Going through the Catholic school system, my trinity of role
models were Michaelangelo, Jesus Christ, and Mom and Dad (together
they counted as one)strictly in that order.
I grew up
with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their stories, and I
still love them to this day. To come up with such a concept of
the most outlandish grouping of words, and then treat the material
with as much genuine care and respect as the creators Kevin Eastman
and Peter Laird did for so many years is nothing short of phenomenal
in my eyes. When the cartoon first broadcasted in 1988, the Turtles
instantly became pop cultural symbols for this countrys
youth, forces of good that encapsulated in us all young and hopeful
in heart the passion to do what is good even during difficult
times. They instilled in us the ability to accept who we are and
grow in ourselves with our special talents that are unique to
us. But most of all, they gave us our forever unquenched craving
desire to gorge on pizza pie topped with the most outrageous of
the Ninja Turtles as our heroes, as the only true American heroes
left in a country morally and spiritually bankrupt by DiC cartoons.
We were happy to make the Turtles happy and buy their cookies,
their cereal, their gelatin dessert, their Ellios microwavable
pizza no matter how much the crust tasted like a strip of soft
cardboard, and the sparse cheese, like mozzarella fish flakes.
That they spoke with surfer lingo straight out of a 1960s
Frankie Avalon Beach Blanket Bingo film made them all the
radder and more bodacious of dudes. That on top of all this we could
create an infinite amount of jokes in art class based on the real
Renaissance artists, well, that was just icing on the cakeor
should I sayjust extra cheese on a large pie to go.
the retail marketplace, the Turtles were no joke. They meant
serious business. Licensing executive, Mark Freedman, made a legendary
agreement with Eastman and Laird reportedly on a napkin and set
out to market the Turtles everywhere and on everythingfrom
toy stores, clothing stores, grocery stores, even ice cream trucks.
Toys was one of Freedman's first stops. A deal was made to turn
the Turtles into plastic, and in the first year of production,
the action figures brought in more than $25 million in sales,
which quickly rose to $145 million in the next year, and then
to a whooping $500 million in group sales in 1990 (link).
1990, was The Year of the Turtle, arguably the very peak of the
Turtle craze. The massively popular Fred Wolf cartoon series
was in its fourth season and not losing any steam with kid audiences
across the country (and across the world). CBS had acquired the
Turtles cartoon for the fall lineup that year and gave the heroes
in a half shell a whole hour on Saturday mornings in addition
to their regular four-day afternoon weekday schedule.
toy line was hotter than anything on toy store shelves in 1990.
The year brought the release of the Giant Turtles, those bigger
plastic versions of the Turtles that had cloth belts and removable
weapons that were just large enough to hit a cat over the head
withnot that I ever did.
In the regular
5" figure line, having exhausting all of the major players
from the cartoon, Playmates began releasing for the first time
toys based on minor characters that would show up for only one
episode, if any episode at all. This was when you had such figures
as Ray Fillet (a beefed-up manta ray with a winning smile), Pizzaface
(a zombified pizza chef who probably doesn't wash his hands before
making a pizza), and Mondo Gecko (a hip skateboarder reptile that
made geckos cool long before Geico enslaved their kind to sell
would still continue to ship out variants of the Turtles, like
Mikey in a blue and pink surfer wetsuit appropriately named "Mike,
the Sewer Surfer," or "Don, the Undercover Turtle,"
a Donatello figure in a trench coat disguise that made it look
like he was either trying really badly to keep his identity a
secret while out in public or else wanted an easy way to expose
himself on the New York City subway system.
And then there
were all of those wonderful vehicles too big to fit into toy chests
that also hit stores in 1990, such as the Mutant Module, the vehicle
that Shredder used to tunnel from underground to the surface.
(I wonder whose job it was to fill all those holes he made around
the city. Shredder could be so inconsiderate.)
If you were
as big on role-playing as I was as a kid, then you probably had
Michaelangelo's Sewer Exploration Belt in 1990, which comprised
of basically a compass, tongs, and other useless plastic that
hung around your waist. But! Everything was coated in a slime
green color! I wore mine during the kindergarten Christmas recital
underneath my Shepard robe in case Bebop and Rocksteady popped
up to try to pour ooze over the baby Jesus. I'd have my compass
and mutant tongs to foil their plans and earn my eternal place
in cloud Heaven.
I knew owned a Ninja Turtle figure. If they were cool, they owned
all four Ninja Turtles. If they were awesome, they owned a Technodrome,
the best toy ever created.
how important these toys were back in the day, at my school, if
you didnt have at least one Turtle figure, you were quite
honestly a social outcast. You see, most recesses involved going
outside with our figures stuffed in our pockets, each of us offering
a character or two to contribute to the story of the day (if there
were doubles of a figure, you tossed a coin to decide which was
the evil twin/fake clone). Often storylines came to one of the
Turtles delivering a massive blow to Shredder or another bad guy,
which gave us the creative power to then throw the offending action
figure as far as we could through the air (and pray that the nuns
didnt see). When throwing Shredder's goons grew tiresome,
wed put away the toys, and slip off our shoes a little and
kick them high in the air instead. There was plenty of kicking
and throwing in those days. We were all very destructive children.
