Cowabunga! A Look at TMNT Toys Past and Present

TMNTby Brandon Engel

Fans eagerly await the big screen return of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello. Not the Italian master painters, but the pizza-scarfing, reptilian wise-crackers who have been delighting young audiences since the early ’80s. Although the characters were originally created by artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a parody of comic book franchises that were popular at the time, the turtle gang soon took on a life of its own, spawning multiple television programs, video games, films, and of course, toys.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the forthcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, and although we’ll have to wait until August for the film’s premiere, there’s a slew of new products to hold our interest until then.

CPreme-Ninja-Turtles.croppedOne of the more interesting new products is C-Preme Limited’s TMNT bicycle helmets, which comes in four unique designs, each modeled after one of the turtles as they appear in more modern cartoon programs. They are somewhat similar to bike helmets produced by Mirage Studios in 1991, though the design on the old helmets is more similar aesthetically to the way the characters appeared in the ’80s cartoon show.

FunkoTMNTThough the Turtles themselves rarely leave Manhattan, over the decades, a number of fascinating TMNT products have been developed and released in Japan. This spring, Funko is set to release a new line of Hikari Japanese vinyl TMNT figures. The new toys have a metallic sheen, are sort of squat, and feature the disproportionately large heads that are characteristic of “chibi”-style anime characters.

But beyond merely geeking out over new turtle products, this is a good time for die-hard fans to look back at collections of turtle garb released during the ’80s and ’90s. Several popular products from the late ’80s have become coveted collector’s items, such as the Gags, Jokes and Crazy Weapons kits that came with small squirt guns, joke books, and various small weapons and accessories for the action figures.

TMNTWildWestIn the early ’90s, there were many products on shelves featuring the turtles in funny costumes, such as the Wacky Wild West Turtles series, which featured them as cowboys, sheriffs, and Native Americans. Similarly, there was the Universal Studios Monsters toy edition, which featured each character as a classic Hollywood monster (Donatello as Dracula, Raphael as the Mummy, etc.). Another memorable product from this time was the Giant Slam Dunkin’ Don, which featured a large figure of Donatello wearing a basketball uniform. And who could forget the TMNT Troll figurines? Only in the nineties…

While they were definitely a hot commodity in their heyday, mass media has kept the Turtles’ legacy alive. In addition to all of the feature length films on DVD and video, throughout the years there have been a number of television shows that have also helped maintain an awareness of the TMNT brand. While many fans recall the cartoon series from the ’80s, there was also the short-lived Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation program, which ran on the Fox Kids network from 1997 to 1998, and is now streamable through Netflix. There is also the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV program that premiered in 2012, viewable through direct television specials and also on Nickelodeon.

For older fans, it’s a treat to see kids connecting with the characters they grew up with, and for younger fans, it’s all a point of entry into one of the most lucrative superhero franchises of all time. Whatever the quality of the upcoming feature film is, there is little doubt that it will bolster fan interest, and prompt many more trips to the toy store for kids of all ages.