Tag Archives: saban entertainment

Dec. 25 – Samurai Pizza Cats – “The Cheese Who Stole Christmas”

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Original air date December 25, 1990 (Japan)

Welcome, Christmas Day! Hopefully you’re not hungover from too much Christmas partying last night, and if you are, hopefully it was worth it. By now, Santa should have deposited presents under the tree, if you were good this year, and hopefully he remembered the batteries. It’s been fun, but this post means we are done for the year. Christmas often lingers though into the new year, but once the holiday comes and goes it loses some its luster. Lets not dwell on the holiday coming to an end though, as we still have one more holiday special to enjoy! Maybe. Hopefully…

Samurai Pizza Cats sure sounds similar to another show, doesn’t it? That’s obviously by design as starting in the late 80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the world by storm and made lots of people lots of money. The ridiculously named property originated in comics, but once it made the move to television it had to be altered to make it more kid-friendly and toy-friendly. As part of that adaptation, the Turtles were given a favorite food, and since they live in New York, pizza was the chosen entrée. And boy did they like pizza, it was basically all they ate on the show. Given how silly the show was, it’s not at all surprising to find it was ripe for parody, and that’s partly how we got the Samurai Pizza Cats.

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The heroes of the show (left to right): Guido, Polly, and Speedy.

I say partly, because that’s not the show’s original name. Samurai Pizza Cats is a Japanese production originally titled as Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (which directly translates to Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee). When Saban got ahold of it is when it became known by its new English name. Allegedly, when Saban licensed it for global distribution they received either poor or no translations for the scripts so they basically just made up their own lore for the show. The show takes place in a version of Tokyo in which anthropomorphized animals dwell and some (all?) are partly cybernetic, including our heroes. They work in a pizza restaurant by day, but when duty calls they become heroes. The villain of the show is the local prime minister who is corrupt. The palace guard for the emperor is aware of the corruption, but he can’t prove it, so he relies on the heroic cats to stop the evil deeds.

The English script and dub, being wholly original, might cause anime fans to turn up their noses, but for my money it’s actually pretty well done. The show is just full of parody, pop culture gags, and lots of fourth-wall breaking. I didn’t watch this show as a kid (I don’t think it came to the US until 1996), so I’m not super familiar with it, but I was entertained by the script of this episode. Even if I didn’t tell you it was redone when brought over from Japan you would likely figure that out rather easily just by watching it. It’s very American, but it doesn’t try to hide the more anime moments and pretty much runs with it.

Our main characters are a trio of Samurai warriors who look like cute versions of the Ronin Warriors with a dash of Mega Man. They have a real cybernetic look to them and I assumed this was how they went into battle, but they actually add more armor and such when they prepare to fight (accompanied by traditional transformation animation that looks way better than the other animation in the episode). The three cats are Polly Esther, Guido Anchovy, and Speedy Cerviche. They’re joined by Francine who assists them from their headquarters and probably provides some tech support as well. Big Al Dente is the Chief of the Palace Guard and the one conspiring against the villain. He summons the cats when they’re needed. Big Cheese is our villain and is the Prime Minister of Little Tokyo looking to overthrow the emperor of Japan, who is named Frank. He’s supposed to be a fox, but Saban decided he looked enough like a rat to go with that instead. He’s assisted by the Ninja Crows and their leader Jerry Atric (hardy har-har) who he makes use of for his various schemes. And in this particular episode, ruining Christmas is the theme of the day.

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No messing around with this one, it’s Christmas morning right at the start!

The episode begins with a wild intro featuring narration that gives a general overview of the show. The narration is done by Michael Airington who is obviously doing a Paul Lynde impression during the opening song.. It’s a very jovial and announcer-like voice that works for the show. Legend has it that Airington was drunk on the job when he recorded the intro which may have even enhanced his performance. When the episode begins, the actual narrator is far more understated (and voiced by Terrence Scammell). The Pizza Cats are all receiving their Christmas presents as it’s Christmas morning. Guido (Terrence Scammell) seems unimpressed with a comb he receives and Polly (Sonja Ball) quickly jumps in to remind him it’s the thought that counts when it comes to Christmas presents. Speedy (Rick Jones) finds this hilarious and begins mocking her for her pure-hearted point of view. Polly tries appealing to the other female of the group, Francine (Pauline Little), who surprises her by going along with the other two as they shout at her Christmas is about the presents!

