Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures have been produced by the company Playmates Toys since 1988. Staff artists at the
Northampton, Massachusettsbased Mirage Studioshave provided conceptual designs for many of the figures, vehicles, and playsets and are credited on the packaging of the products they created.
The first series of
TMNT action figures hit toy shelves a year after the premiere of the popular 1987 cartoon series of the same name. This collection initially featured all of the basic characters: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, Splinter, April O'Neil, The Shredder, a Foot Soldier, Bebop, and Rocksteady.
Attention to detail
Launched in tandem with a cartoon mini-series, the original Ninja Turtle figure designs appeared to borrow influence from their comic book counterparts, detailed with pulsing veins and pupil-less eyes. They also featured detailed packaging art with a fully-illustrated origin story and profile on the card's backside, most of which were written by creative developers, PANGEA Corporation, who also provided character and package design for many of the products in the original line. Design team Robinson-Clarke of San Francisco, lent their strong graphic talent to the look of the packaging as well. Soon, so much product was being developed and produced that many design firms were recruited by Playmates to assist with packaging. By and large, the written material consistently flowed from PANGEA, with direction helmed at Playmates Toys by Karl Aaronian, a marketing vp who went on to work with DreamWorks when they launched their studio toy division. In terms of accessories, many figures included removable belts, cloth clothing, and an arsenal of small ninja weapons aside from their signature weapons. The earliest produced figures also featured softer, rubbery heads rather than the solid plastic used in later production. Veteran ad man, Jerry Sachs, helped to focus the creative development team in the early days of the show and product development by claiming the concept was "green against brick." Indeed, the Gothamesque unnamed city was a labyrinth of brick tenement buildings and an impressive underground sewage system. It was not by coincidence that the show and the toys embraced pop culture and many of the elements of life which parents feared: heroes in sewers, who ate junk food, especially pizza, and were addicted to movies, TV shows and videogames. Perhaps the triumph of this entertainment property was its ability to celebrate forbidden elements of pop culture with fun and flair, like a heroic turtle ollie grinding his skateboard through the sewers, while munching on a wedge of pepperoni pizza.
After several runs of the mini-series, kids started talking about the quirky cartoon and the TMNT toyline subsequently found quick popularity among kids and teenagers. The show and toyline expanded into a vast array of characters, including
heroeslike Casey Jones, Ace Duckand Fugitoid as well as villainslike Krang, Baxter Stockman, and General Traag. Fans enjoyed the figures for their resemblance to their cartoon series counterparts and intricate yet often humorous detail.
By 1989, Playmates began experimenting with different action features. It was in this time that the "Wacky Action" series was created. This consisted of relatively basic characters but later on expanded into other characters and even vehicles. Each figure possessed a wind-up function that, when applied, caused the figure's limbs to rapidly move in a rhythmic (and certainly wacky) action. Most characters simply rotated at the wrist or other joint in the arm while holding a weapon (Rock N Roll Michelangelo, Breakfightin' Raphael, etc). The series wasn't without its faults, however, as Sewer Swimmin' Donatello's ankles were rather fragile and, thus, prone to breakage.
"Wacky Action" was merely the tip of the iceberg, however, as "Talkin' Turtles", "Head Droppin' Turtles", "Mutatin' Turtles", "Storage Shell Turtles", and dozens of other fresh ideas began making their way to toy shelves in the 1990s. Ninja Turtle action figures were sure to gain a foothold in the toy market.
Considering all of the exciting locations and fun inventions conceived by Donatello, kids couldn't have their figures without a slew of toy gadgetry to interact with. Accordingly, Playmates saw through the release of various signature accessories like the Turtle Party Wagon, Turtle Blimp, Shredder's
Technodromeplayset, and much more.
Aside from vehicles and locations actually seen in the cartoon, Playmates went on to create a wide variety other accessories. These often expressed the humorous side of TMNT with gadgets commonly made out of sewer lids, trash cans, plungers, and toilet seats (possibly in reference to the Ninja Turtles' living in the sewer). However, vehicles would also include a diversity of play features from the ripcord action of the Psycho Cycle to the electronic launching of the Turtle Pizza Thrower to the smoky bubble spout of the Bubble Bomber. For its time, TMNT was remarkably innovative in terms of fun action figure accessories.
In the midst of action figures filling the store shelves, roleplaying toys were also released.Depending on the depicted character, these typically included a ninja mask and plastic weapons. Such products helped make the Ninja Turtles a popular choice for
Halloween costumes. Other TMNT toys would be sold individually such as the Turtle Communicator and Retromutagen Rifle.
One of the most famous components of the TMNT realm is the
radioactiveslime Retromutagen Ooze, which mutated the Ninja Turtles from common house pets to "mean, green, fightin' machines." Thus, even Ooze was produced for the interaction with TMNT figures in 1989. The green slime, very similar to the "Ecto-Plazm" produced for Kenner's " Real Ghostbusters", was sold in a small container which also included a glow-in-the-darkNinja Turtle in mid-mutation. Aside from the classic "Turtle Green," a "Purple Foot" variation would also become available in 1993.
