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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Germany and Sweden) is an American animated television series, produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, Inc. which premiered in December 14, 1987, first as a 5-part mini-series. It was animated overseas in Japan by Toei Animation. The series featured the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters created in comic book form by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the property was changed considerably from the darker-toned comic in order to make it more suitable for children.
The initial motivation behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series was that, upon being approached to create a toy line, Playmates Toys was uneasy with the comic book characters' small cult following. They requested that a television deal be acquired first, and after the initial five-episode series debuted, the California toy company released their first series of Ninja Turtles action figures in the summer of 1988. The two media would correspond in marketing style and popularity for many years to come.
David Wise and Patti Howeth wrote the screenplay for the first five-part miniseries. When the series continued in the second season, comic artist Jack Mendelsohn joined the show as the executive story editor. Wise went on to write over seventy episodes of the series, and was executive story editor for four later seasons as well. Wise was fired partway through the ninth season after objecting to several changes demanded by CBS, and Jeffrey Scott took over as the story editor and chief writer for the rest of the show's run.
The show was in Saturday morning syndication from October 1, 1988 to September 23, 1989. Since it become an instant hit, the show was expanded to 5-days-a-week and aired weekday afternoons (in most markets) in syndication from September 25, 1989 to September 17, 1993. On September 8, 1990, it began its secondary run on the Columbia Broadcasting System Saturday mornings and ran as a 60-minute block from 1990 to 1994 and a 30 minute block from then until November 2, 1996. CBS canceled the original TMNT series because of FCC regulations stipulating that Saturday morning programming must contain educational material. The show was animated in Dublin, Ireland. In fact, In one episode, the Turtles visit Ireland to stop Shredder & Krang.
The show helped launch the characters into mainstream popularity and became one of the most popular animated series in television history. Breakfast cereals, plush toys, and all manner of products featuring the animated versions of the Turtles populated the market during the late-1980s and early 1990s, and a successful Archie Comics comic book based on the animated show, instead of the original black-and-white comics was published throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. Between 1988 and 1992, with their images ubiquitous in advertising, cinema, comics, magazines, music, newspapers, and television. Their action figures were top-sellers around the world. In 1990 the series was being shown on more than 125 television stations every day, and the comic books sold 125,000 copies a month.
At the time of its final episode, it was the longest running animated series in American television history. However, this record was beaten two years later by The Simpsons.
StorylineThe origin story in the 1987 animated series differs greatly from that of the original Mirage Studios comics, presumably to make it more appropriate for a family audience. In this version, Splinter was formerly a human being, an honorable ninja master named Hamato Yoshi. Yoshi was banished from the Foot Clan in Japan after being deceived by the seditious Oroku Saki, who pinned Yoshi's dogi to the wall with a knife, preventing him from kneeling before their sensei, which was seen as an insult. When Yoshi removed the knife, the sensei and his followers believed this to be an assassination attempt. Exiled from the ninja clan, Hamato Yoshi moved to New York City, where he lived in the sewers.
While living in the sewers with the rats as his friends, Yoshi one day found four turtles, recently bought from a pet store by an unnamed boy who accidentally dropped them in the sewer. Yoshi returned one day from his explorations around New York to find the turtles covered with a strange glowing ooze . The substance caused the turtles - most recently exposed to Yoshi - to become humanoid, while Yoshi - most recently exposed to sewer rats - became a humanoid rat, and started going by the pseudonym "Splinter". This, and the following Archie Comics, TMNT Adventures Comics, is the only origin story in the TMNT franchise where the Turtles come to Yoshi before being exposed to mutagen. Also, it differs from most other version in that Splinter is Hamato Yoshi and becomes a rat, whereas in most other versions, he is Yoshi's pet rat that becomes humanoid. This is also the only version in which the Turtles become fully grown immediately after exposure to the mutagen, whereas Splinter raises them from infancy in other versions.
Yoshi adopts the four turtles as his sons and trains them in the art of ninjutsu. He names them after his favorite Italian renaissance artists: Leonardo da Vinci (Leonardo), Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (Donatello), Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael), and Michelangelo Buonarroti (Michelangelo). This is the only time in this version where they are always addressed by their full names: Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. Each of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wears different color bandanas and different weapons: Leonardo has blue bandanas and has 2 katanas, Donatello has purple bandanas and has a bo staff, Michelangelo has orange bandanas and 2 nunchuks which were later replaced by a grappling hook, and Raphael has red bandanas and has 2 sais.
