11.

These crazy ninja turtles made words like “Cowabunga!” common among schoolyards. And I’m pretty sure pizza companies everywhere loved the free worldwide promotion.

Ninja Turtle Domination

The Ninja Turtles with Jim Henson and director Steve Barron. (Source: New Line Cinema/Golden Harvest)

After dominating Saturday morning television, the ninja turtles hit Hollywood. In 1990, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theatrical film grossed $201 million worldwide on a $13 million budget.

Combining the gritty aesthetic from the comics with the slapstick jokes of the cartoon, as well as state-of-the-art special effects from the legendary Jim Henson, the film was an impressive and enjoyable accomplishment.

The “Coming Out Of Their Shells” live musical

Pleasing fans and new audiences alike, two more sequels followed in 1991 and 1993.

On top of the television series, legendary arcade cabinets, and hit films, merchandise was flying off the shelves! From lunchboxes to pajamas to these sweet sheets (that I owned), the ninja turtles were a true marketing phenomenon. They even had an ill-fated Broadway musical in 1990 that most fans choose not to remember.

Yet, despite all of this frenzied success, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles disappeared from pop culture almost as fast as they had arrived.

Out with The Old, In With The New

The Ninja Turtles meet the Power Rangers
(Source: MMPR Productions/Saban Entertainment)

Similar in team dynamics and martial arts action, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers debuted in 1993 and sparked a huge fandom of their own. The crime-fighting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles paved the way for legions of cartoon clones and live-action teams like the Power Rangers, but unfortunately the pizza-loving heroes began to slowly decline in popularity themselves.

In 1996, the iconic animated series ended. Despite a 1997 live-action show that eventually crossed over with the trendy Power Rangers, the show only lasted one season due to poor reviews and abysmal production value. The crossover (regretfully shown above) was supposed to reignite interest but instead felt more like a metaphorical passing of the torch.

The NExt Generation

The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles created some of the old joy among fans.
Source: Paramount Pictures/Dunes Entertainment

Although I wasn’t terribly fond of the 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, it had some redeeming qualities. Overall, I was genuinely happy just to see my childhood heroes again.

The 2014 sequel flopped but was a lot more fun and faithful to previous incarnations. The comic line isn’t numerous but still active. The aforementioned series is still playing on Nickelodeon. As a lifelong fan, it is comforting to know that children growing up in the 2010s and 2020s can share the same experience I had.

If I see kids playing outside with ninja swords and nun-chucks, I’ll immediately remember when I was a turtle fighting the evil Foot Clan, which always makes me smile. Although not as hysterical as the initial craze was 30 years ago, the ninja turtle legacy lives on.

And I couldn’t be more proud. Cowabunga!

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