Ooze was an essential component to playsets such as the Flushomatic, and action figures like Muckman, who could have it run from his hollow head and out his mouth. Depending on their features, occasional figures and accessories came with their own smaller canister of Ooze to fulfill the playtime experience.
"Movie Stars" and "Toon Turtles"
By the second, less violent TMNT film, "
The Secret of the Ooze", Playmates decided to create a figure collection based on the characters' live-action appearance. In contrast to the regular figures, these were made of a softer, more rubbery material to better reflect the look of the animatroniccostumes used in the films. They also featured ball joints at the neck, shoulders, and hips, and each figure came with a small, canister of Ooze. In terms of character variety, however, the "Movie Stars" collections were in stark contrast to the wide variety seen in the basic figure lines.
1992 also saw the production of "Toon Turtles". Disregarding the fact that TMNT already "was" a cartoon, these figures took on an almost
stereotypicalapproach to being humorously cartoon-like. Each character bore a friendly, animated appearance with a glittery paint job and including some type of "cartoon" action feature (Raphael's head spun, Michelangelo's tongue unraveled in Tex Averyfashion, etc). On the upside, this series introduced many longtime characters from the cartoon series such as the Neutrinos and April O'Neil's co-workers, Irma Langinstein, Burne Thompson and Vernon Fenwick.
A third movie hit theatres in 1993 but saw less success than its predecessors. This collection featured the Ninja Turtles once again in their "Movie Star" likeness and sporting
samuraiarmor, as well as several other side characters. The "Giant Movie III Samurai" figures also came complete with removable masks and time scepters as seen in the film.
In 1994 Playmates, in an attempt capitalize on toy lines like
Mighty Maxand Polly Pocketshrunk the Turtles down to an equally small size in a sub-line simply named "Mini Mutants" [http://www.tmnttoys.com/minis.html] . There were "Turtle Transport Combos" which contained one figure and two vehicles. "Bodacious Battlesets" which were four playsets which could connect via bridges/platforms, these included one figure. "Turtle Top Playsets" which were a characters head which would open into a double decker playset, these included three figures. "Carry Along Playsets", skinnier playsets in the shape of Raph's sai, Leo's katana, and Turtle Communicator. These came with three figures. And finally "Turtle In A Turtle" four playsets that were figures of the four turtles about 6 inches taller then the normal figure, their heads, stomachs, and shells opened into the playsets. Each had themed removable armor as well, two figures were included with each.
TMNT action figure commercials that started with the first series featured clips from the cartoon and narration describing the figures which were shown in incredible "toy size" environments. This also went for vehicles and playsets. The scenes from the show were overdubbed with dialogue usually from the actual voice actors that went along with story in the ad.
During post movie success, many commercials relied on live-action, animatronic Ninja Turtles similar to those seen in the "Coming Out of our Shells" Tour. Prime examples of these include 1992 spots for the Bubble Bomber vehicle featuring Raphael in military fatigues and "Bodacious Birthday" figures where a surprise party was thrown in the Turtles' sewer lair.
Themes and incarnations
Throughout the '90s, Ninja Turtle action figures would run an extensive gauntlet of different themes and incarnations. While
Batmanmay have become known for hundreds of gadget-wielding action figures, just as well, the Ninja Turtles would become synonymous with dozens of historical and pop culture related embodiments. Varying concepts and toy trends resulted in the many examples shown below.
*Basic series figures taking on various looks; Leo, the Sewer Samurai, Don, the Undercover Turtle, Mike, the Sewer Surfer, and Raph, the
Space Cadet. (1990)
*"Mutant Military" - Different forms of military -
LieutenantLeo, Pro Pilot Don, MidshipmanMike, and Raph, the Green Teen Beret. (1991)
*"Rock'n Rollin'" - Vibrant musical gimmicks; Classic Rocker Leo, Punker Don, Rappin' Mike, and
Heavy metalRaph. (1991)
*"Sewer Sports All-Stars" - Sport-themed figures with action features; Among others, T.D. Tossin' Leo, Slam Dunkin' Don, Shell Slammin' Mike, and Grand Slammin' Raph. (1991)
*"Wacky Wild West" - The Ninja Turtles taking on the
Old West; Chief Leo, Crazy CowboyDon, Bandito-Bashin' Mike, and Sewer Scout Raph.(1992)
Stone Age"Collectible Turtle Combo" boxsets; Among others, Leo and his Dingy Dino, Don and his Trippy Tyrannosaurus, Mike and his Silly Stegosaurus, and Raph and his Tubular Pterodactyl. (1992-'93)
*"Turtle Trolls" - A take on the early '90s troll doll craze; Leo, Don, Mike, and Raph featuring tall, synthetic hair and childlike appearances. (1993)
Universal StudiosMonsters" - Classic monster-themed figures; Among others, Leo as the Wolfman, Don as Dracula, Mike as Frankenstein, Raph as the Mummy, and Bride of FrankensteinApril. (1993-'94)
Star Trek" - A crossover due to Playmates' owning both "Star Trek" and TMNT licenses; CaptainLeonardo, First OfficerDon, Chief EngineerMichelangelo, and Chief Medical OfficerRaphael. (1994)
*"Adventurers" - Figures dressed for adventuring; Deep Sea Diver Leonardo,
ArcticDonatello, and SafariMichelangelo. (1995)
Jim Lee's TMNT" - Majorly restyled Ninja Turtle figures based on the designs of famous comic book artistJim Lee. (1995)
*"Mutant Masters" - The Ninja Turtles sporting
Animeinspired armor as "ancient mythic warriors"; Leonardo Wind Warrior, Donatello Water Warrior, Michelangelo Thunder Warrior, and Raphael Fire Warrior. (1997)
Even with the silliest of concepts, Playmates managed to create some intriguing and fun figure designs for children. In contrast to other companies like
Kenner, who constantly re-released figure sculpts with different paint jobs, Playmates rarely showed a cheap or careless effort in their TMNT figures. But with rising competition, limited figure concepts, and the end of the cartoon series, a pitfall was inevitable.