Meanwhile, Oroku Saki has left Japan and tracked Yoshi to New York City, where he intends to destroy him once and for all. He has become associated with Krang, a disembodied alien brain who has been banished from his home, Dimension X, where he was a great warlord. Saki has taken on a new persona, donning a suit covered with steel bladed armor, complimented by a long cape, a samurai helmet and a metal mask over his mouth. He has also taken on the pseudonym "The Shredder".
It becomes clear in the first season that the mutagen that transformed the Turtles and Splinter into their new forms was dumped into the sewer by Shredder in an effort to destroy Yoshi. Shredder thought it was a deadly poison. The Turtles vow to take revenge on the Shredder for dishonoring their master, as well as turning him into a rat. The Turtles want to force him to turn Splinter back into a human again. This quickly evolves into stopping Shredder's ongoing criminal career with the aid of Channel 6 reporter April O'Neil. The Turtles quickly take on the role of vigilante crime-fighters operating outside of the jurisdiction of law enforcement against any criminals, much like Casey Jones in the third season. For the first couple of seasons, it seems as if the Turtles are constantly preoccupied with hiding their existence. This seems to be slowly relaxed and, by the last few seasons, most citizens seemed to be well aware of them. They also frequently have to deal with citizens misunderstanding them, thanks to the efforts of Burne Thompson, April's employer, and Vernon Fenwick, a Channel 6 cameraman, who distrust the Turtles and frequently blame them for the trouble that the Shredder and Krang cause.
Shredder, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady(two street thugs morphed into animal form by exposure to the Shredder's mutagen), and a small army of robotic Foot Soldiers try to destroy the Turtles and take over the world. Much of their quest for world domination hinges on bringing the Technodrome (Krang's mobile fortress, and his and The Shredder's base of operation) to the surface as it was either stuck in the earth's core, Dimension X, the arctic, or Arctic Ocean.
In the last three seasons, the show, which had already lasted well past the average lifespan of most Saturday morning animated series, then went through dramatic changes. The animation became darker and closer to the movies style, the color of the sky in each episode changed from the traditional blue to a continuous and ominous dark red sky (which was commonplace with newer action-oriented children's programming at that time), and the theme song was changed, the introduction sequence added in clips from the first live-action film, and the show took on a darker, more action-oriented atmosphere.
In the last two seasons of the show, the Turtles finally banish The Shredder and Krang to Dimension X. They destroy the engines and the "transdimensional portal" of the Technodrome preventing them from returning to Earth, though he appears in a three part season ten episode The Power of Three. A new villain, Lord Dregg, an evil alien warlord, also appears as their new chief nemesis. Lord Dregg begins a propaganda campaign against the Turtles, turning the general population against them and in favor of him and his forces. However, Dregg is eventually outed as a villain and the Turtles are finally hailed as heroes within the city. The turtles also suffered from severe mutations that would turn them into big hulks and lose their intelligence temporarily. Also the TMNT acquired a new ally, Carter, a black male with an incurable mutation disease. In the last episode of the series, the Turtles trap Dregg in Dimension X.
In 2009, the Turtles, Shredder, Krang, and various other characters from the 1987 series returned for the 25th anniversary crossover movie Turtles Forever, in which they meet up with their counterparts from the 2003 series. Because of 4Kids Entertainment's union policy, none of the original voice actors were able to reprise their roles, and replacement actors were used instead.
While the story diverged heavily from the original conception of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 1987 TV series is probably the most notable and popular incarnation, and drove the franchise to the phenomenal status it would achieve in pop culture. The series was in production for nine years, and was still quite popular when it went out of production. It was responsible for introducing many of the catch phrases associated with the Turtles, such as "Cowabunga!", "Turtles fight with honor!" and "Turtle Power!", into our lexicon. The animated series was such a prominent part of the Ninja Turtles that many people consider it the definitive version.
This version is also renowned for its critically acclaimed soundtrack. Through most part the episodes featured a background music which reflected the mood of the situation (e.g. danger, action, exploration, confusion, mystery, winning), as well as ID music for settings such as the Technodrome, the sewers, Channel 6, etc. which contributes to the show's dynamic uniqueness. The soundtrack was composed by Dennis Challen Brown (credited as "D.C. Brown" and later as "Dennis C. Brown") and Chuck Lorre. Lorre penned the famous theme song (and did the spoken parts) and became a successful television producer. To date the soundtrack has never been released for retail, much to the dismay of fans. Chuck Lorre said he has never received any royalties in recent times.
In October 2012, a TMNT fan who was also a musician composed "re-orchestrated" versions of several of the more prominent themes from the show's first season. Volume 1 was released on October 22, 2012, and included 9 tracks:
1. Approaching Danger
2. Inside the Technodrome
3. A Positive Plot
4. What a Scoop!
5. Channel Six
8. Splinter Explains
9. Home Sweet Sewer
The creator has indicated that additional tracks will be forthcoming, though because the effort is a side project, could not say how much or when the next batch might be available.
