During the early ’90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were red hot. No other children’s property could match the level of popularity of the heroes in a half shell. From a hit cartoon, to a library of video games, to a comic empire that continues to this day in IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the TMNT ruled supreme in whatever they touched. The same goes for toys; when Playmates rolled out Turtle toys to accompany the popular cartoon, stores regularly sold out of their plastic interpretations of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael.
But it turns out kids can only justify buying toys of the same four characters so many times. So Playmates decided to get creative; instead of just releasing standard figures of the ninja brothers, the decision was made to roll out a menagerie of different interpretations of the characters. Gone were the days of just plain Ninja Turtle figures; now, fans could buy figures depicting Leo and the gang as cowboys, spacemen, sports stars, and more. But with the demand for TMNT toys through the roof, Playmates occasionally got downright weird with their toy outfits. We’re talking monsters, cavemen, and even racist caricatures. For your reading pleasure, join CBR for a look back at the 15 weirdest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy outfits of all time!
15. RAPHAEL THE MAGNIFICENT
As noted in the iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, Raphael is “cool but rude.” As the surliest turtle in this motley family of ninjas, Raphael is known more for his love of punching criminals than he is for his love of children’s birthday parties. But that didn’t stop Playmates from taking Raph and slapping an ill-fitting tux on the turtle to give the world Raphael The Magnificent.
Released as a part of Playmates’ Bodacious Birthday line, Raphael The Magnificent came complete with top hat, an “R” branded suit jacket, swanky white gloves, and even a cape. But someone at Playmates clearly realized the figure was missing a key detail: a cartoonish twirled mustache. Thus, Raphael was given facial hair. Problem is, this facial hair choice made Raphael look more likely to tie a woman to train tracks than pull a rabbit out of his hat. But we guess “1920’s Bad Guy Raphael” just didn’t roll off the tongue as well as “Raphael The Magnificent.”
14. “MACHO MAN” MICHELANGELO
If there is one thing the orange-loving ninja Michelangelo likes, it is a good time. Whether he’s surfing the sewers on his skateboard or snarfing down a pizza, Mikey is never one to turn down fun. Turns out, you can add cosplay to that list of Mikey-approved fun activities, as this party dude makes for a mean “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
In this head scratcher of a crossover, World Wrestling Entertainment joined forces with Playmates and Nickelodeon to mash the heroes in a half-shell together with some of WWE’s most famous personalities. In this ridiculous/awesome line, fans got to see Raphael don Sting’s iconic black-and-white face paint, Leonardo suited up in John Cena’s jorts, and Mikey got the Macho Man treatment. Adorned in a headband, Savage’s classic gold sunglasses, and those famous star adorned trunks, Mikey looks so convincing as Macho you would swear he just stepped out of a Slim Jim commercial.
13. CHIEF LEO
Leonardo: Calm. Collected. Casual racist? That is what the Chief Leo figure found in Playmates Wacky Wild West TMNT line seems to suggest. Adorned in some questionable Native American garb, Chief Leo is a whole lot of bad decisions wrapped up in one convenient package.
Ignoring the ceremonial headdress and accompanying paraphernalia, Chief Leo’s packaging makes some truly eye rolling Native American references. Armed with his “Totally Turtle Tomahawk,” Chief Leo’s blurb promises that Leo will give the “paleface” Foot Clan “a very close shave” when it’s “trophy takin’ time.” So while the other Turtles are busy yelling “Cowabunga” and slurping down pizza, Chief Leo is off scalping dudes. Offensive and weird, Chief Leo was a bad call all around.
12. TURTLEFLAGE VENUS
The less said about the short lived Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation TV series, the better. Turns out, the fifth turtle introduced in this series, Venus De Milo, would prefer you not only forget about this show; with her bizarre “Turtleflage” armor, you can also forget about your action figure, too!
In the wake of this mess of a TV series, Venus de Milo received a figure granting her camouflage armor. Turns out, the camo was just a little TOO effective. Resembling gravel, the armor would snap to Venus’ body, allowing the ninja to blend into her surroundings. But considering that the armor covered most of the turtle’s body, it was all too easy to put the figure down and promptly lose track of it. In this way, the armor was much like the character it covered; ill-advised and totally forgettable.
11. CAVE-TURTLE LEO
If there is one thing that all children can agree upon, it is that dinosaurs rule. With those razor sharp teeth and their massive scale covered bodies, kids are pretty much guaranteed to snatch up anything prominently featuring these terrifying titans. Clearly figuring this can’t lose formula would translate to the Turtles, Playmates decided to kick the TMNT back to the stone age, giving the world “Stone-Turtles.”