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They deserved this.

Lucille (Susan Glover) then enters to remark on what a lovely day it is. Lucille appears to be a sheep, though she has ram horns despite being female. She apparently owns a nearby tea house and Guido and Speedy are quite interested in her. They’re borderline lewd towards her, actually. Polly thinks she has an ally when Lucille enters, but she soon asks for her presents and adds she assumes she has lots and lots of them. This causes the narrator to chime in that yes, Christmas is all about presents, as the other cats look shocked by her response. Speedy and Guido go into their routine as they make each other laugh with each passing comment ending with Speedy pondering if Lucille wants them to take her out to lunch. She is not amused, and actually starts to cry. This causes the other cats to run in terror. I have no idea why, until Lucille basically explodes. Apparently, she has a lot of hardware under that kimono.

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Well, this guy hardly seems threatening.

The setting then pivots to the pagoda of The Big Cheese. It’s all decked out for the holidays as we see the villain awaking rather late on Christmas morning. Big Cheese (Dean Hagopian) arises from his bed excited to see what Santa has brought him. He’s wearing a nightgown and cap and the voice performance, combined with the clothing, gives him an obvious effeminate slant. I feel like a lot of villains were given such a characteristic during this era. He races to his giant stocking and hopes it contains a dance partner as pretty as he is handsome to take to the New Year’s Ball. We see an image of what he’s wishing for and it makes me wonder if in the original translation he was wishing to be the dancer. Instead, he finds a seemingly hungover Jerry Atric (Mark Camacho) who is quite receptive to the idea of being Big Cheese’s date to the ball. He then remarks that’s the last time he indulges in Timothy Leery bird seed, a noted proponent of psychedelic drugs so apparently Jerry here was up doing acid. Big Cheese then starts shaking the old bird demanding to know where his Christmas presents are. He tosses Jerry and he smashes into the screen prompting him to ask that someone please move the camera.

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Is there still time to change what I want for Christmas because I want this clock!

We then get a look at two other characters opening presents, Emperor Fred (Scammell) and Lady Vi (Liza MacRae). Fred appears to be a panda while Vi, his daughter, is a rabbit. She opens her gift and is ecstatic to find it’s exactly what she wanted:  a “Me” clock. It’s basically a cuckoo clock with her face on it. At the top of the hour, a little caricature of her pops out to shout, “Don’t tick me off!” Fred, who is apparently of limited intelligence, seems happy with his gift; a teddy bear that resembles him. Big Cheese is irritated to see the two enjoying their gifts when he received nothing. He heads to the balcony and looks down and sees all of the “extras” enjoying their presents too. He also notes that the producer’s family has a huge stack of presents as well. I love this fourth wall stuff!

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Poor Jerry has to give up his present to try and keep this brat in check.

He then directs his ire back at Jerry Atric. He’s happy to see he’s not enjoying a present, which leads to Jerry trying to downplay the whole present thing as he conceals a gift behind his back. Big Cheese sees it and immediately starts to get angry, but Jerry says it’s for Big Cheese from him and hands it over. This sates his boss, but only momentarily, as he opens the box to find ninja blades or something indicating it was obviously a gift for Jerry and immediately gets upset. He swipes at Jerry, but then goes into a tale about how his Christmases as a kid were just as bad as this one. We see a brief flashback where an excited young Seymour (that’s his real name) is opening a gift from Santa. His dad excitedly says it’s a real boy’s toy, which is a bizarre thing to say. He opens the box and sees a toy wagon hooked up to a toy bull. He proclaims “What’s this bull?!” and tosses it aside. Back in the present, Seymour starts shouting to the heavens about getting even with Santa. Jerry just watches and we hear some of his thoughts as he takes this all in. It seems he knows this is just going to lead to some crazy scheme he’ll have to partake in.

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For someone who has to work on Christmas, Speedy sure looks happy.

