When NECA started on this journey into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon it first began with a video game. An adaptation of a video game, to be more precise. The 2016 San Diego Comic Con exclusive contained a four pack of the famous, green, pizza destroyers in a pixel deco. They were the first figures based on the turtles since the 2008 Mirage Studios figures which felt like the start of something special, then quickly came the end. Convention exclusives were the name of the game the following year when those same arcade inspired figures were re-painted in the colors from the now classic cartoon series and released as part of an 8 pack with Shredder, Krang, and some Foot Soldiers. By then, the craze had begun and collectors were paying crazy sums on the after market just to get these limited release figures. Relief finally came in 2019 when NECA was granted the license by Viacom to sell its TMNT products at retail. It’s an odd relationship, and the popularity has not really subsided one bit, but TMNT figures are definitely a lot easier to come by now than they were just a few years ago.
I was one of the lucky ones to get ahold of that 2017 convention exclusive set. I very much liked what I received, but there was no denying that the figures had begun life as something else. Now, it’s possible when NECA sculpted these turtles for release in that arcade pack they always intended on them being cartoon iterations as well, but for me, the sculpt definitely looked more game inspired than show inspired from the start. The colors and weapons and all of the extra stuff was there, but the head-sculpts just never screamed “80s cartoon” to me. Those figures have also aged and since NECA has made strides in the articulation department and as more new figures are added to the toon line the actual turtles start to look more and more average. I still like those initial figures, but I don’t get the same “ripped from the source material” impression from them as I do with Rat King, Splinter, or Casey.
It was a little over a year ago now that NECA’s director and main public face, Randy Falk, made it know that the company was planning on re-releasing the green machine as a four-pack. It was being promoted as a way to get the turtles into the hands of those who were late to the party or just plain couldn’t find the four at retail. The original plan was to have the set out for Christmas, but the shipping industry being what it is, things changed. We did get a tease though when NECA sent out some retro inspired checklists for their TMNT product designed to resemble the Playmates card-backs of old. They were just digital files, but they contained images for the four new turtles and all were sporting soft goods trench coats and cartoon-inspired face sculpts. It wasn’t long before more images were unveiled and information was passed on to collectors that these turtles would indeed feature the new head-swapping tech being unveiled in the quarter scale line. There was also some new articulation and the set would feature a whole bunch of other stuff. When I initially thought it was just going to be a four-pack with some extra stuff, I wasn’t too interested, but once I saw those images I had to have it!
The Turtles in Disguise four pack finally hit Target stores in April. Retailing for $125, the set is expensive, but not so expensive that it causes any kind of sticker shock, apparently. Sets have been flying off the shelves as quickly as they show up and the auction sites are loaded with listings of people seeking as much as $300 for a set. The initial shipment appears to be just concluded and it was a modest one that appeared to contain just 2 to 3 units and didn’t hit every Target in the country. This has set off a bit of a frenzy, but NECA has assured collectors this is just wave one of three with the third wave expected to include more units than the first two combined. NECA knows people want this set, it is the actual turtles after all, and it appears to be doing everything it can to get as many to retail as possible (which probably had something to do with the delayed release, as well).
In my area, I had zero luck tracking down a set, but then a fellow collector came to my aid on Twitter. A special shout out is reserved for Robert (@drcipherpeaks) who sent this set across the country to me and wouldn’t even accept full payment for the very expensive shipping. A great guy and a true asset to the collector community whom I hope to be able to repay in kind some day. I probably could have held out and scored a set from a later shipment or even via a Target web drop or eventual NECA pre-order, but it’s always nice to have the hunt concluded as soon as possible, so many thanks again to Robert!
