While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out as a comic-book series, we're under no illusion that it was the animated series and accompanying toyline that launched the franchise into the stratosphere. Playmates' TMNT action figure range became a friend and companion to many children of the late '80s and early '90s, shaping and molding their playing habits as well as their Christmas and birthday wish lists. Speaking to The Comics Journal, TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman said, "Playmates believed that the Turtles could be really huge, and they were willing to invest millions of dollars into making toys, and millions of dollars into making an animated [series]. So, we eventually signed with them."
It's also thanks to Playmates' request that the Turtles be differentiated that Peter Laird came up with the different colored headbands. "Yeah, we worked literally hand in hand with Playmates and Fred Wolf, who was the animator. We had complete say, and complete approval, under our contract," Eastman confirmed. Over the years, numerous toys and action figures were created. Some of these figures and accessories were highly successful; others not so much. Deciding to reminisce, we've looked back at 15 toys that only hardcore TMNT fans will recognize immediately. So, grab your pizza slice and embrace the Turtle Power with us!
15 ACE DUCK
Much like Mattel and the Masters of the Universe toyline, when Playmates saw how popular the initial TMNT figurines were, the company created a whole bunch of new ones. In most cases, new characters were made purely with the intention of selling more toys – and nothing to do with the source material. One such figure was Ace Duck, an anthropomorphic duck, billed as "The Aero-dynamic Adventurer".
Truth be told, Ace looked rather cool with his leather jacket, removable pilot's cap, pistol, egg grenades, and wings. The character did eventually make his way into canon, appearing in the comic books and animated series; however, he never found the sort of popularity that minor characters like Slash and Mondo Gecko enjoyed. Maybe Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will remedy this in the near future.
Working for the Shredder and Krang, you'd never expect to get any real benefits. Yet, here were Bebop and Rocksteady cruising around in a hot set of wheels. Just look at this beauty! It's actually laughable that the heroes (the Turtles) had such a dodgy van, but the bad guys got to ride around in style.
Naturally, when you have a vehicle-combat play session, it's important for both the antagonists and protagonists to be in their respective cars. If not, it would be a clear-cut case of a hit and run and no one wants that. The Footcruiser was a terrific and sought-after accessory, since it allowed space for three action figures and also looked neat on any shelf or display. Dare we say, it was even better designed than the Party Wagon, aka the Turtle Van.
13 PANDA KHAN
According to the description on the packaging, Panda Khan is a giant mutant panda and Samurai ruler of his tribe. Using time travel, he came to Earth in the early '90s where he teamed up with the Turtles to combat crime and have a tubular time. In a world where anthropomorphic rats and turtles are supreme martial artists, we shouldn't be surprised by a Samurai panda, really.
Like Usagi Yojimno, the character was included in the Playmates Toys range due to a friendship and association with Mirage Studios – and Khan was meant to appear in the original animated series as well. A giant Samurai panda proved to be quite the hit with children, even if they weren't aware who the character was at the time.
12 RAPHAEL'S SEWER SPY GOGGLES
Playmates Exec 1: We need something new and fresh for the kids. But it must be Turtles-related because those things sell like hot cakes and children love those green things.
Playmates Exec 2: Hmm… How about some goggles? We can call them Raphael's Sewer Spy Goggles.
Playmates Exec 1: Do the Turtles wear goggles?
Playmates Exec 2: Do we care?
Playmates Exec 1: Good point, Phil! Please collect your free Blockbusters coupon from Margaret on the way out.
Seriously, who thought Raphael's Sewer Spy Goggles was a good idea?! Do people really not know what's in a sewer? There's nothing to investigate or sleuth for. It's disgusting. Furthermore, wouldn't these goggles be more of Donnie's creation? There's no reason for Raph to put these on and investigate all of New York's waste – unless this was all a cruel prank organized by Mikey.
11 SPORTS TURTLES
While Mattel went full-on weird and created the most bizarre characters possible for the Masters of the Universe line, Playmates decided to do something a little different for the Turtles. It knew that the kids wanted more of the four green teenagers, so it packaged them differently and introduced a Sports Turtles line.
Playmates released six sporty Turtles: Grand Slammin' Raph, T.D. Tossin' Leo, Slam Dunkin' Don, Shell Kickin' Raph, Shell Slammin' Mike, and Slap Shot Leo. Of course these figurines encompassed all of America's favorite pastimes, but the coolest of the lot was definitely Shell Slammin' Mike who looked like a cross between Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Mr. T from The A-Team. It was a complete cash-in on the franchise, no doubt, but no one complained because it was awesome.
10 SUPER SHREDDER
Look, we have to admit that the original Shredder figurine looked like 50 Shades of Oroku Saki, so anything else would automatically appear better by comparison. In the case of the Super Shredder toy that was inspired by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, though, the Turtles' infamous foe actually came off worse.
First off, his helmet looked like a tin bucket and not one bit like the slick apparel we saw in the film. Second, his silver chest/shoulder piece makes him a dead ringer for Sunny when she was managing the Legion of Doom (Hawk and Animal) in the WWE. Make no mistake, it's a nice collectible to have in your collection, but it's still a terrible interpretation of the legendary villain.
9 TURTLE BLIMP
You know, for a household that had no income, the Turtles made sure they had all the neatest gear and gadgets, mostly thanks to Donnie's genius. One of their more obscure possessions was the Turtle Blimp, which was a regular blimp but with a giant TMNT logo sprawled across it. Where they stored this, though, only they knew.
If you were lucky enough to receive the toy version of the Turtle Blimp, you had a detailed vehicle to play with. It wasn't small, either, and you could blow it up to 30" in length. The only major drawback was if your cat got hold of the balloon. Any minor poke or scratch and this blimp became about as useful as Kanye West in a modesty contest.
