TURTLES ACROSS THE AGES
As I said in my two reviews for the more recent films adaptations done by Nickelodeon, and that one guy, I am a major fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Borderline lieutenant colonel even. I grew up on the original films, tapes of the 80’s cartoon, and a hodgepodge of toys that, in hindsight, were beyond weird even for the TMNT.
I mean, TMNT and Star Trek? Talk about fanfiction crossovers am I right?
Anyway, as one can likely surmise from the picture above, I will not be discussing any one series or one turtle in particular but rather how much they’ve changed over the years and when those changes were implemented or have become more directly applied to the Turtles as a whole.
Starting right where it all began, the TMNT was originally a colorless comic book one-shot that went on to become a major series published by Mirage Comics. In that original series, the TMNT were, essentially, quintuplets in that they not only looked identical to one another but wore the same colored masks and gear, differing only slightly based on their weapons of choice.
It wasn’t until the 1987 cartoon series, and resulting comic book series by Archie Comics, where the first true distinction amongst the brothers was made. The first, and most obvious, alteration that was made was the colors of their mask with Leonardo being blue, Raphael staying red, Donatello getting purple, and Michelangelo wearing orange. This was also the series that introduced the bare basics of the Turtles’ respected personalities and in song form no less!
“Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but crude, and Michelangelo is a party dude!”
Thus were the first true TMNT tropes made and implemented in virtually every media following the original cartoon series to varying degrees. Leonardo is the leader and, for the most part, most emotionally mature of the group and is oftentimes the most levelheaded. Donatello is the genius of the group, though to what degree varies by the media insomuch that his fields of expertise vary. More often than not, he is the one chiefly responsible for the Turtles’ vehicles and specialized gear.
Raphael, particularly outside the ’87 cartoon, is the stereotypical hothead of the group to a point where he can, and has, inadvertently put himself and those closest to him in grave danger. He’s a reactive individual and more often than not, buts heads with Leonardo because of it.
Michelangelo is the comedic, laid-back, and an optimist of the highest order even in the darkest of times. He’s the kid of the group and is oftentimes the instigator of several shenanigans that otherwise could have been avoided but where he might fail in stealth, he rarely fails in bringing out a laugh even out of his enemies.
While this is the most generalized depiction of the personalities of the TMNT, this is not fully the case for their first animated incarnations. To be fair, the ’87 cartoon was made it was done with the strict purpose of selling toys and while the first season was somewhat serious, though nowhere near the level of the ending seasons of “red skies,” the TMNT were generally portrayed as fun loving teenagers.
Sure, there were moments where there was some distinction with their personalities, again especially so in the closing seasons, but there is a reason that a common running gag for the ’87 cartoon is mismatched voices among the brothers. Heck, it was a gag done in the very first episode with April mixing up which Turtle was which, but given that the Turtles were nigh indistinguishable back then.
This was dealt with somewhat in the live action televised series The Next Mutation, which I suppose was meant to be a play on a similarly named sci-fi show though the so-called “mutation” never came into play in the series itself. There were more than a few… hiccups shall we say in regards to this show, chief among them being the ever infamous “fifth turtle” whom I will speak of separately in a later review but the most prevalent one is that the brothers were given more physical distinction in the form of mask variation though they kept the belt buckles bearing the first letter of their name from their cartoon counterparts.
It’s not much, especially compared to a certain rendition later on, but it was the start in putting an end to the near clone-like quality of the Turtles’ appearance.
Eventually, we get to the 4Kids cartoon rendition and its “sequel” series, though arguably they qualify more as distinctive seasons… This rendition is affectionately known as 2K3 among fans, and it is the premiere of the TMNT being granted their first distinctive scale coloration outside the plethora of toys, which were colored as such to make them look even more distinct than just different colored masks and to better recognize the variations that didn’t sport the atypical Ninja Turtle look. I’m looking at you TMNT/Star Trek toys.