We then head back to see what the Pizza Cats are up to. Francine is taking orders and this show is quite adept at coming up with some gross toppings just like the Turtles did (sausage with mint jelly, in this case). Polly is ticked off that Speedy is apparently missing in action (I’m guessing he’s the delivery boy) and is taking it out on Guido. Meanwhile, some attendees at a Christmas market are enjoying some shopping. When a kid asks his mom why dad isn’t with them she says he’s at home waiting for the trickle down theory to take effect. As an econ major, this amuses me. Speedy is also passing through rather casually on his delivery route. He’s making up a song as he does so and seems to run out of words. Soon they spot a figure flying over the market – it’s Santa! He’s oddly in a one-reindeer open sleigh and looks a bit off. That’s because it’s obviously Seymour in disguise with Jerry acting as his lone elf helper. He passes out gifts to everyone which they happily receive.

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That dude is clearly not a rat, and also clearly not Santa.

Speedy sees the patrons greedily grabbing gifts and even gets knocked to the ground in the commotion. Maybe this is the start of him coming around on the whole giving is better than receiving thing? The people find the gifts are all masks, and soon they appear to be in a panic. Speedy takes note and wonders why Santa would do this. At the busy restaurant, a kid comes running in telling people Santa gave them creepy masks that won’t come off. Apparently they’re all stuck on, which is why the others seemed to be in such a panic. Guido and Polly take note as they run outside to try and help the crying mass of children. They can’t get the things off, while “Santa” flies overhead laughing all the way. He reveals that he put superglue in the masks and it’s at this point I realize his helper is not Jerry, but another character named Bad Bird (Michael O’Reilly). While Seymour enjoys his mayhem, Big Al (A.J. Henderson) is watching from the palace through a telescope and is sizing-up the imposter Claus. He recognizes Bad Bird and decides to put in a call to the Pizza Cats!

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So the headquarters for the good guys is just a giant gun. Something tells me that would have been a challenge to bring to toy stores in America.

We then get to see the transformation animation of the Pizza Cats. The three heroes jump into what the narrator refers to as laundry chutes, but they look kind of like pizza ovens to me. This takes them down a tunnel where their armor is put on. Meanwhile, the restaurant itself transforms as well with what is basically a giant revolver rising from the roof. The cats are loaded into it like bullets and then fired out into the sky as a trio of fireballs. The Paul Lynde voice and theme song return for this segment too and it’s quite a hoot. He cackles after delivering his lines as if he’s really amused by them which certainly makes the rumor about him being drunk at recording seem plausible. Francine chimes in with a little rhyme of her own essentially assuring her customers that everything is okay. She’s the one that engages the firing mechanism via a normal-sized revolver of her own.

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Bonus points for the festive heroic attire.

The fireballs fade away to reveal the heroic felines beneath them. They’re dressed in Santa suits and Speedy isn’t too pleased by this. Polly explains they’re dressed this way to restore Santa’s reputation. If the people see Santa-like beings saving Christmas, they’ll feel good about Santa once again. Meanwhile, Big Cheese is spreading more of his sinister gifts around Little Tokyo. This time though, the Pizza Cats drop in to prevent anyone from actually opening them. They first knock Big Cheese from the sky, who takes a terrible tumble along with Bad Bird. They then point out to the crowd of onlookers that this Santa is a fake, and they buy it. They start shouting fake as the Pizza Cats tell them of the nefarious gifts that await them.

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Even the villains in this show are kind of cute, in their own way.

Bad Bird ditches his disguise and goes after the Pizza Cats. He hits them with a bomb that knocks away their Santa costumes. The onlookers are then disappointed to see the Pizza Cats as this confirms they’re not denizens of the North Pole. Speedy shouts out what’s going on, while Big Cheese attempts to escape. When Polly points this out Speedy declares he won’t get away, “Not when I can pull out great props from no where!” And he does, as he produces a sort-of grappling hook that he tosses at Big Cheese to hook on his sleigh. As he pulls the villain towards him, the crowd runs at the sleigh and basically pummels the Hell out of Big Cheese.

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Robot #1. You can see why Speedy didn’t take it very seriously.

Bad Bird winces at the sight of Seymour getting mangled by jilted Christmas shoppers. He then summons another helper, this time it’s Hardy Boy, a robotic humanoid with a party hat. Speedy laughs when he sees the thing and mocks Bad Bird’s order to “Say your prayers.” He then pulls out his blade and jumps at the enemy only for it to blast him with a Christmas cracker that wraps him all up. Polly and Guido rush in to help as the robot fires some rockets their way. He then bends over as his party hat turns into a drill and is apparently ready to skewer the pair. Speedy then gets up and uses his sword to slash open the back of the robot. A big beam of light emerges and the robot falls away to reveal…

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Robot #2 is sort of creepy. I’m not sure why she has a bird beak, but whatever.

