The only constant in life is change. This old saying certainly applies to pop culture, as the steady march of time has seen plenty of alterations and modifications applied to fan favorite characters over the years. Superman lost his trunks, Batman dropped the yellow in his logo, and Spider-Man lost those weird armpit web things. No franchise is immune to change, and this includes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But fan reaction has been mixed concerning the Turtles’ most recent change, as TMNT loyalists have gone online to argue about the merits of the Turtles controversial new looks in Nickelodeon’s upcoming Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
But while this new TMNT look is dramatic, it certainly isn’t the first time the Turtles have been redesigned. Since debuting in 1984, the Turtles have seen plenty of costume tweaks and dramatic overhauls. Reactions to these redesigns have run the gamut, garnering both undying love and frothing rage. So, as fans decry Raph’s beefy new look and Leo’s missing katana in Rise, join CBR as we take a look back at some of the TMNT’s most polarizing designs. These are 7 TMNT fans loved (and 8 they HATED!)
15. LOVED: 1990 LIVE ACTION MOVIE TURTLES
TMNT fans had plenty to be nervous about when it was announced that the Turtles would be making the jump to the silver screen courtesy of New Line Cinema. After all, the Turtles had found success in the ’80s with a cartoon, but could teenage turtles fighting ninjas translate well to cinema? Turns out, fans had nothing to fear, as 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only did the Turtles justice, it ushered in a slightly revamped look for the heroes in a half-shell.
The film found our titular Turtles given a slightly more realistic look, with pronounced noses and more muscular bodies. With Hollywood magic, the TMNT looked downright believable, all while sticking close to the designs fans had grown to know and love from the cartoon. It was different, but not too much, and Turtles fans loved it.
14. LOVED: 2007 MOVIE TURTLES
Whenever these teenaged turtles go Hollywood, it means that changes aren’t far off. Thus, when it was announced that these turtle boys would be starring in a CGI film simply titled TMNT, fans braced themselves for the inevitable redesigns. Thankfully, much like the ’90s live action trilogy, TMNT managed to put its own unique stamp on the Turtles without going overboard on the changes.
TMNT introduced sloped masks, forgoing the “straight across” one look established by the ’80s cartoon, to give the gang a “tougher” more angular look. The film’s design also emphasized shape, using body size to communicate every given character’s personalities, i.e., making Donatello leaner, Raphael stockier, and so on. The changes were subtle, but for hardcore TMNT fans, they were most welcome.
13. LOVED: STAR TREK TMNT
Fans are finicky; after all, what might be loved by one fandom could be considered pure heresy by another. But what do all fans love? Easy: taking one thing they love and mashing it together with another thing they love. Thus, Star Trek TMNT was born.
Sure, it’s an odd combination; after all, adolescent kung-fu terrapins and space faring explorers have little in common. But the mash-up was so weird, it just worked. Fans went gaga for the Turtles decked out in Starfleet garb, and soon figures such as Captain Leonardo and Chief Engineer Michaelangelo were flying off the shelves. The figures spawned from this oddball redesign have become highly sought-after collector’s items among TMNT fans, and serve as a testament to fans’ love of this redesign.
12. LOVED: IDW TMNT
The Turtles are no strangers to the world of comics; after all, these heroes in a half-shell got their start in a self-published comic book in 1984. But when IDW snagged the TMNT license in 2011, fans were left wondering just what the Turtles would look like. But not only did it turn out that Turtles fans had nothing to fear, they were about to meet one of the best TMNT redesigns ever.
IDW’s TMNT brought the Turtles back to their roots, ditching the color-coded masks and reverting back to the OG red masks. To ensure the Turtles could be told apart, the series introduced the concept that the TMNT were spawned from different species of turtles, allowing the members to have different body shapes and skin tones. This change would be carried over into the 2012 TMNT cartoon, and has become a crucial aspect of the Turtles’ character designs ever since, much to the love of TMNT fans.
11. LOVED: UNIVERSAL MONSTERS TMNT
Again with the weird mash-ups! But it turns out that Universal Studio’s classic monsters and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the chocolate and peanut butter of the pop culture world; two great tastes that taste great together.