While these colors have changed somewhat in more recent years, the Turtles are commonly given these colors: Leonardo a bluish green, Donatello an olive or yellowish green, Raphael true/vibrant green, and Michelangelo a dark or bright jungle green. As I understand it, this was done primarily to better compliment their mask color of choice.
2K3 also introduced a LOT of attire variations to the TMNT, from futuristic gear to mystical tattoos, and even a brief stint where the Turtles turned into freaking dragons. While a great majority of 2K3 shared elements with the original comic book series, particularly in its earliest seasons, it also introduced a shell of a lot of new materials that ranged from the weirdly awesome to awesomely weird and that’s just talking about the Turtles themselves.
Trust me, it gets WAY out of control with the Shredder. I kid you not, the Shredder is a demon, an alien, and an advanced cyborg/artificial intelligence. Not all at once thankfully but it does get pretty close at times.
From scales we move on to another physical distinction in the form of their actual physical appearance beyond coloration. Upon the premiere of Nickelodeons’ TMNT, the brothers were made physically distinct from each other, no longer bearing a copy-n-paste-n-recolor appearance. One rather odd design choice for the latest incarnation of the TMNT is their feet, which aren’t human-shaped with toe toes but more akin to a tortoise’s own with three toes to match the number of fingers the Turtles’ have.
From there, and in reverse order this time, Michelangelo maintains his appearance of being the “baby” of the brothers, being both shorter than his brothers and having a bit of a baby with a speckling of freckles even to go alongside the vibrant blues of his eyes. Raphael is only slightly taller but is far more wider and muscular, evening sporting a small crack is shell, and his eyes are now a bright shade of green.
Donatello is tall and somewhat lanky, sporting a small gap between his teeth, looking every bit the stereotypical nerd of the four save a lack of spectacles over his brown eyes. Leonardo retains the same “generic” of their predecessors in that he has a more generalized body shape, neither too muscular or too thin, nor too short or too tall. His baby blues though are the only pair that have the atypical almond slant that most Asian cartoon characters are depicted having in Western animations.
Finally, we get to the most recent rendition of the TMNT, outside the plethora of mini-shorts that have premiered these last few years particular Turtles Take Time (And Space) as it is pretty much my entire point made into animated form. With Bay’s rendition of the Turtles, they are easily the most distinct from each other and any previous incarnation bar the token parallels of personality and color preference for their masks.
All four Turtles use recycled scraps of clothing and various objects for their gear with all but Raphael, who opts for combative wrappings, even going so far as to cobble together shoes for their two-toed feet. Leonardo goes a bit further with a set of chest and shoulder armor, giving him a sort of samurai vibe whereas Donatello dons not only a pair of spectacles but also a pair of highly geared up goggles and a backpack that I’d swear was stolen from the Ghostbusters.
Contrary wise, Raphael is the most simplistic, opting only for what’s necessary save for a pair of shades he keeps atop his head and, apparently, an endless supply of toothpicks somewhere on his person. Michelangelo is still the kid brother of the four, wearing a necklace of self-proclaimed “bling” and, hilariously enough, a pair of knee pads but given that he’s never without a skateboard, rocket propelled or otherwise…
Aside from their choice ensembles, the same physical differences shown in the Nickelodeon cartoon is reflected here save for a few minor differences. Donatello and Raphael are both among the tallest of the Turtles with Michelangelo still being the shorter one. Also, Raphael appears to have a scar over his lip and, like Donnie, has a more turtle-like face compared to Leo and Mikey who have more developed lips, especially in the case of the party dude.
As of now, no official imagery has been released for the upcoming series Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set to premiere in 2018 but if the trend remains the same, I’ve no doubt that they too will stand apart from their predecessors. If there’s anything that I hope to see changed in this series, or to be implemented more than in previous incarnations, I actually hope to see the Turtles in more clothes, or at least with an ensemble that better resembles who they are as individuals.