Another robot! This one looks like a female super model of sorts, only instead of a nose and mouth she has a small beak. The announcer seems to like her. Speedy is a bit intimidated and remarks that he hopes she’s not teed off. Apparently she is though, as she’s armed with a golf bag. She tees up a ball, and with a mighty swing she sends an explosive flying at the heroes. It rips through Guido’s umbrella and explodes on a nearby pagoda. Polly and Guido are a bit shaken, and then the robot starts launching more golf balls their way eventually sending them into the bushes. She then turns her attention to Speedy, and after some puns about making a point, she tosses a bunch of needles at him. Apparently golf isn’t her only gimmick as she’ll soon take note of Polly and Guido planning an attack. She then produces a giant pea pod, yes you read that right, which also contains giant explosive peas. I have no idea what her gimmick is at this point, but whatever.

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All right, we’ve had our fun and now it’s time to put an end to all of this.

Speedy has apparently had enough. He’s pretty ticked off that Santa’s reputation has been besmirched by these clowns and declares it’s time for the ultimate weapon. Yes, we’ve reached that point in the anime where the hero finally just uses the thing that always works. Speedy takes his sword and gets enveloped in an aura. The announcer even points fun at the whole ultimate weapon thing remarking the special FX guy was wondering when he’d be called upon. The sword basically splits into two better looking swords. With a cry of “Pizza power!” Speedy slices the air which sends energy slashes at the robot woman. She quotes Tweety Bird with a cry about seeing a “puddy tat” before she explodes. Bad Bird gets tossed as a result and he bemoans why they always lose to that sword. Seymour goes soaring by to answer it’s so stunt men have jobs. Speedy then reminds the kids who are watching to always eat their pizza as the trio pose triumphantly.

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Could that be the real Santa Claus? I’m still alarmed by the whole one reindeer thing.

We’re then taken back to town where all of the people are still suffering with their masks. A sight appears in the sky, could this be the real Santa Claus? He has what looks like a rocket sleigh and still just one reindeer, but the people are ready to believe anything. He drops some sparkly stuff on the crowd and soon the masks come off. Everyone is happy and also excited to find out that Santa is real! We then see that he is not, though, as it’s actually Big Al in disguise with Francine along to help. They’re just dropping some kind of glue solvent to get those masks off and Francine even makes a remark about Santa not being real, which is really odd to hear in a children’s show. Disturbing, even! The announcer even runs with it as he wraps things up by saying even if there isn’t really a Santa Claus, at least there are those willing to play the part. Thankfully, this isn’t the note we end on as we then pan to the sky and find the REAL Santa! He’s smiling and laughing and basically mocks the announcer before flying off passing by the moon in the process as he’s contractually obligated to do. And he too has just one reindeer. Clearly, this Santa is fraudulent as well.

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Ho ho! Now there’s the real Santa! And I thought this episode was going to blow the whole thing.

And that’s how this festive episode concludes. The machinations of this show are pretty straight-forward. The bad guy devises a scheme, the heroes arrive to face-off with he and his minions, they get beaten back, but then emerge victorious when the leader unleashes his ultimate power. It’s very similar to Power Rangers or Ronin Warriors in that regard. However, what elevates this program really is the script and performance of the voice actors. Now I’m guessing there is an offbeat quality to the original show, but I also get the sense that when the non-Japanese writers got ahold of this thing they felt it was pretty ridiculous, and it shows in their approach. Maybe that is offensive to fans of the original incarnation of the program, but it’s hard to deny a team of samurai cyborg felines that work at a pizza restaurant isn’t ridiculous on its own. The script was genuinely funny, and while there are certainly numerous bad puns, the show has this self-aware approach that actually makes those puns land in an ironic fashion. It’s silly and it’s fun. The only change I might have made was to not go with the title Samurai Pizza Cats. Because the 90s was full of sincere TMNT knock-offs, the parodic nature of this program doesn’t come through in that title. It probably should, given the silly-sounding title, but as I said the 90s was full of crap cartoons that make this one plausibly sincere. I know I and some of my friends dismissed it for that reason as a result.

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Gah! One reindeer! Are we sure he’s the real deal?!