Vehicles and Gadgetry
Like many animated superheroes, the Turtles have a wide array of turtle-themed vehicles and gadgets.
- TurtleVan (a.k.a. Party Wagon): A van that originally belonged to Baxter Stockman before he was arrested. Donatello rigged up the van with other equipment from Stockman's lab, including various monitoring devices and missile systems. The Turtle Van is the Turtles' main form of transportation. April used a van in the third issue of the original Mirage comic. Later incarnations also gave the turtles a stylized vehicle.
- Turtle Blimp: A blimp created by Donatello in the season one finale is one of the Turtles' modes of transportation. The blimp had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles logo displayed prominently on the side. The glider can detach from the blimp to allow the Turtles better accessibility where a large blimp would be impractical. This vehicle was scar-sly used in later seasons.
- Cheap Skates: Donatello made four skateboards in season two with propellers on the rear.
- Turtle Comm: Turtle Communicators (frequently shortened to Turtle Comms) are small and designed to look like turtle shells, and were created by Donatello. The Turtles, Splinter, and April each have one and can instantly communicate with each other. The Turtles' and Splinter's communicators stretch open where April's is built with a flip top to resemble a makeup compact. Zach, a fan of the Turtles, gets a Turtle Comm in the episode The Fifth Turtle. Even the Punk Frogs have a Turtle Comm. Krang, Shredder, and the henchmutants each have a comlink, a similar device for communication. Similar in function to the Turtle Comm, the Shell Cell in the 2003 series allows the characters to talk to each other.
- Retro catapult: Introduced in Season 3.
- Portable portal generator: Also Introduced in Season 3, and returned again in Season 10, acting as an important aid during the final clash with Dregg.
In the UK, TMNT was released under the name Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (TMHT). This was because of the controversy surrounding ninjas and related weapons such as nunchuks at the time. The intro sequence was heavily edited because of this, replacing the word ninja with hero or fighting, using a digitally faded logo instead of the animated blob, and removing any scenes in which Michaelangelo wields his nunchuks, replacing them with random clips from the show.
The TMHT version was aired in other European countries, including the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, in local dubs (the Finnish version was in English with subtitles, while Polish was in English with a lector). In Denmark the English censored version was aired on the national broadcaster TV2. It had subtitles as well, however, only season 2 and 3 were aired in this fashion. Season 1 was aired as one spliced movie, instead of the original five part miniseries. The movie was titled "how it all began", and included heavy edits from each of the five episodes.
After the 2 seasons had aired on Danish TV, the show was canceled, however it later returned with local dubs of episodes from season 5, and Denmark was also one of the first countries to get to see the episodes in which the turtles travel to Europe. These were also aired with subtitles.
The original series is currently airing in the early morning hours on TV2. All 193 episodes have been re-dubbed, and this time they aired in their original US unedited form.
In Spain, the name of the series was translated to Las Tortugas Ninja (with the word ninja in the title), but at first, the TMHT version was still used for dubbing, although the original TMNT version was also alternatively aired. Other European countries (including Bulgaria, France, Italy, and Russia) dubbed the original TMNT version.
In the Republic of Ireland, the series was initially known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just like the US version and the intro sequence was unedited when it debuted on RTÉ Two with the airing of the second season in September 1990. After the first two episodes were broadcast, the name was changed to the Hero Turtles version and the intro was edited, except for season one. Scenes with Mikey’s nunchucks and the word ‘ninja’ were always edited out in the actual episodes, though. In 2007–2008, episodes were aired in their original US unedited form.
When shown on the BBC, phrases like "Let's kick some shell!" and "Bummer!" were removed from the episodes. The series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was also referred to as Hero Turtles, possibly using the term hero to separate the television series from the live action movies. The 2003 television series, however, remained intact when shown in the UK and Ireland. This led the UK and Ireland to have a disambiguation between the two animated series, using Hero Turtles to separate the 1987 television series from the other incarnations of the franchise. In 2009, a DVD of the first two seasons was released under the Ninja Turtles branding, thus bringing this version of the franchise into line with the later versions.
Status of the 1987 TMNT TV series
The show is not presently broadcast anywhere in North America, however Teletoon Retro continued to air reruns in Canada until it was shut down. Many episodes were released on many VHS tapes from 1988 to 1996 by Family Home Entertainment. As of November 2012, all ten seasons have been released on DVD. All the seasons were previously available digitally on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes with most of the other TMNT properties, but are only officially available for purchase through VUDU as of February, 2020. The official Youtube page only offers Seasons 1, 2, 8, 9. 10 available for purchase as of February, 2020.
