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The Rise and Fall of TMNT

From the mid 80s to early 90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise left a huge impact on kids embracing Saturday morning cartoons, and teens who saved up their allowance for comic books. Eventually the series hit its peak with its first Hollywood movie, but when it comes to a trilogy of them and the last one ending on a sour note, how does that affect the fandom? That's what I'm here to talk about today, as I tell the tale of...

Following its 1984 debut in comics, TMNT became a successful, profitable franchise once the 1987 animated series came into syndication with action figures as a secondary selling point. The first season was surprisingly only five episodes long, but gained steam once more young viewers took notice of the show during those early weekend hours on the timeslot. Aside from it being a far dumbed down version of the comic universe, any new characters showing up in the cartoon were made to add more characters and mutants to the toyline. It's definitely corny looking back to today, seeing the phenomenal show opening, only to see how silly the actual episodes of the show were.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon became one of the longest running Saturday morning shows, lasting ten seasons and almost a decade worth of being on the air.

As the 80s decade was closing doors, the cartoon was at its fourth season and we would be getting our first look at the grittier, darker live action movie soon to be released in theaters, along with the NES port of the arcade game coming out around the same time. It was at this point that the franchise really hit the mark with bringing in more fans young and old as more merchandise was hitting stores. Trading cards from TOPPS, storybooks and even a handful of video games from Konami kept the TMNT mania going strong, and a second movie was out the following year.

The swearing from the first movie was nonexistent in the sequel "The Secret of the Ooze" as one of the features to be toned down for younger audiences.

1991 and 1992 still saw TMNT keeping its footing with the merch, toys, video games and the show. We now had two arcade games, with Turtles in Time having more impressive visuals, and the NES even got an exclusive beat 'em up called The Manhattan Project, undoubtedly where TMNT hit the high mark. But while we were left a year without another movie, many fans were speculating what the premise would be for it, and what kind of foes the turtles would be facing. Krang was obviously the most talked about since he was such a recurring villain of the cartoon aside from Shredder, what fans got instead was a shallow disappointment of an end of a trilogy. This time the turtles go back in time to feudal Japan as the villains this time are Norinaga, who captures April, and Walker, a weapons dealer who makes a proposition to Norinaga, and attempts to get rid of the turtles in the movie's finale.

Not only was it the weakest in the trilogy in terms of story and characters, the costumes for the turtles looked noticeably ugly.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III left a sour taste to almost everyone at the box office. The sales were great, but the fan approval wasn't as the TMNT fad had began to wane. The cartoon series was still running, but after the third movie being part of ninja turtle history it wasn't reeling in as many viewers anymore, soon having the later seasons giving the turtles redesigns and a slightly darker tone, as the fans called the "red sky" seasons since the sky was always red. The turtles had a new foe, Lord Dregg to take over for Shredder, but the remaining fans of the show were asking for Shredder to come back, which he did eventually, though it led to a rushed final episode. As 1997 came around we got one last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show, The Next Mutation, a live action series that aired on the new Fox Kids block.

The Next Mutation took a page from the 1987 show, adding cartoony sound effects to the action scenes, but April and Casey were nowhere to be seen and instead got replaced with a new female turtle, Venus De Milo.

I have to admit that I really never paid attention to this show. It was in continuity with the live action movies, with Shredder back (again) but I'm sure I wasn't the only one not interested in the turtles anymore. I still played the video games and watched the older episodes of the cartoon via VHS tape, but it just didn't feel the same after the third movie just tarnished its popularity.

How did the TMNT franchise leave an impact for you? Leave a comment and as always, see you next article!
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retrocrunch Posted on Apr 26, 2020 at 02:46 AM

I remember that TMNT show and them bringing in a female turtle. Not my cup of tea for a show and not the TMNT I grew up with.. I passed on it too. Great article BTW.

Benjanime Posted on Jun 01, 2019 at 05:34 PM

to put it simply, the third movie was so boring and lackluster to fans that they were losing interest in the franchise as a whole. thankfully the 2003 cartoon caused a resurgence and brought the fans back.

shakin steak Posted on Jun 01, 2019 at 07:26 AM

Interesting that the third movie went lighter, and the first run late cartoons went darker, but both failed. I will say it sounds like both had good elements that are present in the original comics (time travel and other villains with dark theme). So were things poorly managed, or was everybody just tired of the characters?

I never wanted to see the third movie. Honestly the first two are not good now and neither is the 86 series. However the 2003 show is decent. Nothing new though. It hews closely to the early comics. I think the lesson is to stick with quality writing from people who truly know the characters. Fast Forward was also good, imo.

I still like the early comics and video games. Growing up I had the four trade paperbacks released by First Comics and they really collect some great stories. I think it’s a shame how much embarrassing material has been published in the TMNT name.

Benjanime Posted on May 18, 2019 at 12:11 AM

i hadn't planned to honestly, this article was just my own perspective of the tmnt media's rise and fall in popularity in the 90s, and i didn't know about the "coming out of their shells" or "turtle music" vhs tapes at the time of my childhood. if i think about it i'll give the bay movies a second look and write a different tmnt article someday, but for now i have several other articles in my backlog. i just thought i'd cover some tmnt history since it seems a bit scarce here.

jkatz Posted on May 17, 2019 at 09:26 PM

I've never even heard of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. Just from looking at the photo I can guess why.
Are you going to cover the rest of the movies? I don't follow TMNT but I know there's at least a few more out there (not including the Michael Bay ones).

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