For a 90s anime, this show is pretty consistent in terms of visual quality. I love the character designs as they strike a nice balance between cute and sleek. There is a nice melding of traditional Japanese settings with this cybernetic twist. The choice to dub Big Cheese as a rat is rather odd though as he clearly looks like a fox to me, but I guess that doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme. The animation itself is somewhat limited as the characters are so complex it would be hard to have them in motion all of the time. As a result, there is a lot of standing around with just mouth flaps moving and extremely fast and exaggerated motions when the characters actually need to do something. This is par for the course with anime so it’s nothing to be surprised by. I enjoyed looking at this one, and I might even watch some more.

As for a Christmas episode, I was expecting there to be some lesson imparted on our heroes. They held a very cynical view of the holiday, all except Polly, and their selfishness was never really punished. I guess they didn’t get any superior presents and they did get blown up, but Polly suffered too. Speedy did witness the greed of the townsfolk and obviously didn’t enjoy it. They also had to defend the good name of Santa and weren’t looking for a reward beyond that so I guess that’s good. Not everything needs a moral, and I suppose the offbeat nature of the program means this one in particular doesn’t need to say a whole lot.

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There may not be a ton of traditional Christmas cheer in this one, but they did sneak in this nice, festive, image just before the end.

If you wish to take in a viewing of Samurai Pizza Cats the easiest way to do so is via Amazon Prime Video. It’s free for anyone who has a Prime membership so no additional purchase is necessary. It’s also not exactly a well-protected IP so if you don’t have Prime you can probably find it without issue for free elsewhere. The show was also released on DVD, if physical media is still your thing.

And that’s a wrap for this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot! I hope you enjoyed soaking in the holiday via Christmas specials, good and bad. I enjoy doing it and I plan to return to it again in 2020! For now though, enjoy the day and get all of the Christmas cheer you can tolerate for tomorrow it ends. Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!


Ranking the Many Versions of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtles in TimeWith Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the airwaves, it felt like a good time to sit down and take a look at the various incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you are likely aware, the TMNT got started back in 1984 when writer/artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created their debut comic. Since then the four have become international superstars and seen their likeness adapted for television, film, a stage tour, and other comics over the years. Across these many mediums we’ve seen the four brothers sport many different looks, display different personality traits, while mostly adhering to the core of being mutated turtles that practice ninjitsu taught to them by their surrogate father – a rat named Splinter.

Whenever a new show based on an old property is unveiled, there’s almost always an immediate backlash by a certain portion of the fan base. It doesn’t even matter if the fanbase is inconsequential or even non-existent, as was seen recently with the She-Ra images unveiled, there will always be those who hate the new and prefer the old. And who am I to say they’re wrong? Hate it all you want, but you’ll always have what came before. I draw the line when folks say “they’re ruining my childhood” because that’s preposterous. Your childhood came and went, it’s history, there’s nothing to ruin. I’d encourage everyone to be open-minded and don’t be a slave to nostalgia because you’ll ultimately find more things in life to enjoy with such a mindset, but to each their own.

For this ranking, I am weighing the general design heavily above all others. This ranking is subjective and largely about how appealing I find the design of the four turtles to be. I am also giving a little added weight to the quality of the medium as well – does it hold up? Is it entertaining for children? All ages? And so on. I’m also just sticking to the comics, television, film, and stage show and not video games or toys. Most of the video games were based on one of those other things or strongly resemble another and the same is true for the toys. I don’t want things to get too unmanageable, so some of this may feel a little condensed, but you’ll see what I mean when we get to each one as I’ll note if there are any deviations. With that said, most of these all have some aesthetic charm to them, with only the very back-end of this ranking being particularly poor. Let’s get to it then, shall we?

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What have we unleashed upon the world?

13. Coming Out of Their Shells Turtles

I ended up with 13 distinct flavors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and by far the most dreadful would be the stage show Turtles from the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour. If you weren’t alive in 1990, basically the brand was on fire. No one could really explain it, and still can’t since the premise is so preposterous, but everyone was pretty sure it wouldn’t last much longer. Anyone with a financial interest in the TMNT was rushing product to shelves to capitalize as quickly as possible and someone thought a live show was a worthwhile endeavor. Utilizing two sets of costumes, the Turtles would appear on stage in some radical threads and would sing, dance, and mime fights with the bad guys from the cartoon. There were also backstage segments that were pre-taped featuring more conventional play style sequences for plot points. These costumes weren’t really meant to be seen up close since they were for the stage, and it shows. There’s no nuance to their mechanical mouths which just flap around. They have these crazy wide-eyed expressions and the added clothing items just look dorky, to put it simply. What was crazy though, is that these costumes weren’t confined to a live show. They had them appear on Oprah and in home videos so you could see just how terrible they looked. The home video and Christmas Special probably came out after the money had been made on the actual tour, but the Oprah thing still blows my mind.

