Several months ago, I reviewed a product called The Musical Mutagen Tour Action Figure Set. It was a set of toys based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stage show, Coming Out of Their Shells, from 1990. Back then, the Turtles were so unbelievably hot that they could sell out a terrible stage show in which actors in bad costumes jumped around on stage and mimed playing instruments to a backing track. The property is still hot enough today that a toy company, in this case NECA, could release a set of action figures based on those hideous costumes and sell the whole lot of them at a tidy $125 a pop.
In 1994 though, the Ninja Turtles franchise was far from its height. It had been two years since the abysmal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and kids had largely ditched the gang green in favor of comic book heroes and Power Rangers. For some reason a thing called Christopher Films decided that 1994 was the right time to do a direct to VHS TMNT Christmas Special. And since animation is expensive, they opted to do it Coming Out of Their Shells style. Now, I don’t think these costumes we’re about to look at came directly from those productions, but they’re pretty shitty. Horrifying even. I’ve always been amazed that this and other VHS specials exist of that era since those costumes were designed to look okay from a distance, not under the scrutiny of a camera.
As far as I can tell, no one associated with that old tour had anything to do with this. This was written by Tish Rabe who also did Turtle Tunes. Richard Berg, who as best as I can tell is most known for designing wargames, composed the music which is largely public domain parodies. As best as I can tell, I’m doing the Coming Out of Their Shells tour a disservice by comparing it to this as it’s more like the concept was borrowed, slightly, from that, but everything else is different.
It’s really not worth delving into it more than that, to be honest, since what I’m about to subject myself to is quite possibly the most wretched thing vomited up by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. I don’t blame any of the creative staff here, they need to earn a living like all of us and weren’t exactly presented with an opportunity to do anything worthwhile. I imagine if they had done something brilliant no one would have noticed anyway. Since the original cartoon series never received a Christmas special though, this is just going to have to do.
This thing begins with an intro in which a song plays over some cuts from later in the special. It’s edited together rather lazily as some shots will repeat during this thirty second bit. There’s almost no attempt to match the mouth movements of these hideous turtle costumes to the song either. These costumes are fucking terrible. They have no lips, and I suppose you may counter with the fact that you’ve never seen lips on a turtle, but by these costumes forgoing such a crucial piece of anatomy the result is when they sing it’s just teeth gnashing together. Their teeth are always exposed making these guys look rather deranged. There’s no attempt to create any sort of inside to their mouth either so when they open up it’s just blackness. Their heads are ginormous and for some reason the tails on their masks are about four feet long. Michelangelo (Alfredo Miller) is also wearing what I guess is a white scarf, but looks more like a strand of toilet paper. These costumes are so cheap you can see the straps for the shells going over their shoulders. And like the Coming Out of Their Shells turtles, they’re wearing sneakers. And for some reason Raph wants us to know they’re attractive.
We then fade to black and Christmas bells come in as the credits roll letting us know what terrible program is coming onto our screen. We’re then greeted by Raph (James Eric Anzalone) who welcomes us in as the Turtles decorate their tree. Leo (Ronn K. Smith) takes things over to sing his favorite Christmas song, a reggae-infused version of “Deck the Halls.” Since this is TMNT, we’re decking the halls with pepperoni. Leo sings with this phoney, and rather offensive, Jamaican accent that is beyond annoying. This is wretched. It ends on a sort-of punchline when Leo sings “Merry Christmas to the Shredder,” and the music drops. I thought we were being setup for a prime “Not” joke, but instead the song just finishes.
After that, the Turtles are getting ready to celebrate Christmas when they discover that no one bought a present for their master Splinter. The Turtles take turns passing the buck while I contemplate stabbing my ear drums to get rid of these hokey New York accents. The only decent sounding turtle is Donatello (Florence Reymond), who has a slight nasally, nerdy, voice. Honestly, it’s a perfectly cromulent voice for Donnie.
The Turtles determine they need to head out and try to secure a gift for Christmas. They sing a parody of “Over the Hills and Through the Woods” to find a gift for Splinter. Who thought it was a good idea to have the Turtles sing that song? How can anyone possibly appear cool singing this stupid song?! They dance through the sewer and I’m honestly surprised this much effort was put forth in creating these sets. Maybe they just found an old warehouse or factory to shoot in? At least it’s dimly lit so we don’t have to keep looking at them.
We immediately go into another song, “Gotta get a Gift for Splinter.” This might be a parody, but I don’t know. It sounds familiar, but maybe that’s just because it’s super generic. The song begins with shots of random kids banging on drums and stuff. There’s at least some thought put into this one, but it’s still awful. The vocalist is a poor man’s R&B singer and the chorus of “Gotta-get-a-gift-gotta-get-a-gift-gotta-get-a-gift for Splinter,” gets really old, really fast. The Turtles look so stupid bouncing around with their heads flopping all over the place. Shockingly, these kids aren’t terrified and seem to be having fun. The song then ends with….what? I think they all say “Tonight!” but then they shoot their hands up into the air like they’re saluting a certain past German ruler. Was that supposed to be a group high-three? I don’t know what they’re going for.