8 MICHAELANGELO'S BUGCHUKU SET
There was a lot of controversy surrounding Mikey's nunchucks in the animated series and films. In the show, we hardly got to see them used. While in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, the UK censored him using sausages as makeshift nunchucks . Well, Playmates didn't adhere to the rules (or maybe it just didn't care) and a set of Bugchuku weapons were made for children to play with.
What's a Bugchuku, you may ask? It's pretty much bug-encrusted nunchucks, because putting gnarly creepy crawlies on weapons made it less violent and suspect. Plus, you received a manhole cover as a shield. Hey, no one said the early '90s were sane times, and this toy was proof that imaginations were allowed to run wild.
Get this: Pizzaface was a chef who had a plan to become the most powerful pizza chef ever. He used Retromutagen in his oven, in hope that the heat's energy would grant him with special powers. However, the Turtles saved him before it was too late. Thereafter, the still un-powered Pizzaface travelled from parlor to parlor trying to get even with the four brothers. Yes, we're being completely serious about this guy's origins here.
Obviously, Pizzaface was created as an extra antagonist for the toyline – and some designer thought the heroes in a half shell's nemesis should be pizza-related. It's kooky, but somewhat genius. Unfortunately, Pizzaface failed to become a popular action figure, and didn't cement himself as a significant part of TMNT history, either.
6 WACKY WILD WEST TURTLES
Howdy, partners! Considering the premise and strangeness of Westworld, it's creepy to imagine the Turtles as Wild West characters. Nonetheless, this didn't stop Playmates from exploring a Wacky Wild West Turtles line, with some strong stereotyping that wouldn't be accepted in today's society. Yeah, they aren't very P.C.
There were four figures created for the line: Chief Leo, Sewer Scout Raph, Crazy Cowboy Don, and Bandito-Bashin' Mike. Why these toys were created, we'll never know since they were exceptionally random and had nothing to do with the green heroes' premise. We can understand the music- and sports-related figures, since those are relevant to popular culture, but these? Maybe show them to the next person who complains about Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.
5 TURTLE DASHBOARD
In the old days, if children wanted to experience the thrill of racing, they'd have to hit the arcade and play one of the racing games there. Still, cars and driving-related products proved popular in the households, and the Turtle Dashboard was a subsequent hit because of its interactive nature. Apart from the Konami handheld game, this was the other "handheld" toy that allowed you to experience life as a Turtle, as you took control of the Turtle Van and powered through the streets of Manhattan.
While it looks extremely dated now, it was tons of fun back then and even featured authentic sounds and a workable gear shift. Moreover, if you still have one of these in your toy chest, it's worth a mighty penny or two since it's a sought-after TMNT product.
4 APRIL, THE NINJA NEWSCASTER
Did you know that the original April O'Neil action figure is worth a hefty sum among collectors? Yip, if you have a mint condition April in her traditional yellow jumpsuit, you should consider getting it evaluated. One toy that isn't quite as valuable, though, is the ridiculous April, the Ninja Newscaster.
Right off the bat, what is so ninja about this? April looks like Wilma Flintstone and the skimpy outfit doesn't exactly keep her hidden in the shadows. The figure did come with a katana, sai, nunchuck, and bo staff, so at least her weapons are somewhat accurate. That said, this has to go down as one of the dumbest TMNT action figures ever made. Oh, and she was billed as "The Turtles' Foot-slappin' Sister." Don't worry, that doesn't make sense to anyone else, either.
3 CAVE-TURTLE LEO AND HIS DINGY DINO
After the initial burst of excitement, the TMNT toyline began to lose steam in the early '90s. While the animated series was going strong and the films did well, kids wanted the original toys – and not all the subsequent releases. It was a similar problem that Mattel suffered with the Masters of the Universe where the new toys were just not as popular.
Rather than listen to the market, Playmates doubled down and went wackier with the ideas in 1992. One of them was Cave-Turtle Leo and his Dingy Dino. The toy was billed as an ancestor of the Leo we all knew and loved, even though he also wore a blue bandana and looked to have been affected by mutagen. Sigh. Well, at least Dingy was cute.
One of the Shredder's greatest gags was how he tried to lure the Turtles in with the promise of pizza. It's oddly similar to the ways in which Wile E. Coyote attempted to trap the Road Runner by tempting him with food. So, it should come as no surprise that there was a pizza-trap toy, which came in the form of Oozey.
Disguised in the shape of a pizzeria, the toy had a trap door. When lowered, it would activate a spring-powered canon that shot ooze at the unsuspecting Turtles. It's not a widely remembered product, even though it was well-made and quite clever. Unfortunately, it was more of an antagonist's toy while kids enjoyed dumping the ooze on Shredder and his cronies more so than on their heroes.
1 ROCK 'N ROLLIN' TURTLES
We've spoken about the Sports Turtles and Wacky Wild West Turtles. Now, it's time to chat about the Rock 'N Rollin' Turtles – the music-inspired action figures. Considering the culture at the time, it's expected that a line of this nature would be explored. After all, it's not hard to see the influences of punk, rock, heavy metal, and hip hop on the TMNT franchise.
The line featured the four brothers as their alter egos: Rappin' Mike, Punker Don, Classic Rocker Leo, and Heavy Metal Raph. Funny enough, Punker Don looked a lot like Bebop, while Heavy Metal Raph was like the turtle version of David Lee Roth from Van Halen. Each figure came with its own musical instruments as well as music-inspired weapons, such as Drum Stick Sais. Ah, the good ol' days of insane toys!