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These guys smell.

12. The Michael Bay Turtles (2014 Film)

I know I look like some old curmudgeon for sticking one of the most recent incarnations in the 12th spot, but I can’t help it – I really hate these guys. It wasn’t a surprise to see the newest films opt for CG over costumes, even if it was still disappointing, nor was it a surprise to see a new look for the gang green. However, could they have made these guys look any uglier? They’re a monstrous mess, just a pile of weapons, belts, and clothing. They embody the same personalities we’ve known for years and yet feel so lifeless. Even only four years after the first film, and a mere two after its sequel, these guys already feel forgotten and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I really have nothing nice to say about them. I guess Bebop and Rocksteady were cool?

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Talk about a downgrade.

11. All Effects Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)

The third film in four years for TMNT was the abysmal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. I liked it well enough as a kid I suppose, though it definitely was my least favorite of the trilogy. As an adult I find it mostly unwatchable. I suppose it can be laughed at in a manner befitting only bad movies, but my word do those costumes look awful. The first two films featured costumes designed by the Jim Henson Company and were remarkable for the time. For the third film, Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema contracted All Effects and the results were less than spectacular. The main bodies of each turtle looks fairly similar, but with less texture. They clearly looked like rubber suits. The heads though were awful. The dynamic expressions of the earlier costumes were gone replaced with something more static and soulless. I am not certain, but my guess is All Effects just went with one head design for its costumes as opposed to Henson’s multi-head approach. These ones are a bit more frog-like and just off-putting. Making these worse, the personalities of the Turtles were also less defined. Corey Feldman reprised his role as Donatello from the first film and apparently was considered the star as his character had way more lines. Everyone was kind of jokey and just along for the ride with only Mikey displaying much range. A very unsatisfying end to the trilogy. The feudal costumes at least looked kind of neat.

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They kind of look like they’re melting.

10. The Saban Turtles (The Next Mutation)

It feels like I’m picking on the live-action costumes in the early going, but I guess it’s to be expected with such outlandish characters that originated in print. And it also has to do with money. The third Turtles film was produced on the cheap, and the stage show certainly was as well relative to a film budget, and if you know much about TV cartoon development in the 90s then you know Saban is notorious for being cheap. Saban is most famous for bringing us Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which took film from the Japanese show Super Sentai and dubbed it for American audiences as something different. That’s about as cheap as it gets for show creation. It’s actually a surprise that the company even wanted to do a live-action series of TMNT in 1997 well after the franchise’s peak years. Titled Ninja Turtles:  The Next Mutation, it required all new costumes and sets and must have been rather expensive relative to other Saban entertainment. Even so, there was no way it was going to match the costumes from the film series, and while you could argue these are worse than what All Effects gave us, at least they tried to change things up. This show also famously added a fifth turtle, Venus de Milo, and it sort of followed the continuity of the other live-action heroes. It was pretty hokey and more than a bit cheesy, but I suppose it has its fans.

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Passable, but also forgettable.

9. Imagi Turtles (TMNT 2007 film)

In what was a bit of a surprise, Warner Bros. tried bringing back the Turtles with a CG sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III 14 years after that film had been released. In truth, audiences didn’t need to know much about those previous movies to see this, just a general knowledge of who the Turtles were since a lot of time had passed in universe as well. The movie was okay, not bad but not exactly good either, and the CG was befitting that of a major studio. The characters mostly embodied the archetypes established in the first film, but the visual style was very different. The Turtles were more rounded with squished faces. Their skin was smooth and mostly free of any texture. They looked slippery and ever more frog-like than what we saw in the third film. It animated well, but the stills are some-what lackluster. It’s not the design I would have picked, but it was fine and not really noteworthy as this film is easily the most forgettable of the first four.

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I don’t hate this.