In many ways, I still am.
1990, I distinctly remember attending the best birthday party
of my childhoodand possibly my lifeand it wasnt
even my own birthday. The boy was rather wealthy and lived in
a giant house, and his parents spared no expense on buying all
of the officially licensed Turtles party goodshats, tablecloths,
napkins, plates, candles, cake pans, even Ninja Turtle party favors.
Homemade pizza was the main course. (I honestly believe that the
heroes in green are single-handedly responsible for refining the
palette of every male who grew up during the nineties.) Everyone
at the party even got a bandana to wear! And the best part to
me? This kids last name was Angelo. I was pretty content
on being an only child up to that point before I knew that my
last name couldve been Angelo. My full name couldve
been Michael Angelo. It was an awkward drive home when my parents
picked me up later that day; the contempt in my eyes burned.
all happiness and good memories with the Turtles, however.
I experienced one of the most crushing events of any young boys
lifethe first loss of his loved ones. It all started innocently
enough with a day at the beach.
The four Turtles,
their plastic bodies splashing waterin and out, up and downswam
in the August summer sun yawning waves with the aid of my hands.
is the month of hurricanes, my mother told me by the waters
edge. Powerful hurricanes, thousands of miles far away,
so strong that the ocean trembles and makes undertows. Dangerous
for swimming. No swimming today, she warned and called for
me to get away from the water and join her on the beach towel.
as powerful as the Turtles, I thought. I couldnt swim that
day, but the Turtles could.
One by one,
I let go of my most beloved toys into the Atlantic Ocean, and
returned to the hot sand where I paved roads with a shovel around
When it was
time to pack up and go home, I went back to the water, to the
seas picking up, to pick up my Turtles.
the hold up? my mother asked, collecting the days
items into a white plastic bag.
rose over the jetty as I approached the rocks and moved towards
the edge, jagged and moist. Were they hiding? My Turtles,
I said, I cant find my Turtles anywhere.
She came to
the rocks, grabbed me away from the waves, and turned my body
to hers. "You didn't put them in the ocean, did you?"
I told her
I did to let them swim. She brushed the sand from her towel and
wrapped me in it and broke the earth-shattering bad news. Tears
began in my eyes as some saltwater shot by, and all the way home
my mother tried to explain again and again that my Turtles couldn't
swim, especially not during hurricane season. I never believed
her. I refused to ever replace them in case one day they showed
up again from their long swim. They never did.
it or not, sales of turtles shot up in pet shops during this sudden
rise of TMNT's popularity. In an even more heartbreaking story,
I have to confess: I begged for a turtle of my own to care for
when I was young. It was a box turtle that liked to live in a
cloth Playmobil Indian teepee in my room. Although he moved like,
well, a turtle, performed no real tricks, and was always messing
up his water dish, he was a good pal up until that fateful summer
afternoon when Mom forgot to bring him inside from the locked
car and I went carefree to the arcade.
he ascendedslowlyto The Bigger Teepee In The Sky that
day, along with all the other real ninja turtles abused by children
and forgotten by parents in the early nineties. I cried for days
after finally discovering him upside down in his beloved teepee.
I now pride
myself as an animal activist, with my main deployment of activism
being never to touch another living thing again.
several controversies surrounding the Turtles. With anything
that becomes popular draws the critics out to dissect and psychoanalyze
the day's popular trends. TMNT was an easy target for the "shield
our kids away from violence" family groups for its argued
over depiction of violent robotic ninjas and mutant animal freaks.
One of the
more outlandish claims came in a February, 20th 1990 editorial
by John J. O'Connor in The New York Times. Connor charged
the TMNT cartoon with racism because of the characters Bebop and
beasts with decidedly grotesque features," he wrote of the
characters, and then went into a musical history lesson: "rock
steady was a musical form devised in Jamaica in the mid-1960's,
while be-bop is a form of jazz with origins in black music of
the 1940's. What's the message?" (link).
I don't know,
Mr. O'Connor. I give up. What is your message? And I'm
pretty sure that Rocksteady was caucasian before his "African
beast" mutation. So, there! He's mulatto!
Roger Ebert, addressed both controversies in his review of the
have been expressed about the Turtles recently on two subjects:
the level of violence, and the presence in some Turtle stories
of characters that may imply negative racial stereotypes. There
is no racism in the film version, and the violence is fairly routine,
as these things go - stylized and not very graphic" (link).
Go tell 'em,
Roger! This almost makes up for the three-star review of Cop
And A Half.