Like NECA’s deluxe releases in this line, the Turtles in Disguise four pack comes in a box adorned with some delightful f.h.e. inspired artwork. It’s a window box with a flap that conceals the figures inside who are presented in their disguises and with their accessories laid bare. There’s a street theme going on with the interior artwork and there are loads of Easter eggs to find which I won’t spoil. I will say that some of the characters hinted at in this artwork have already been revealed since this was released so it’s fair to assume any other character present in this artwork is sure to follow. It’s also quite big, measuring approximately 19″x 9 1/4″x 3″ so if you’re planning on shipping any of these to some buddies you may have some trouble tracking down an appropriate box. The turtles themselves sit in a tray alongside some of their accessories with a second tray underneath securing the rest of the accessories and many hands included with this set.
Since it’s the Turtles in Disguise set, it’s probably not surprising to see that the turtles arrives already in their disguises. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael are all sporting blue pants and beige trench coats and happy expressions. Freeing them from their plastic prisons is actually quite painless as they’re each held in place by a single, plastic, strap that’s easily snipped away. Once out, they stand about 5 and a 1/2″ tall, just like their predecessors, and they should feel quite familiar to anyone who has those wave 1 turtles. The soft goods are done pretty well. The coat is tailored (by Nicole Falk), though not as extravagantly as the Raphael one from the movie line, and contains pockets and a belt to fasten around the waist if you prefer a closed look. Want them to go full flasher, simply pull the strip of fabric out of the buckle and let it all hang out. The collars are very stiff as the turtles usually wore them “popped” to better conceal their appearance in the show. You can push them down though if you prefer, and if you really want them to lay flat you could always get out an iron and go to town. The pants are far more simpler and include an elastic waistband to keep them up. They come with the pants tucked under the rear and front portion of the shell, though if you wanted to you could slide them over the front too. They’re very easy to work with.
When you do take these figures out of the box for the first time you will probably want to remove the coats. Even if you intend to display these guys in disguise, removing the coat is still a good idea as you have no idea how the arms are positioned out of the box. Some of mine had the elbow turned all the way around so if I had tried to bend the arm with the coat on it wouldn’t have worked and could have possibly broke. Removing the coat is far trickier than getting the pants on and off. I recommend popping the hands off first to make it a little easier as the coat is tailored to be just big enough to get these on. The only drawback to this strategy is you may cause a wristband to pop off, which happened to my Donatello. They’re just glued on, so it’s not a difficult repair or I could just let whatever hand is in place hold it on. At any rate, I haven’t ripped a jacket yet and I’ve put these things on and taken them off a few times now. Just be patient and try not to force anything and you should be okay.
Once the disguises have been removed you’re left with four glorious, naked, turtles! Seriously, the disguises draw attention to how naked the turtles are by default. These figures though are almost identical to the previously released figures, but with at least one obvious change. And that’s the head sculpt, which I’ll get into in more detail soon, but let’s just say these sculpts are far more toon accurate than what was released before. The other visual difference rests in the finish as these figures are noticeably glossier than the others. It’s a little bit disappointing because the rest of the line has a very matte look, but it’s not as bad in person as it looks in pictures. The chest and rear of the shell are still quite matte, it’s basically just the green skin that has a shine to it.
The visual distinctions are not the only differences though as these boys do sport some new articulation. Of the stuff that’s the same, we have a double ball, or barbell, joint at the head and base of the neck. It’s much smoother this time around and the figures have good rotation, tilt, and are capable of looking up and down. At the shoulders are ball-hinges and they were consistently the tightest joints on my set. There is a biceps swivel and another swivel at the elbow with a single hinge. The wrists are on pegs with hinges. All of the figures come with gripping hands by default with Leo and Raph having vertical hinges and Mikey and Donnie horizontal. Inside the shell, there’s a lot going on. There’s a ball joint in the abdomen that affords slight crunch and a little tilt. It also allows for a waist twist and you can turn their legs all the way around if you wish. This articulation is not new, but it’s far more loose than before causing some to think this is actually new articulation, but if you really want to, you can spin the legs on those old turtles too. What is new is below the waist we have the new style of legs. These are on ball pegs and they’re far more stable than before and allow for greater range. They can split, kick forward, and kick back. There is a thigh swivel, though it’s a bit limited. Below that we have double-jointed knees and new ankle articulation. The previous turtles just had ball pegs and weren’t the greatest. Now we have hinges and rocker articulation.