8. The Flying Bark Turtles (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

It seems premature to even include the newest version in these rankings, but here we are. I said a lot about them in my write-up for the first episode, but as designs go I don’t hate these. I appreciate the willingness of the producers and the animators at Flying Bark to try something pretty new. There are elements of the older designs in the new ones, but with this show the brothers are, for the first time, different subspecies of turtles. Even though I didn’t much care for the show, I can at least appreciate what it’s trying to do. And if we’re just going by looks, it’s definitely got more personality than what was ranked behind it.

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A lot more menacing than that old cartoon.

7. The 4Kids Turtles (2003 Cartoon)

We have arrived at what is perhaps our first controversial ranking. The 2003 series produced by 4Kids Entertainment is well-regarded. It came at a time when the kids who had grown up on the TMNT were willing to embrace something that had grown up with them while a new generation was also willing to dive into a show about mutated ninja turtles. The show was a back to basics, taking a lot of the material from the original Mirage Comics run and adapting it for television in a kid-friendly manner without pandering. The old chunky designs were replaced with sleek, muscular, frames and the skin tones of the old Playmates toy line was essentially made canon as each turtle was a slightly different shade of green. The personalities were a bit of an amalgamation of the old cartoon and comic, with Raph, Leo, and Donatello being pretty close to the source while Mikey was a bit more like the old cartoon character. Where this one sort of stumbles for me is with the decision to go with the blank eyed look from the comics and toys. It makes the characters look pretty cool in a still frame, but when they had to emote it looks awkward. A future series would integrate this better. Don’t mistake this ranking as an endorsement of the 87 cartoon over this one as I’d much prefer to watch this series over that one any day.

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Regardless of your feelings on this show, you can’t deny this is still what most folks picture when you say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

6. The Fred Wolf Turtles (1987 Cartoon Series)

Here is where we get to the big one, the most recognizable brand of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the one most responsible for the popularity of the franchise. These turtles actually had four some-what distinct looks, but we’ll get to that. In general though, the makers of the cartoon took the designs from Mirage and mostly added color and personality. The Mirage TMNT looked cool, but aside from Raph they didn’t offer much personality. They also looked the same and had those blank eyes which wouldn’t play well on television. To make up for that, the cartoon introduced the colored bandanas and pads unique to each turtle while also giving them actual eyes. Raph was toned down from a hot-tempered malcontent to a sarcastic prankster while Leo mostly retained his super serious persona. Donatello was made a genius, and Mikey a surfer dude. Oh, and they all loved pizza. Like, really loved pizza. It’s stuff you know all about now, and even though the cartoon basically existed to sell toys it at least looked pretty good. The first season, at least. In that one, the Turtles were a more muted shade of green with more musculature and a hint of a beak. Come the second season they were a bit brighter and more rounded. Weapons were de-emphasized and animators saw little need in actually showing their weapons holstered and so forth. By the final season though, they received a fairly radical redesign that introduced more blacks and a more angular shape. It was trying too hard to make the Turtles seem “dark” and “cool” and didn’t really play well. In Japan, a pair of OVAs were released that mostly featured the standard look of this serious, but gave the Turtles crazy transformation powers. You may remember seeing the toys for these on store shelves and wondered where they came from, well there’s your answer. I didn’t think either was really worth devoting a separate ranking to, but felt they were worth mentioning.

TMNT Archie

The storylines in the pages of Archie’s TMNT weren’t much better than the cartoon, but the artwork was a ton of fun.

5. The Archie Turtles (Archie Comics)

Alongside the original cartoon series was the Archie Comics series. This series basically captured the look and feel of the cartoon, but did at least experiment with making things a little more mature. I basically only decided to give the Archie Turtles their own entry because of what they did with Raph. Still keeping him mostly in-line with his cartoon counterpart, he was also made the loner or black sheep of the family and he wore all black for a while. It was confusing for me as a kid and I probably didn’t care for it, but now I look back and give Archie credit for not just adapting episodes of the cartoon into printed form.

Mirage TMNT

I’m guessing you’ve seen this image before, and probably not on the cover of a comic book.

