It’s sad how the children of today will never understand the dynasty of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the world lost its collective mind to these four lean, mean, green fighting machines and their wise rat master. Everywhere you looked, TMNT found its way into pop culture and the mainstream, influencing a new generation. Co-creator Peter Laird revealed to Sequart that the absurd name helped the franchise in its inception as it drew immediate attention. “I think the original TMNT comics benefitted from the crazy title – it almost always generated a second look. In fact, one of the most important pieces of promotion in those early days was a story that United Press International (UPI) did on us in 1984 – and I don’t think they would have given our little independent black and white comic any notice if it hadn’t been for that title.”
Thus, it should come as no surprise to anyone that imitation became the sincerest form of flattery here. Every company tried to find its own bit of Turtle magic during this heyday. From toys to video games to animated series, a plethora of TMNT rip-offs were created and pushed out into the public consciousness. This isn’t to say they were all bad, though, because some of them were actually pretty good and became legends in their own right. Still, we have to call a spade a spade here and point out that they weren’t the most original ideas of the time.
20. SAMURAI PIZZA CATS
If there’s one thing that the Turtles made cool again, it was pizza. But Samurai Pizza Cats, the English adaptation of the Japanese anime Kyatto Ninden Teyandee, took it one step further as it introduced us to three cyborg feline samurai who worked in a pizzeria. The absolute dream job!
The animated series took nothing seriously and became a huge hit because of its parodic nature. There were tons of pop-culture references and the stories were so over the top that you couldn’t help but fall in love with them. Plus, that theme song was something else – it even had a reference to the Turtles with the line: “They’ve got more fur than any turtle ever had.”
19. EXTREME DINOSAURS
There aren’t many spinoffs of spinoffs, but Extreme Dinosaurs is the exception to the rule here. Originally known as the Dino Vengers, T-Bone, Stegz, Bullzeye, Spike and Hard Rock appeared on Street Sharks. Funny enough, Extreme Dinosaurs actually received more episodes than its “spiritual mother”, proving that dinosaurs are infinitely superior to anything else, including sharks.
As expected, there was a Mattel toyline, which was popular among the kids. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with weaponized mutated dinosaurs? Speaking of which, doesn’t this sound like the potential plotline for Jurassic World 3? Maybe Extreme Dinosaurs was already ahead of its time in the late ’90s.
The success of Battletoads defies all reason. Conceived to rival TMNT, it never reached the same heights as the shelled heroes. Yet, Rash, Zitz, and Pimple achieved their own cult status, thanks to a bunch of memorable video games, a pilot animated episode, and a short-lived comic in Nintendo Power.
At E3 2018 Microsoft announced that Battletoads will return to the gaming world in 2019. If the game is a hit, we wouldn’t bet against the greedy corporates trying to make these three fighting frogs a franchise again. It wouldn’t be a bad thing, though, since a little competition never hurt anyone – including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
17. BIKER MICE FROM MARS
If you think of the IP that actually came close to dethroning TMNT, it was Biker Mice from Mars. The animated show lasted for three seasons before receiving a revival in the mid ’00s. Additionally, it spawned an action figure line (complete with snazzy vehicles), comic books, and video games.
The show featured the three mice (Throttle, Modo, and Vinnie) and their arsenal of weapons, including various lasers and flares. However, you never saw any blood or firearms used, as it still needed to play nice with the network and all the rules. The program also had another connection to TMNT, as Rob Paulsen (the original voice of Raphael) provided the pipes for Throttle.
16. WILD WEST C.O.W.-BOYS OF MOO MESA
The ties between Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa and TMNT are a lot closer than most of the shows on this list. Ryan Brown, the creator of the former, worked for several year on TMNT as an artist, helping design many iconic characters and action figures. Additionally, it was this connection that allowed the C.O.W.-Boys to appear in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode “Home Invasion”.
From this franchise, there was a toyline, video game, and animated show of these C.O.W.-Boys. It did relatively well , but it could never quite get as over as TMNT did. We guess that bovines just aren’t as cool as turtles.
15. AVENGER PENGUINS
Forget about Captain America and Iron Man’s current woes, because the Avenger Penguins wouldn’t have let Thanos snap his fingers. The bike-riding gang of penguins kept the streets safe from the likes of Justin Bieber Caractacus P. Doom. Sure, these heroes experienced their own internal scuffles and issues, but they always pulled through and didn’t need post-credits scenes to entice us for their next instalment.