Debuting in 1993, this memorable Playmates toys toy line combined the horror icons with the Turtles, resulting in some truly out-there combos. Leo would get the Wolfman treatment, Raph became a mummy, Don donned Dracula’s duds, and Mikey became Frankenstein’s Monster. The toys offered drastic, downright scary redesigns of the Turtles, and they proved to be quite popular with fans. A second wave of Universal Monster Turtle figures would follow, and the figures remain beloved cult collectibles among TMNT fans and horror dorks to this day.
10. LOVED: NICKELODEON TMNT
When a beloved property changes hands, worries abound among fans over how the property will be handled. Thus, when Nickelodeon acquired the rights to the Turtles from the Mirage Group, fans began to fret over what would become of the heroes in a half-shell. But when Nick debuted its spin on the Turtles, fans discovered that the franchise was in good hands.
Debuting in 2012, the simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles served as a reboot of the series, and brought with it brand new designs for the ninja brothers. Much like the IDW series, the Turtles were given physical variety, with different skin tones and drastically different builds. The characters’ turtle shells and extremities became boxier, giving them a quasi-graffiti inspired look. Nick’s take on the Turtles quickly became a hit among TMNT fans new and old, and fans were sad to see these beloved redesigns go.
9. LOVED: 1987 CARTOON TMNT
The Turtles have come a long way since debuting in a black-and-white comic in 1984. With their elongated necks, pupil-less eyes, and stockier bodies, the original incarnation of the TMNT bears little resemblance to the Turtles fans know and love. In fact, the Turtles likely wouldn’t have been the pop culture icons they are if it wasn’t for the original TMNT redesign for the 1987 cartoon.
When the Turtles made the leap to Saturday morning cartoons, they were drastically retooled; gone were the grim and gritty Turtles of the comics, replaced with goofier, kid-friendly designs. Most importantly, the cartoon dropped the comic’s “matching red masks” gimmick and gave the brothers color-coded masks, cementing one of the most important aspects of the Turtles designs. When it comes to the look of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, hardcore fans consider this redesign the gold standard.
8. HATED: BODACIOUS BIRTHDAY TMNT
The Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy line was red hot in the ’90s, proving to be one of the most popular toy franchises of the decade. But with popularity comes demand, which meant Playmates had to figure out ways to get kids to keep buying TMNT figures. As a result, themed lines were launched, dressing these turtle boys up in various costumes in hopes of separating parents from their cold, hard cash. While some of these theme lines worked, some… didn’t. Case in point: the Bodacious Birthday TMNT.
This poorly conceived toy line redesigned the TMNT to be party attendees, but in truly oddball ways. Raphael became a moustachioed magician, while Michelangelo became a terrifying clown, complete with bizarre flesh-colored extending legs. The toy line was not well received, and the redesigned Turtles remain the butt of jokes among toy collectors to this day.
7. HATED: WE WISH YOU A TURTLE CHRISTMAS TMNT
There’s a bit of a budget difference between a theatrical film and a straight to VHS Christmas special. One costs millions of dollars, and the other costs maybe a couple bucks and a firm handshake. Thus, if you want to emulate the look of a theatrical film in your straight to VHS Christmas special, you’re gonna have to cut a few corners. Unfortunately, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles straight to VHS Christmas special cut a few too many corners, resulting in some of the scariest looking Turtles to ever grace the screen.
In We Wish You A Turtle Christmas, the Turtles are portrayed by actors in rubber suits akin to the costumes found in the popular TMNT films. Unfortunately, they look terrifying: with overly bulbous heads, a noticeable gap between the head and the neck, dead eyes, and shells that barely stick to the costume, these are Turtle redesigns that are less likely to have you yelling “Cowabunga” and more likely to have you worrying about seeing these abominations in your nightmares.
6. HATED: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III
When 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles released to rave reviews and big numbers, a sequel was inevitable. When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II also performed well at the box office, a third film seemed a surefire hit. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was far from surefire on any front. In fact, TMNT III gave the world the worst looking live action Turtles of the trilogy.