4. Mirage Comics

All style, no substance. That’s pretty much the Mirage Turtles in a nut-shell, or should I say half-shell? While they did get better, initially the four characters were interchangeable. Chunky, but muscular, they were depicted in black and white and were only distinguishable by their weapons. Eventually, the personality of Raphael would be added and he was given a foil in Leonardo and a kindred spirit in Casey Jones. Leonardo would be made the stoic leader, while Donatello the introverted tech-nerd. Mikey never really morphed into the character we’ve seen elsewhere and he’s kind of hard to get a read on. Eastman and Laird’s artwork also improved along the way and their version of the Turtles from say issue 4 on is pretty damn good. Eventually, other artists were brought in to work on the books and you could do a separate listing on the various different takes they had on the characters, but for the purpose of this ranking I’m basically just going with the Eastman/Laird take. The peak of their art is probably best reflected, and most can recall it from the cover art to the first NES game. It confused the Hell out of me to see all four of the Turtles wearing red, but I sure thought it looked pretty bad ass.

Nick TMNT

The show that made April and Casey adolescents and made it work.

3. The Nick Turtles (2012 TV series)

It took some time, but the 2012 version of the characters seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did eventually grow on me. As far as personality and so forth was concerned, I was pretty much hooked from the start. The same archetypes were followed that we’re used to, but they felt more malleable and sincere. Leonardo wasn’t just some goody-two-shoes, he often struggled with being a surrogate Splinter when out on the town. Raph was a bit of a hot-head, but he didn’t strike me as being confrontational just for the sake of it. Donatello was a brain, but an insecure one. Mikey was still juvenile and mostly care free, but without being too over-exposed. This show pretty much nailed it as far as that goes. From a looks perspective, they basically went with the first movie, but with colored masks. The Turtles also featured three toes for the first time, an odd choice, but largely inconsequential. They wore wraps on their feet too which was different, but it made sense (those other turtles must have had some serious blisters) and added a little personality. About the only thing I didn’t like was the sometimes boxy-looking anatomy. Their shoulder muscles looked practically square, but it became less noticeable the more I was exposed to it. I loved that each turtle had his own body type and you could tell them apart by that alone. I also liked the little touch of making their eyes go blank when in combat. Definitely a move that’s all style and has no practical explanation in-universe, but it’s a cartoon so who cares? Have fun with it! This television series should be the new measuring stick for any future incarnation of the TMNT. That doesn’t mean they all should take the same approach, but strive for the same level of quality.

IDW TMNT

Maybe the coolest looking version of the TMNT yet.

2. The IDW Turtles (IDW Comics)

Alongside the 2012 reboot came a reboot in printed form. Kevin Eastman returned to the franchise alongside IDW Comics and presented a new version of the TMNT. It basically takes the tone of the original Mirage Comics, while also adding in the more developed personalities that would follow. The artwork is largely great, and the Turtles are back to wearing all red (they would eventually gain some color). If you’re an adult fan still mad about the new cartoon, well just head to a comic shop and read this series. This is the version of the TMNT made for those who out-grew the franchise, and from that perspective it’s pretty good. The Turtles will never be high art, and there’s tons of fan-service plots in this series, but in general it’s what most TMNT fans over 30 probably want.

Henson TMNT

I love these guys.

1.The Henson Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Secret of the Ooze)

Could there be anything else? The 1990 movie is still the best adaption of any kind of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Taking the Mirage look, adding in the colored masks from the cartoon, and also its own creative liberties resulted in a near perfect take on this green team. The four brothers all look different, all act different, and all go through their own ups and downs along the way. They have distinct personalities and challenges to face, and most of all the costumes created for these two movies are fantastic. I prefer the more realistic approach of the first film. That one was less intimidated by showing these characters for what they are, while the second one brightened things up and made them a little more appealing to look at from a practical sense. In other words, the Turtles of the first film looked like they lived in a sewer, while the ones in the second looked like they lived in an upscale apartment in Manhattan (which they did for a time). The first film is also very different in terms of style and tone, but the Jim Henson Company worked on both. The costumes received mostly minor tweaks between films, though Donatello looks almost completely different (he also had the biggest personality change as well, I guess because Feldman left the franchise). Both films entertained me a lot as a kid, but of the two, only the first one actually holds up. The second is basically a live-action version of the cartoon, though Raph still gets to inject a bit of conflict into the group dynamics. That first film is the best though. It hits the sweet spot between the gritty violence of the Mirage source material and the playful banter of the cartoon. It’s unlikely we’ll ever receive a better version of these characters, but maybe someone out there is just waiting to prove me wrong. I hope they’re successful.


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