While Avenger Penguins didn’t quite a major dent on the American children’s TV market, it was a formidable hit in other international territories. The show was Deadpool-esque in a way, as it made self-referential jokes and parodied other series as well.
14. STONE PROTECTORS
For some unknown reason, troll toys received a resurgence in popularity in the ’90s. There were ones with scented hair, others in shiny outfits, and some labelled as heroes such as the Stone Protectors. Realizing there was a ton of money to be made if they could be marketed to young boys, an accompanying animated series of these new trolls on the block was made.
Drawing influence from TMNT, the Stone Protectors epitomized the era with their fighting prowess and quirky personalities. Short of saying “cowabunga” this was pretty much a carbon copy of the Turtles without the actual Turtles. It didn’t take off, though, as even the kids figured it was a dumb rip-off.
13. PUNK FROGS
You gotta hand it to the networks. They’ll milk every cash cow to make an extra buck. In the case of TMNT, the Punk Frogs were introduced in the episode “Invasion of the Punk Frogs”, with potential plans for their own series. So, in essence, TMNT was already a shared universe before Marvel (so, suck it, Disney).
The characters, though, didn’t leave as much of a lasting impression as the Turtles. They’re around in the TMNT world even to this day, so it’s evident that there are fans of them somewhere out there in the world. Still, we can’t help but wonder why they were called the Punk Frogs but dressed like the Beach Boys.
12. MIGHTY DUCKS
“Hey, those Mighty Ducks movies were really cool, right?” “Oh, yeah. Definitely.” “Let’s make an animated series about it.” “Terrific.” “But this time, we’ll make the characters intergalactic ducks because kids like talking animals.” Wild, but we’re certain this was the exact conversation that two Disney execs must’ve had before greenlighting the series.
Look, it was entertaining and won a Daytime Emmy for outstanding sound editing, but the Mighty Ducks didn’t last more than a single season. We’re guessing it’s because the fans of the movies couldn’t really relate to the sudden departure from what they knew and the insane storylines. Plus, maybe we missed Emilio Estevez.
11. BUCKY O’HARE AND THE TOAD WARS
Bugs Bunny might be the reigning MVP of animated rabbits, but Bucky O’Hare laid claim to his throne once upon a time. Originally created as a comic-book character in the mid ’80s, the green hare and his S.P.A.C.E. crew made their way onto the small screen in the short-lived Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars.
As an action-packed space adventure, the show took many cues from TMNT as it tried to stamp its way into children’s hearts. The episodes were in good hands, too, being written by the likes of comic-book legends Neal Adams, Christy Marx, and Doug Moench. Unfortunately, Bucky didn’t last, receiving the toilet flush after 13 glorious episodes.
10. MUMMIES ALIVE!
Before the comments section explodes with everyone asking how mummies are similar to turtles, hear us out for a second. Much like the original TMNT comic books, Mummies Alive! was supposed to target an older audience but became a children’s show deep in production. You can literally see the dark influence sprinkled throughout.
Additionally, the presence of humans assisting the mummies resembled the relationship that April O’Neil and Casey Jones had with the Turtles. We will concede, though, that this show probably had a lot more in common with Gargoyles. That isn’t coincidental, either, as the writers and producers of Mummies Alive! were part of season three of Gargoyles.
9. SUPER ROBOT MONKEY TEAM HYPERFORCE GO!
As Laird mentioned, the absurd name of TMNT drew a lot of attention to the franchise. It seems like the showrunners of Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! were paying attention, as they created their own mouthful. From the mind of Ciro Nieli, the show follows five cyborg monkey and a human boy who try to protect their planet and the galaxy.
The animation style is reminiscent of Teen Titans – due to Nieli having been involved with that series too – but make no mistake: The show is pretty much a ’00s version of TMNT as it’s whacky and out of this world. Sadly, it didn’t stand the test of time, lasting only four seasons.
After TMNT‘s success, it was expected that companies would attempt to replicate the formula with other animals. Enter Cyboars: Pig-like humanoids who come from another planet. Rebellious and heroic, they have to save their world from the Bytrons, a bull race who conquered their planet. You know, good guys versus bad guys and all that jazz.