Working on a smaller budget than the previous two films, TMNT III had to cut corners on the Turtles costumes, leading to less polished rubber suits and sloppier animatronics. The film also introduced traditional samurai garb for the brothers, which fans were quick to label as goofy looking and a transparent excuse for a toy line. Sure, the TMNT were pretty much built on a transparent excuse for a toy line, but TMNT III proved to be a step too far, and served as the death of the live action film franchise.
5. HATED: WACKY WILD WEST TMNT
Look, sometimes, something that seems like a good idea at one point in time becomes an awful idea in hindsight. It’s happened to the best of pop culture properties, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not exempt. After all, we’re sure that Wild West-themed Turtles seemed like a golden concept once upon a time, but with hindsight we can realize that this redesign was actually super duper racist.
While Donatello and Raphael got innocuous cowboy and fur trapper makeovers, Leo and Mikey were not as lucky, becoming a Native American Chief and Mexican bandito respectively. With Michelangelo sporting a stereotypical gold tooth and Leo being marketed as a hunter of the “paleface” Foot Clan that gives his enemies “a very close shave,” these figures were as racially insensitive as they were goofy. TMNT fans were most definitely not fans of these ill-conceived redesigns.
4. HATED: THE NEXT MUTATION
Let us paint you a mental picture: the year is 1997, and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers rule TV with an iron fist, with knock-off shows chronicling teenagers in spandex outfits fighting evil popping up seemingly every week. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are encountering a decline in popularity, and the executives are panicking. What’s a company to do? Easy: hire the company responsible for the popular show, have them shamelessly knock-off the very thing beating you in popularity and hope for the best.
Thus, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was born. This live action show recast the Turtles as rubber-suited muscle men with faces twisted in a perpetual look of “I just gambled on a fart and lost”, adorned in new masks and sashes. The series also introduced Venus De Milo, a new female member of the TMNT. The show’s redesigns were met with near universal disdain, and Next Mutation was put out to pasture after a single uneventful season.
3. HATED: FARMER TURTLES
The beauty of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that they work in pretty much any scenario. Want to send them into space? Go nuts. Want to turn them into cavemen? Weird, but it works! While it seems as though there isn’t any gimmick that the TMNT can’t work with, Playmates came along and proved this wrong by introducing the world to the Farmer Turtles.
Yes, Farmer Turtles is just what it sounds like: it takes the heroes in a half shell — who are from New York City — slaps some denim overalls on them, sticks them in a tractor, and sends them out to till the land. While Leonardo and Raphael were spared this indignity, Mikey and Don weren’t as lucky, getting redesigned into pipe-chewing, cattle herding country folk. As silly as it is lame, this Turtles redesign deserves to be forgotten. And don’t come back now, y’hear?
2. HATED: COMING OUT OF THEIR SHELLS
When the Turtles were at the height of their popularity in the ’90s, they were viewed as the coolest characters around. Kids everywhere were yelling “Cowabunga” and scarfing down pizza like their cooler-than-cool reptilian heroes. But an executive somewhere clearly realized that the TMNT had the potential to be cooler. And what’s cooler than teenage mutant ninja turtles? Easy: teenage mutant ninja turtles in bedazzled jean vests!
Yes, that is exactly what the world got when the Turtles went arena rock for the Coming Out Of Their Shells stage show, which cast the intrepid ninjas as keytar-playing, sequin-sporting rock stars. Much like the music in the show, the costumes were awful and have become the source of mockery in later years. This redesign was truly horrendous, but like a train wreck, you just can’t look away from it.
1. HATED: MICHAEL BAY TMNT
Ooh boy. Okay, we get it: you’re launching a new cinematic franchise, so it’s time to give your stars a fresh coat of paint. No one blames the makers of this film for wanting to give the Turtles a new look. In fact, fans were eager to see the new look of the TMNT. But when the 2014 Michael Bay-produced film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles revealed the new designs of the Turtles, that eagerness was replaced by revulsion and confusion.
Looking like the love children of Charles Barkley and Shrek, these Turtles were a far cry from the heroes in a half shell fans had grown to love. What’s more, the characters now rocked random accessories, making these easily recognizable pop culture icons look cluttered and overly busy. And they gave Mikey a puka shell necklace, which is just unforgivable. After the lackluster box office of the 2016 sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, it would appear that these hated TMNT redesigns have been mercifully retired.
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