Problem is, the ensuing figures were pretty bizarre. Case in point: Cave-Turtle Leo. While Leo’s ninja brothers kept their standard dimensions, Playmates clearly opted to play up the “Mutant” aspect of the brand name, scrunching Leo into a stocky, neck-less monstrosity. Because kids were clearly tripping over themselves to buy a Leonardo that resembled Tor Johnson clad in a fur diaper.
10. DWARF DON
The beauty of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that the characters work in just about any setting. Whether they are dwelling in the sewers of New York, fighting the forces of evil on the moon, or, as is the case here, cast into a fantasy world, the premise manages to work out. While the Dungeons & Dragons tinged Warriors of the Forgotten Sewer gave fans some fun characters, it also turned Donatello into a bizarre bearded dwarf.
While having a dwarf character in your fantasy story is pretty much required by law at this point, Don seems like an odd choice for the dwarf of the group. But seeing that Leonardo ended up the Conan the Barbarian stand-in and Michelangelo got a sweet suit of medieval armor, someone had to draw the short straw (pun intended.) But kids weren’t exactly clamoring for turtles clad in chest-length beards, so this figure earns a place on our list for its pure weirdness.
9. DRACULA DONATELLO
What do kids love more than beloved, kid-friendly characters? That’s right: Associating those characters with monsters that have been designed to terrify people. At least, that must have been the logic when the decision was made to mash-up the Turtles with Universal Studio’s famous golden age monsters. Each turtle got combined with a classic monster, with Leo becoming the Wolfman and Raphael becoming The Mummy. But it was Donatello’s Dracula figure that really left people scratching their heads.
With his prominent fangs, his widow’s peak haircut, and his dark and brooding outfit, this was a Donatello far removed from the Donnie kids had grown to love. While the figure may have scarred more than one child, at least the demonic Donatello understood the importance of safety; even as an immortal, blood sucking monster, Donatello still donned his elbow and knee pads.
8. CHIEF ENGINEER MICHELANGELO
When the Turtles were at their peak in the ’90s, there was nothing that Playmates wouldn’t try with the brand. Case in point: 1994’s Star Trek Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles line. And while most of the combinations make sense, poor Michelangelo definitely got the short end of the stick.
Leo became the fearless Captain Kirk, Donatello became the logical Spock, and Raphael got mashed together with the gruff Bones, while Mikey ended up mushed together with Chief Engineer Scotty. Never mind the fact that the Scottish engineer had nothing in common with the party dude from the Turtles; this mash-up also outfitted Mikey in a red Starfleet shirt, which is seen as a long time series indicator that the character is expendable and likely to die. So, if the Trek Turtles were to ever boldly go, Mikey would likely catch a phaser to the chest and die in the coldness of space. Because nothing says “fun for all ages” like the implication of inevitable death!
7. SLAPSHOT LEO
Turns out, you can only spend so many hours in the day beating up purple ninjas. Every so often, you have to find time to partake in a hobby, even if you are a six foot tall turtle. According to the 1991 Sewer Sports All-Stars line, there is nothing fearless Leonardo likes more than slapping on a pair of ice skates and high sticking any shlub unlucky enough to cross his path.
With a box blurb threatening to “stick it to you” and art on the packaging showing Leo short a front tooth, the implication is clear: this is one Turtle that doesn’t hesitate to play dirty. The Ninja Turtles stress honor in battle, but this clearly goes right out the window as soon as Leo hits the ice. Also, this figure raises plenty of questions: Where does Leo play? Do they have an ice rink in the sewer? How did they get it down there? How do they clean the ice? Did they get a zamboni into the sewer? Nothing as stupid as this figure should require this much thought.
6. PUNKER DON
There are lots of words you could associate with Donatello: studious, intelligent, logical. “Punk” probably wouldn’t make that list. But that didn’t stop Playmates from slapping a mohawk on the purple ninja and bringing the world Punker Don.
Released as a part of the Rock’n Rollin’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line, Punker Don finds the book-smart turtle rocking torn jeans, a beat up leather jacket, and a bright orange mohawk. As if the figure wasn’t eye-rolling enough, Playmates packaged Punker Don with the most punk instrument of them all: the keytar. Also, Don has his mouth twisted into what is likely supposed to be a Billy Idol-style sneer, but mostly makes Don look like he was the victim of a stroke. We guess “Keytar playin’, mohawk sportin’, stroke recoverin’ Donatello” just didn’t have the same impact as “Punker Don.”