First appearing as a comic-book series created by Ken and Kirk Smith, Cyboars eventually received its own CGI show and a toyline. It’s important to note that there’s a distinct difference between Cyboars and Cy-Boar – another comic-book character and series. Obviously, pigs experienced a renaissance after the popularity of Babe.
7. SWAT KATS
When T-Bone and Razor made their debut on SWAT Kats, they were instant hits. The animation style remains timeless, while the stories catered to all age groups, from the young to the old. The show might’ve taken influence from other programming, but it managed to strike a fine balance between being Airwolf and TMNT.
Despite the success of the series, it was canceled because Ted Turner, owner of Turner Entertainment, felt it was too violent for kids. So, fans will be happy to know that a revival of the program was funded via Kickstarter, so we should expect new SWAT Kats episodes in the near future.
6. KUNG-FU DINO POSSE
“Hey, bro, can I copy your homework?” “Sure, just don’t make it too obvious.” If there’s a show that carries its influence on its sleeve, it’s Kung-Fu Dino Posse. Even the dinosaurs were color-coded, to ensure that each one would stand out much like the Turtles and their bandanas.
Unfortunately, the show came out a little too late to capitalize on Turtle-mania. It was released in 2010 and lasted for 40 episodes. Still, this shouldn’t take away anything from the overall quality, because it was genuinely funny and bursting with tongue-in-cheek humor at the best of times. It was a pastiche of TMNT and embraced its roots fully.
Undoubtedly, TMNT‘s greatest achievement is how it became a juggernaut franchise. Its toyline was among the most popular at the time as every kid craved the action figures and playsets. There was big money to be made there, so toy companies tried their best to give the children as many Turtle-like options as possible.
The Snailiens range was released in 1992 to decent fanfare. First off, the toys looked impressive as they made use of rubber, snap-on armor, and sidekicks. Second, the way they were marketed made them look like the second coming of TMNT, so it instantly appealed to the same fanbase. Despite its impressive showing, Snailiens failed to build on its initial hype.
Maybe it was a case of appearing at the same time because Dinosaucers felt like the dino-clone of TMNT. Much like the Turtles’ intergalactic influence in terms of Krang and Dimension X, there was an alien element to Dinosaucers, too, as it pitted the space-traveling titular heroes against the evil Tyrannos.
Dinosaucers ran for 65 episodes, but it struggled to match the other shows airing in the same period. A lot of this failure is due to the action figures not being released at the same time as the animated show. Prototype figures were actioned for production, but they were cancelled as soon as the show met its maker.
3. ROAD ROVERS
What’s better than Ninja Turtles? A bunch of heroic dogs, that’s what. Road Rovers followed a team of super-powered crime-fighting dogs, known as “cano-sapiens”, which were the cutest protagonists ever. It wasn’t barking up the wrong tree, though, as it had all the right ingredients to succeed. Sadly, it received only 13 episodes and nothing more as the puppy power proved to be limited.
The truth is, Road Rovers arrived two years too late. Had it dropped around the same time as the Animaniacs in 1994, it might’ve lasted at least an extra season or two. After all, everyone loves dogs – and who didn’t love Muzzle, the Hannibal Lecter-esque pooch of the team?
2. TOXIC CRUSADERS
Look, The Toxic Avenger existed for many years before the animated Toxic Crusaders. In fact, the 1984 Troma classic is certainly not for children. Deciding to capitalize on the success of TMNT, though, Toxie and his pals were toned down and made more kid-friendly, in an effort to peddle toys, clothing and video games.
Even so, you can bet your bottom dollar that Lloyd Kaufman and his co-conspirators chucked in a few mature jokes into the series that went way above the censors’ heads. Toxic Crusaders didn’t last more than one season, but it did become a cult classic and most fans remember the merchandizing rather fondly.
1. STREET SHARKS
Sharks have had a tough time in mainstream media. After Jaws, everyone was frightened by them, seeing them as monsters and the rotten apples of the ocean. Street Sharks decided to turn this notion on its head and make them fin-tastic (sorry not sorry for that pun). Of course the story involved a kind of mutation as four brothers became anthropomorphic sharks. Sound familiar?
While the animated series was immensely popular, the toyline was something else. In many ways, it was the true heir to TMNT‘s throne and Mattel did a sterling job with the action figures. Is anyone else secretly praying for a Street Sharks reboot in the near future?
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