The Ninja Turtle line ran for almost ten years and in that time there were bound to be items that would not hit the shelves. Some of these items went as far as the prototype stage and being shown at New York Toy Fairs, others had only designs drawn.
•The original Casey Jones figure had an interchangeable head without mask. The sculpt looked to be based on the Mirage Comics.
1991: •Turtle Tenderizer 4x4.
•Leo's Turtle Shell Backpack.
•13" April, drawing gives the impression she would have been in the vein of a Barbie doll.
•Tokka Battle Fun Set.
•Michelangelo’s Sidewalk Surfer.
•Raph's Pizza-Powered Parachute. (this did come out but with Donatello instead)
•Turtle Popcan Racer.
•Giant Movie 3 versions of Don and Mike.
•“Transforming” Muta-Party Wagon. It would have transformed into a 19’’ Robot Turtle with a resemblance to Metalhead.
•The Star Trek Leonardo/ Kirk figure was originally shown in his green shirt.
•A Giant Cyber Samurai.
•“Warriors of the Forgotten Sewer” “Knight Mike”, “Wizard Splinter”, and “Savage Leo with Sewer Warcat” two-pack.
•Sewer Subway Car vehicle.
•“Ninjamobiles”, Turtle Van and Foot module in an Ed “Big Daddy” Roth style.
•A “Kung Fu Tournament Fighters” Leonardo.
•Team Ninja Figure assortment (the four turtles in cybernetic armor)
•Metal Mutant Rocksteady with Serpent Armor
•Metal Mutant Bebop with Fish Armor
•Metal Mutant War Horse
•Jim Lee's TMNT Leonardo
•Repaints of “The Military Turtles”. Leo and Raph were from the ’91 series and Don and Mike were from the ’92 series.
• Dr Quease.
• Shadow Ninja Deluxe figures.
1996-1998: Dry spell
By 1996, the cartoon series that lasted nearly a decade had come to an end. In 1997 a new live-action series premiered entitled "". The series was somewhat short-lived but managed to make for an extensive action figure line. Alongside the basic TMNT characters, this collection of taller scale figures included a female Ninja Turtle named Venus. The show's demise, however, would further confirm the dissolving popularity of the Ninja Turtles, and the franchise would remain in limbo for years to come. Left with a disappointing movie four years past and virtually no place on television, the TMNT franchise would face a gradual decline in action figure production.
February 8, 2003, Fox revived the TMNT franchise with a brand new cartoon series. With it inevitably came a series of action figures. These figures showed reminiscence of those released in 1988 yet with a refreshed design similar to the new, bold look of the cartoon series.
This collection successfully continued into 2006 with new character designs and even an occasional revisiting of past concepts like 1993's "Cave-Turtles". The cartoon series then became "", a futuristic take on the heroic mutants. This latest wave of TMNT action figures, in addition to new movie figures in 2007, sees the Ninja Turtles through the eyes of a new generation.
In early September 2007, it was announced that the collectible figure company NECA has taken out a license to do figures based on characters in their likenesses from the original Mirage comic books. The first wave of figures consisted of the four Turtles and were released in comic and specialty stores in early 2008. NECA said that they will then refresh the line in spring with variations on the turtles along with new secondary characters. A fully sculpted and painted prototype of Leonardo surfaced on Steve Murphy's blog "The 5th Turtle" on Thursday, November 29, 2007 as well as the December issue of "Previews". On Friday, November 30, 2007 a picture of Michelangelo’s early head sculpt surfaced on "The 5th Turtle". It should be noted that the Turtle figures will all use the same body, but will all have unique head sculpts. This has been incredible news to the TMNT fan community as many have been clamoring for figures based on the Mirage designs.
* [http://www.ninjaturtles.com/toys/archive.html Playmates TMNT Action Figures - Toy Archive]
* [http://www.tmnttoys.com/figures.html TMNT Figure Archive]
* [http://www.virtualtoychest.com/tmnt/tmnt.html Virtual Toy Chest's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Archive]
* [http://www.virtualtoychest.com/mediawiki-1.8.2/index.php?title=TMNT VTC Wiki article on TMNT action figures]
* [http://the-5th-turtle.blogspot.com/2007/11/neca6.html NECA Leonardo Figure]
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