The song is at least over and Raph takes the time to remind us there’s only two shopping hours left until Christmas. Geez Raph, why are you admonishing all of us when you were just singing and dancing like a jackass? The scene cuts to Broadway and there’s a tree and a Santa Claus hanging out. Michelangelo takes one look at the tree and tosses his scarf over his shoulder, again, so it looks like he’s trying to choke himself. I know I am. Raph then puts his hand to his face and says “Oh no, he’s turning into that opera guy again.” Apparently in this universe, Michelangelo has a second personality in which he thinks he’s an opera singer. Cool.
Michelangelo then sings his opera. It’s not as awful as I thought it was going to be, which means this will probably be the best part of the special because “not as awful as I thought it would be,” seems like the best it can do. It’s still not good, and I want him to shut up. His song is just a love letter to the city of New York. There’s a Sbarro in the background and I’m surprised they don’t run to it when the song ends, but maybe Sbarro refused to be associated with this. When it does end, Michelangelo suggests he could sing for Splinter for Christmas, and then we get that “Not” joke I was looking for earlier. The Turtles discuss what they could get for Splinter, and their ideas are mostly poorly thought out like skateboards and a yo-yo.
I guess they figured things out though as we head back to the sewer for our next song, “The Wrap Rap.” They’re rhyming “wrap” with “rap,” that’s some next level genius here. I can’t decide if this is the worst part or not. Actually no, that Jamaican song was definitely worse. The beat sounds like something rejected by The Fresh Prince. It’s so bland and dated for 1994. I think white people associated those qualities with “safe rap.” When the song is finally over, the Turtles say good night. The screen is all black and I welcome this new oblivion in which I do not have to look at those awful, smiling, faces.
It’s Christmas morning, and Donatello is opening his gift from Leo. He likes it, but we don’t get to see it because the budget didn’t call for anything to be in the box. We’re then introduced to Master Splinter (Jack William Scott). Oh boy. He looks like something I found under my bed. He sort of has a Japanese accent, but I’m guessing he’s voiced by a white dude. He has the Turtles gather around him so that he can impart some wisdom upon them on this Christmas morning. Actually no, he just wants to rock and roll and open all of the gifts he got. Splinter’s idea of rock and roll is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” What an asshole.
Splinter’s shitty version of a shitty song is all about the gifts the Turtles ended up getting him. Want to know what they are? Fine…
- Pizza with pepperoni
- Comic books
- Manhole covers
- Video Games
- Silk kimonos
- Narrow neckties
- Yellow yo-yos
- Pairs of Sneakers
- April O’Neil autographs
When the song is finally over, Leo complains about how it’s the longest song ever. Normally, I’d shout down such hyperbole, but those three minutes felt pretty damn long. This whole time they’re having a party in the sewer and there’s a bunch of random kids in bad 90s fashion. The kind of stuff that was definitely outdated even in 94. The only attempt at a joke during the song is when Splinter gets to day 12 he forgets what he got on days 6 through 11. And the Turtles sure are terrible gift givers. What the hell is Splinter going to do with four manhole covers? Or three skateboards? At least they had the where-with-all to make the chopsticks one an even number.
Splinter then tells his sons that they are generous in heart and soul, which you know is setting up some lecture. He tells them that their love is all he’ll ever need, which is what a parent says to their kid when they get a shitty gift. There’s some attempt at a message here, with thinking of those less fortunate, but the Turtles care not for that stuff. Instead, they want to sing their favorite song: “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas.”
You had to know that one was coming based on the title. They encourage all of the kids to sing along, but since they’re a bunch of egomaniacs that need all Christmas songs to be about them the kids have no idea what to sing. Apparently no one told the camera operator as we are treated to several shots of kids just lazily moving their mouths and clapping to a song they don’t know. All of the kids dance like my dad, which isn’t a compliment, and the song just won’t end! Until it finally does. Michelangelo punctuates the closing line about having a turtley new year by raising his fist and you can see where the pants of his costume end and the torso begins. He looks like an action figure, a really bad one.
When the credits hit we’re only at the 19 minute mark, but it feels like the 90th. That was brutal – one of the worst Christmas specials I have endured for this. I suppose I’d rather watch it over some of the terrible, but really earnest and sappy specials, and that 19 minute running time (which stretches to almost 22 minutes when the credits are through) is a godsend at least. I want to say something nice about this thing, but I can’t find much. At least they tried? No, I wish they hadn’t! The plot sucks, the songs suck, the music sucks, the acting sucks, the costumes suck, the set pieces…all right, the sets are okay. Not great, but okay. That’s pretty much it though. This thing offends me. It offends me as a TMNT fan and as a Christmas fan. It’s very existence is an offense to an entire season.
Hopefully, we never see action figures based on this monstrosity. I don’t think I could even laugh at them. I can’t imagine anyone liking this other than maybe the youngest of children who simply haven’t been exposed to enough art to know better. Even most of them will probably find the Turtles off-putting and possibly terrifying.
Thankfully, this Christmas special is practically nonexistent in 2020. We Wish You a Turtle Christmas was only released on VHS and no one wanted it on DVD, let alone Blu Ray. No network will ever air this thing again, and only a few, possibly demented, souls are keeping it alive by posting it on YouTube and other streaming platforms. If you want to spend Christmas with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you’ll either have to get a VCR or just stream it. It’s not hard to find, because no one wants to claim ownership of this thing lest they be held responsible for its creation. My advice though is if you really want to spend Christmas with the Turtles just track down “The Christmas Aliens” from the 2003 cartoon. It’s nothing special, but it’s certainly better than this.