Mirage Studios does not own the rights to the 1987 show, although they owned one-third of the rights to the 2003 show. Nickelodeon has expressed interest in obtaining the rights of the 1987 series for rebroadcast, and in late 2010 acquired the rights to the entire franchise; shortly thereafter.
IGN named TMNT as the 55th best show in the Top 100 Best Animated TV Shows.
While the story diverged heavily from the original conception of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and has never been considered canon with the universe of the original Mirage comics, the 1987 television series is largely the most notable and popular incarnation, and drove the franchise to the phenomenal status it would achieve in pop culture.
Bill Wise (UK)
Greg Berg (1989 alternate)
|Master Splinter||Peter Renaday|
Townsend Coleman (1991 alternate)
|April O'Neil||Renae Jacobs|
Dorian Harewood (1989 alternate)
Jim Cummings (1990-1993 alt)
Townsend Coleman (1993 alt)
Bill Martin (1994, 1996)
Townsend Coleman (1989 alternate)
Greg Berg (1989 alternate)
|Baxter Stockman||Pat Fraley|
|Rat King||Townsend Coleman|
Peter Renaday (1993)
|Casey Jones||Pat Fraley|
|Burne Thompson||Pat Fraley|
Townsend Coleman (1989 Alternate)
- Jack Angel - Additional Voices
- Rene Auberjonois -
- Roxanne Beckford -
- Susan Blu - Zwerk (in "Shredder Triumphant")
- Rodger Bumpass - Titanus
- Hamilton Camp -
- Peter Cullen - Smash (in "Return of the Shredder")
- Brian Cummings -
- Elizabeth Daily - Quarx (in "The Starchild")
- Ron Feinberg - Titanus
- Dave Fennoy -
- Pat Fraley - Zak "The Neutrino"/Various
- Dan Gilvezan - Brick Bradley/Bugman, Rondo
- Michael Gough - Hitech (in "The Return of Dregg") & Red Alien (in "Divide and Conquer")
- Jess Harnell - Captain Zorax & Wolf Jaxon (both in "Night of the Dark Turtle")
- Dana Hill - Foster Fenwick (in "Too Hot to Handle")
- Brandon Hammond -
- Gaille Heidemann - Tempestra
- Aron Kincaid - Additional Voices
- Maurice LaMarche - Chronos
- Michael Laskin - Additional Voices
- Tress MacNeille - Kala "The Neutrino", Old Lady, Secretary
- John Mariano - Mondo Gecko
- Pat Musick - Mona Lisa (in "Raphael Meets His Match")
- Alan Oppenheimer - J. Gordon Hungerdinger (in "The Adventures of Rhino-Man")
- Rob Paulsen - Zach, the fifth Turtle, Various
- Thom Pinto - Dask "The Neutrino"
- Tony Pope - Additional Voices
- Jan Rabson - Kerma
- Phylicia Rashad - Dr. Jane Goodfellow (in "What's Michaelangelo Good For?")
- Peter Renaday - General Traag (7 Eps), Various
- Robert Ridgely - Groundchuck (in "Planet of the Turtleloids, Part 1," "Planet of the Turtleloids, Part 2," "Escape from the Planet of the Turtleloids")
- Robbie Rist - Jet McCabe
- Maggie Roswell - Caitlyn (in "The Great Boldini").
- John Rubinow - Additional Voices
- Lloyd Sherr - Captain Dredd (in "Escape from the Planet of the Turtleloids")
- Kevin Schon - Additional Voices
- Herschel Sparber - Additional Voices
- Brian Tochi - Yoku
- Ralph Votrian - Additional Voices
- Beau Weaver - Additional Voices
- Fred Wolf - Additional Voices
- Patric Zimmerman - Additional Voices
Lions Gate Home Entertainment has released the series on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. Initially it was released in volumes, with each volume containing 9-13 episodes in production order, with the exception of the first volume, which included bonus episodes from the last season. After six volumes, it has been announced that the series will now be released in season sets, starting with season 4.