These turtles are definitely better articulated than before. It’s a bit subtle, but it’s certainly noticed and appreciated by anyone who likes to open and pose their toys. These guys are all painted, including the joints, so you’ll likely have a breaking in period when first opening them. My set was mostly fine, but every turtle had tight shoulders and elbows. Mikey’s right elbow also has some orange paint slop on it that’s hidden when the arm is straight, but visible when bent. I might try to get that off with a Magic Eraser or just some careful scraping. The only turtle that needed some help was Raph. His right elbow and left shoulder were quite stuck. I submerged him in hot water for a bit and it only helped a little. I was actually able to get the right arm separated at the biceps peg and just let the elbow and forearm sit a little longer submerged in the hot water. At that point I was finally able to get it to move, and having it removed from the shoulder meant I didn’t have to worry about snapping the peg. The left shoulder was more stubborn, and perilous, as it’s hard to put pressure on the shoulder hinge without stressing the biceps, but I got it to go with only some minor terror. Aside from that, my set is pretty free of quality control issues. There’s a few paint imperfections here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary so I certainly feel fortunate in that regard. The only disappointment with the articulation is we’re still waiting for proper double-elbows. It can be done, NECA just apparently hasn’t found a way to do it that it likes.
All right, lets talk about those new heads! Each turtle has two different “skull tops:” angry eyes and wide open eyes. Each also features the last new piece of articulation at the knot in the bandanna. It’s a simple peg and hinge so you can reposition the “tails” as you wish. It’s a nice addition, and each skull piece has it unlike the quarter scale Raph who needs to swap the knot from each top, though the knot was molded in green and then painted to match each turtle. Like some of the ankle and wrist hinges we saw last year, the paint flakes off almost immediately leaving behind an eyesore. On a knot that’s always behind the figure’s head it’s at least not as big of an issue as an ankle or wrist hinge. The heads though separate below the mask and we have eight mouths which include two of each of the following shapes: neutral, smile, yell, open mouth smile. It’s a great load-out of expressions as they all work really well with each of the eyes. Take the smile and combine it with the wide open eyes and you get yourself a happy, gentle, turtle. Swap in the angry eyes and now you have a cocky smile like the turtles just pulled a fast one on Shredder. It’s a fantastic concept because it opens the door for NECA to do accessory packs down the road to give collectors either more of what’s already here or new mouths and eyes all together. Maybe they do a sewer lair set one day that includes bunk beds? They could offer closed eyes, snoring mouths, or even mask-less heads! A few people may be a little disappointed they can’t replicate the same expression across all four turtles at the same time, but I prefer what NECA did here as I want my guys to have some variety anyway. And these expressions are just so much more toon accurate than what we had before. Just take the open eyes and yell combo which results in a frightened turtle. How many act breaks did we see as kids where the turtles are making a face like that because some new danger was just introduced? When I look at that face I can hear that foreboding music that would always kick in at those moments. And unlike my quarter-scale Raph, I’ve had really no issues with the heads staying together so that’s also a huge plus.
And we don’t just have the eight turtle heads to talk about, we also have those creepy masks! Early in the show, April felt the disguise needed to be more convincing so she got the turtles these weird looking rubber masks. They look like a cross between Alfred Hitchcock and Rodney Dangerfield. NECA included four of them in this set and they function as separate heads since getting a mask over those turtle heads would have resulted in something horrible. There are two each of a surprised face and a smiling face. The included hats fit on them really well, even better than they do on the turtle heads, and they’re a smart inclusion. Should NECA ever visit the idea of an accessory pack for the toon line it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few more of these with different expressions. They look great, but I do wonder how many collectors out there will actually display their set this way, unless they buy multiples. Photographers or those who just like to change their display frequently will certainly enjoy them though.
