Despite the huge box office draw, the recent TMNT movie was not so good. In fact, it was downright terrible. But as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans, we haven’t really had many good reasons to be proud to show our colors anyway. Between some of the less-than-impressive reboots and the Coming Out of Their Shells tour (shiver), it’s been difficult for a number of years to say that we were fans of the turtles. And this recent movie doesn’t help.
But then, there are those shining moments in half-shell history where we can all look back and understand just why we fell in love with them in the first place. These are five moments in particular that every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan can point to, and for good reason, and claim that every last one of these is awesome.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comic Book Series
First Appearance: 1984
Who knew that a parody of Marvel’s Daredevil, as well as a few other comics at the time, could spawn such a unique and special premise? Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird brought their series to life in 1984 when they formed Mirage Studios and put out their first issue. These turtles were very different from the ones we would eventually see become a worldwide phenomenon in a scant few years. This version of the turtles came in black and white and they all wore red like Raphael. (Hence the reason for that "strange" cover on the original NES game.)
They were also a lot more violent. The Foot Clan, which was actually a parody of Daredevil’s "The Hand," was composed of humans rather than robots, and the turtles also swore a bit, too. In essence, they were like real teenagers, but they were turtles, and also learned in martial arts. Some of the early arcs in the comic even made it into the first movie, but we’ll get to that shortly. As a whole, with the creation of the turtles coming out of this comic, how could you not be proud of it? It changed history.
Highlight: The true origin of Master Splinter and The Shredder’s blood feud
Season One of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cartoon
First Appearance: 1987
Only a meager five (!) episodes long, season one of the first TMNT television series had everything you loved about the "new," more family-friendly version of the boys in green. This was the season that made the world take notice of the turtles, and it introduced new, fan-favorite characters such as Krang, and Bebop and Rocksteady, who were never even in the comic book series. In this very short season, we also learned the origin of the turtles, got an altered, less violent backstory for The Shredder, and were also introduced to Dimension X and the monstrosity that came to be known as the Technodrome.
But the main reason why season one was the best is because you got all killer and no filler. A lot of the later seasons featured episodes and characters that were purely created to market new action figures and playsets. The roster grew bigger and bigger, but it also lost some of its charm in the process. By the time Michaelangelo traded in his famous nunchuckus for a grappling hook -- it really happened -- most fans had already grown tired of the show and had abandoned it, thinking it was too kiddie to watch any longer. But that first season, man, it had everything. Again, it was all killer, and no filler. Well, except for the Neutrinos. They kind of sucked.
Highlight: Krang asking Shredder for a body. A booooody.
The First TMNT Movie
First Appearance: 1990
Using suits created by Jim freakin’ Henson, the first TMNT movie is not only the best of the live-action trilogy, but upon watching all of them again, arguably the only good movie in the series. While fun, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze lost all of the dark elements that made the original so great, and the third movie -- well, the less said about that one the better. But the first one is still gold, and it’s something to be proud of for all turtle fans. They really got it right the first time, and it’s little wonder that it’s the highest grossing of the three original movies. It deserves to be.
Featuring a story arc from the comics rather than the TV series, the first movie is very dark for a kids’ film, and it felt odd for those young enough to only grow up on the show rather than the comic. The foot clan was composed of teenagers rather than robots, Raphael was an insubordinate dick rather than just "cool but rude," and The Shredder was actually menacing rather than a comic foil. The whole tone in general just felt a little off. Casey Jones also makes an appearance, just like in the comic, and he crushes the hell out of Shredder in a trash compactor, so it has that going for it, too. But more than anything, the first movie encapsulates everything we loved about the turtles at the time, and it still works today. The costumes still look good, the action is still amazing (especially for guys in suits), and the story doesn’t feel silly. Plus, there’s no Vanilla Ice to be found anywhere, so it doesn’t feel as dated as the second movie. It holds up.
Highlight: Master Splinter letting loose and saying "Cowabunga" at the end.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
First Appearance: 1991
How amazing was the arcade game (and later SNES title), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time? So amazing that the crummy third movie, which was originally just called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III got the subtitle "Turtles in Time" when it came back out in the 25th-Anniversary box set. Because Turtles in Time is just awesome like that. Essentially a four player beat-em-up from Konami, which is the company that also released the legendary X-Men and Simpsons arcade games, Turtles in Time is often considered Konami’s crowning achievement in the beat-em-up genre, with some people even considering it the greatest beat-em-up title of all time. Just ask Screwattack.
What makes the game so great, though is simple—it’s straight-up Ninja Turtle fun. While the earlier beat-em-up titles—the eponymous arcade title and its sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project--were great fun, Turtles in Time took everything that worked in those games and made it better…and then added time travel. It’s hard to argue that anything can beat fighting pirate versions of Bebop and Rocksteady on a pirate ship. This arcade game reaffirmed just why the turtles were so loveable, and it also started plenty of fights in the arcade when somebody else chose your favorite turtle and you were left with Donatello. Sorry, Donatello fans. I know you’re out there.
Highlight: Fighting the Rat King while surfing in the sewer.
The Current Nickelodeon Version of the Turtles
First Appearance: 2012
And now here’s the reason why I was actually optimistic about the new TMNT movie. (Too bad it didn't meet those expectations). Nickelodeon’s treatment of the turtles is both refreshing and reverential at the same time. Here is a series that knows its roots and also its audience, which is kids and the parents who used to watch the show as kids themselves. And it totally runs with it. Now in its second season (a third and fourth have already been ordered), the turtles have fought both old (Kraang) and new (Fishface) characters in the new series. They’ve even met the 80s turtles!
The recent Nickelodeon show is proof that the turtles not only still have juice in them, but also that they can be taken to creative new places and still retain the spirit and spunk that made people fall in love with them in the first place. Now if only the Nickelodeon movie could have been anywhere near as good.
Highlight: The "Wormquake" episode in which the new turtles met the 80s turtles
Lover of Avatar (The Last Airbender, not the blue people), video games, and anything 90s, he will talk your ear off about Godzilla, so don't get him started.
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