For a more thorough list of which episodes are on each DVD, see the list of episodes.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date||Additional Information|
|Volume 1||5||April 20 2004||Contains all 5 episodes of season 1 and 4 bonus episodes from season 10|
|Volume 2||13||April 26 2005||Contains all 13 episodes of season 2|
|Volume 3||12||December 6 2005||Contains the first 12 episodes from season 3|
|Volume 4||12||April 4 2006||Contains the next 12 episodes from season 3|
|Volume 5||12||August 29 2006||Contains the next 12 episodes from season 3|
|Volume 6||12||December 5 2006||Contains the final 11 episodes from season 3 and the first episode of season 4|
|Season 4||39||March 13 2007||Contains the remaining 12 syndicated episodes from Season 4, all 26 CBS episodes from Season 4 and one of the final two syndicated episodes of which aired in Season 5, but were left from Season 4.
|Season 5||18||August 7 2007||Contains all 18 CBS episodes from Season 5
|Season 6||16||April 8 2008||Contains all 16 episodes from Season 6|
|Season 7, Part 1||6||May 12 2009||Contains the first 6 episodes of the Vacation in Europe side-season
|Season 7, Part 2||7||May 12 2009||Contains the remaining 7 episodes of the Vacation in Europe side-season
|Season 7, Part 3||7||May 12 2009||Contains the first 7 episodes of Season 7
|Season 7, Part 4||7||May 12 2009||Contains the remaining 7 episodes of Season 7
|Season 8||8||September 1 2009||Contains all 8 episodes of Season 8|
|Season 7 Complete Set||27||November 3 2009||Contains all 13 episodes of the Vacation in Europe side-season and all 14 episodes of Season 7|
|Season 9||8||August 16 2011||Contains all 8 episodes of Season 9|
|Season 10||8||August 14 2012||Contains all 8 episodes of Season 10 and the three Season 5 episodes that were omitted in the earlier Season 5 DVD as bonus episodes.|
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Magazine was a typical children's magazine published quarterly by Welsh Publishing Group, Inc during the height of TMNT popularity in the early 1990s. It was officially licensed by Eastman and Laird and available by subscription.
The $1.95, 32 page magazine featured kid friendly articles about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as a variety of subjects. Mirage Studios staff artists such as Dan Berger and Jim Lawson provided a majority of the covers and spot illustrations. A pull out poster was available in every issue and was painted by Mirage Studios artist Michael Dooney.
- The show was renamed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles when originally shown in the United Kingdom (and the Republic of Ireland) because British censors considered the show's original title to have too violent connotations. Changes have been done to reflect this, such as changing "Splinter taught them to be ninja teens" to "Splinter taught them to be fighting teens." The intro was also edited, using alternative scenes or freeze-frames in place of Michelangelo using his nunchuks. The movies and 2003 series were, however, released in the UK under the international name. This led to a titular distinction between the 1987 series and the 2003 series.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is listed at #27 of the 100 Greatest Cartoons.
- IGN ranked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the 55th Greatest Animated Show Of All Time in their Top 100 list.
- Repeats aired on USA Network's USA Cartoon Express from October 31, 1993 to September 13, 1996.
- Original Animation Cels from the TV series were on display at the offices of Cire Computer Productions when their office building burnt down in 2003.
- In the eighth season, the theme song was changed to have a darker melody, but still have most of the original lyrics. Oddly enough, even though Lord Dregg replaced The Shredder and Krang as the main villain in the last two seasons, the show's theme song remained unchanged from the season eight version and still mentioned The Shredder.
- Peter Laird made sketches of four mutants back when the show was in development at the request of making more mutants for the toyline by Playmates. The mutants drawn were of a warthog with a mohawk, a rhino, a mole, and a bull. The warthog and rhino were the inspiration for Bebop and Rocksteady, while the other mutants in the sketch may have been the inspiration for Dirtbag and Groundchuck. A dog mutant was also drawn, which could have been a prototype for Dumbo.
- ↑ Cohen, Susan. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Television: Who's winning the battle over kids' TV?", Washington Post Magazine, 1991-04-07.
- ↑ "TMNT: The Renaissance Reptiles Return", Kung Fu Magazine. Retrieved on 2009-12-27.
- ↑ RTE Guide, 8–14 September 1990 edition
- ↑ 55, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. IGN (2009-01-23). Archived from the original on January 19, 2009. Retrieved on January 24, 2009.
- ↑ "Turtle Trouble: Children: Some parents believe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles encourage aggression. Others say the Turtles are just harmless fun.", The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2010-11-09.
- ↑ "Turtle Trouble: Children: Some parents believe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles encourage aggression. Others say the Turtles are just harmless fun.", The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2010-11-09.
- ↑ "Ninja Influence on Australian Youth", The New York Times. Retrieved on 2010-12-29.
- The Technodrome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Website - Information about the 1987 animated series
- BandCamp.Com: TMNT 1987 Re-Orchestrated by Powder (a.k.a. Casey Jones)
- Original Theme Song Lyrics
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) at TV.com
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) at the Internet Movie Database
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) at the Big Cartoon DataBase