Beyond the disguises, NECA also included a ton of extra stuff. We have a total of eight extra sets of hands included in this thing. The turtles all come with gripping hands, and the extras include four sets of open palms, two sets of thumbs up hands, a set of gripping hands with a wider gap in the fingers for Raph, and a set of pointing fingers which also work well with Raph as a stylized sai grip. It’s a solid assortment, though I might have preferred to swap out two sets of the open hands for two more sets of vertical hinged gripping hands, but it’s a minor quibble. This set is also loaded with pizza as we have two full pies, one of which appears to be sardine and ice cream, and a slice that looks nice and gooey. There’s a skateboard with a nice turtle shell logo in the center, though it’s strangely missing any kind of peg to securely fasten a figure to. There’s a “The Hare and the Tortoise” book which is from the first season and it’s well painted. We also have a massive 80’s boom box which was also featured in the first season (when the turtles wear a more ridiculous disguise that will undoubtedly be immortalized in plastic by NECA eventually) that’s neatly painted. There’s a Weird Pizza hat for Mikey from his short-lived stint as a delivery driver and we’ve also got a Pigeon Pete. He’s just a little lump of plastic, like gerbil Mike and fly Shredder, but he looks cute and he’s a fun inclusion. Lastly, there’s also the weapons of the Ninja Turtles. They’re the same as the original release except that none of Mikey’s ‘chuks can separate from the chain as this set does not include the whirling effect piece. I was kind of hoping NECA would opt to include the sai that came with the Turtles in Time Raph, as I just think they look better, but it’s not a big deal. And if you’re wondering, Raph and Mikey still don’t have holsters for their weapons. You can kind of slip them under the arms, which works better for Raph than Mike, but it’s not show accurate. I wish NECA would just rip-off Bandai and include a swappable belt piece for Mikey so we could have holsters for his nunchuks when we want them.
There’s a lot in this oversized box and a lot of it is good. What’s most important though is we have some new turtles that really capture how they appeared in the vintage cartoon. There are so many different variations of those turtles between the actual show, licensing art, toys, comics, and other sources of artwork so everyone’s concept of that 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle aesthetic can vary a bit. This figure line though is based on the show so I want them to look like they came right off of my TV. These new head-sculpts capture the look of the show from Season Two through the show’s main run up until the redesign in Season 7. My preferred look will always be that original opening title turtle with the beak line and saturated colors, but this is great as a general cartoon look. Those NECA originals were fine, but the head-sculpts came from an unknown source. Maybe it was simply a case of them being video game turtles first, maybe it was a bit of homage to the Playmates expressions, or maybe it was just the best attempt at the time. All I know is this is an improvement and if you collect this line then this set is a must have, regardless of whether or not you bought the originals or not.
NECA’s Turtles in Disguise four-pack is currently exclusive to Target in the United States. I do not know if there are any international plans in the works. I have to assume this set of figures will be made available outside of the US eventually. It will either be this exact set, or maybe special two-packs or something. I think what is happening right now is that NECA knows this is a hot item and it’s prioritizing the retail release in the US because that’s where TMNT is most popular and demand is highest. The second wave of releases for this set should either be underway or soon to be so if you haven’t found one yet, keep checking. And should all three waves come and go, plus the online drop, and you find yourself still without a set of poorly disguised reptiles then worry not, as NECA indicated they will eventually do pre-orders so long as demand is there (and it will assuredly be). I get it though, if you don’t have one now and you’re after it then it can get disheartening, and even infuriating, to see others have better luck or see the many listings on auction sites. The only cure for scalpers is to not feed them so I encourage all collectors to avoid doing so, but at the end of the day, it’s your money and your decision. And if you need help, turn to social media. Find collector groups, hashtags, and trends and see if you can even find some local collectors. With a line this popular, a little help goes a long way. Good luck!