Each Saturday morning, we’ll remind you of the time when it was still cool to wake up early on weekends. So whenever the hell you wake up these days, there will be a nostalgic treat waiting for you, reminding you of those old jammies you used to wear and that old television set. They make even less sense now, but that’s half the fun. We hope you enjoy.

The Cartoon: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Animation Studio: Murakami-Wolf-Swenson Film Productions Inc. (Say THAT three times fast)
Original Run: December 28, 1987 – November 3, 1996
Episodes: 193
Seasons: 10

The Characters:
  • Master Splinter (the rat)
  • Leonardo (the blue one)
  • Michelangelo (the orange one)
  • Donatello (the purple one)
  • Raphael (the red one)
  • April O’Neil (the lady)
  • Casey Jones (was totally doin’ April)
  • Master Shredder (the bad guy)
  • A veritable cavalcade of rotating, supporting bad guys

The Setting:
In New York City, a teency pet rat who learned how to be a ninja by watching his master Yoshi finds himself displaced when Shredder and his Foot Clan break in and murder the furry fella’s beloved owner.  Taking refuge in the sewers underneath the city, he comes across four infant turtles who had gotten washed down a storm drain along with a container of some mysterious green ooze, which makes the five of them grow and mutate into our heroes.

The Gist:
Shit man, it’s all there in the title.  They’re teenage mutant ninja turtles.  They’re the good guys, obviously, and humanity’s only hope against the evil Shredder and his clan of Foot Soldiers – goofy ninjas in purple outfits that have big red footprints on their forehead.  Shredder, of course, is kind of a badass (at least 10-year-old me thought so), what with all his blades and spikes and sharp edges, but ultimately the dude couldn’t make a plan come together to save his life.  Which is kind of amazing considering he had:

  • An entire ARMY of ninjas at his disposal
  • Mechanical mice-things with steel-trap jaws
  • A gigantic subterranean fortress that was like a combination of the Death Star and a graboid
  • Other mutants, much more badass than a turtle – some even with automatic weapons!

Really?  He couldn‘t get it done with all of that?  That guy was the worst.  Now, to be honest, I’m not even sure what his goal was to begin with.  I mean obviously it probably had its roots in world domination or some such, but as time went by it seemed like Shredder existed only to kill the turtles because he was hungry (he talked about wanting turtle soup ALL THE TIME), and the turtles existed only to stop him.  Like a snake eating its own ass, this shit got real cyclical, real quick – but we didn’t care!  We ATE IT UP.  Why?  Because the turtles were AWESOME.  They had this whole sewer fort set up and they rode around in the Turtle Party Wagon and ate pizza three times a day seven days a week.  They told jokes and kicked bad guys’ asses.  Sometimes they did both simultaneously.  They taught kids that it was okay to be different, made us interested in art (well, made ME interested in art, anyway – I knew Splinter named the turtles after his favorite artists so I wanted to know who those artists were) and who knows how many of my peers ended up in some sort of martial arts classes because of the ninja turtles.  They were awesome incarnate and to any 8 to 10-year-old kid worth his salt in the late 80s/early 90s, they were the be-all end-all of not just animated entertainment, but entertainment period.

I’ve been to dive bars were the punk band du jour played their grungy cover of the theme song and the entire place went bugfuck NUTS.  If that’s not a legacy I dunno what is.

The Short History:
The turtles actually started as a relatively popular undergound/independent comic series by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, made to parody other popular comics at the time.  When Playmates Toys approached the duo with a pitch for an action figure line, the guys thought it would be better to introduce the characters in cartoon form first, thus the show was born.

Then came the stage show, the three live-action movies, the live action series (which I only learned about when I researched for this article – I have no idea how I missed THAT), the reboot of the animated series and the all-CGI 4th movie that came out a couple of years ago and the second reboot of the animated series that’s hitting next year.  Nobody really cares about the Ninja Turtles anymore, but apparently that’s not stopping them.  Turtle power, indeed.

The Merchandise:
Holy shit.  Everything.  EVERYTHING.  And I know this first-hand because I had ALL. OF. IT.  Action figures, playsets, t-shirts, underwear, posters, folders, backpacks, trapper keepers, pencils, foamy hand soap, toothbrushes, sneakers, belt buckles, and various assorted other brick-a-brack with those 4 turtles’ faces on it.

The most notable, of course, were the action figures.  Leonardo was the coolest because he carried his swords on his back and since the blades were made of this flexible, rubber-ish material, you could rotate his arms up, put the handles of his swords in his hands then quickly bring his arms back down, essentially having him pull them out on his own.  Donatello could kinda do it, but because his staff was so long you would only be able to slide it partially into the holster for it to work.  Raph and Michelangelo sucked because they wore their weapons on the front side of their little belts, so there was no awesome faux-automation that went into arming them.  You had to put your imagination on hold for as long as it took to pull their weapons out and get them situation in the hands of their respective turtles.  After awhile you’d just forget the holsters, leaving them in their hands by default, which ended up being a bad idea because they’d pop out and fall to the bottom of the toybox or end up lost in the Phantom Zone that was your bedroom and then all the guys had to fall back on was punching or kicking – and what fun was that?

And, of course, you can’t talk about Ninja Turtles merchandise without mentioning the arcade game.  That, along with Sunset Riders and After Burner, earned so many of my (mom’s) quarters that the local Mazzio’s Pizza should have put her name on the entranceway of the arcade.

You Might Have Seen This Commercial:
If your little ass was parked in front of the TV Saturday mornings in the ‘80s, you might have seen these kids bouncing around selling Burple, a product that I loved as a kid, but find rather odd as an adult.  Maybe you’ll agree with me… 

Oh my.

Tune in next Saturday morning for another installment.

Previously on Saturday Mornings:
Shirt Tails
Duck Tales
Thundarr The Barbarian