5. METALUNA MUTANT RAPH
When Playmates slapped a cape and some fangs on Donatello, they gave a generation of kids nightmares. Clearly not satisfied with their role in mentally scarring children the world over, Playmates really doubled down on the “Monster” aspect of “Universal Monsters” and rolled out Metaluna Mutant Raph.
Based on the race of aliens featured in Universal’s This Island Earth, Metaluna Mutant Raph combined the rough and tumble Turtle with this creature from beyond the stars, birthing a plastic abomination. With his bulging brain, his menacing claws, and the roadmap of veins running across his body, Metaluna Mutant Raph looks less like a “hero in a half shell” and more like a “terrifying monstrosity.” Metaluna Mutant Raph is the perfect figure for children that want to have something leer at them with unblinking eyes from their toy shelf, ensuring that they never sleep comfortably again.
4. BANDITO BASHIN’ MIKE
Hoo boy. There are bad decisions, and then there is Bandito Bashin’ Mike. This figure is one burrito and a Menudo CD away from being the rarely seen “Perfect Storm” of racial stereotypes. But back in 1992, Playmates saw no problem with the mustachioed Mikey and released the figure as a part of the Wacky Wild West TMNT line.
From his curled mustache, to his sombrero, to his bandolier, to his lone golden tooth, Bandito Bashin’ Mike went all in on the outdated stereotypes. Compound this with packaging that labels Mike as “the Muscle-bound Mariachi Mutant” and claims that Bandito Bashin’ Mike’s favorite food is “refried pizza,” and you start to wonder if the shmuck who designed this figure just scribbled down everything he knew about Mexico before getting to work. Bandito Bashin’ Mike is about as true to Mexico as Taco Bell, and this earned him a place on our coveted list.
3. DON THE UNDERCOVER TURTLE
Remember that classic scene in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie where Raphael donned a trench coat so that he could walk unnoticed around the people of New York? Good stuff. Turns out, the whole “giant mutant turtle in a trench coat” bit doesn’t translate too well to the world of toys, because, as Don The Undercover Turtle shows, it just makes the figure look like he’s about to get slapped with an indecent exposure charge.
Sure, Don The Undercover Turtle is supposed to be a private eye, and he comes complete a briefcase full of top secret documents and a pistol to drive that concept home, but considering that the trench coat worn by the turtle ends well before the waistline, it’s easy to get the wrong idea. And that’s not even taking into considering Don’s horrifying disguise; according to the box, this mask is supposed to allow Donnie to blend in, but it’s hard to blend in when you look like a you’re wearing a loose fitting human face. With all the terrible decisions that went into this outfit, this figure is more of a “Double No Seven” than an undercover turtle.
2. FARMER DONATELLO
Forget all this ninja business. Throw out all of that mutant hero in a half sell nonsense. What kids really want is a toy line that captures the blistering action of being a farmer. At least, that’s what Playmates seems to have thought, leading to the creation of the thoroughly confusing Farmer Turtles TMNT toy line.
Thanks to the miracle of toys, kids everywhere could experience the white knuckle action of tending the land, gathering crops, and developing a problematic chewing tobacco addiction. While all four Turtles got lame farming figures, it was Donatello who truly ended up with the most yawn-inducing, shoulder shrug-evoking figure of the lot. Clad in a comfortable baseball cap and some sensible slacks, Donnie comes complete with a corncob pipe to chew on while grappling with the fear of producing enough corn to not have to sell his land to real estate developers. Oh, and he has a tractor. This figure is so boring it can replace anesthesia to put kids to sleep.
1. CRAZY CLOWN MIKE
While Playmates were probably hoping this figure would cause kids to say “Look at Michelangelo being a silly clown,” it likely made kids say “Oh God, get it away from me.” Released as a part of the Bodacious Birthday line that gave the world magician Raphael, Crazy Clown Mike isn’t just lame, he’s TERRIFYING.
With his unnerving face paint, his odd tuffs of orange hair, and his squirm-inducing outfit, there is a lot about this figure to scare away children. But it’s Crazy Clown Mike’s “wacky pants” that will really send kids running for the hills. When the button on the figure’s back is pressed, Mikey’s checkered pants shoot up, revealing unnaturally skinny pink legs underneath. Either Mikey has been skipping leg day or this is some sort of horror wearing Michelangelo’s face that just couldn’t replicate his legs? Neither option is good. Crazy Clown Mike definitely earned his place at the top of our list.
Can you remember any other oddball TMNT variant toy outfits? If so, dress up the comments with your own fashionable entries!
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