REVIEW: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES CLASSICS DONATELLO
Sometimes, the popularity of a given pop culture concept sincerely surprises me. I don't mean that in a negative way, at least not most of the time. I'll admit I don't get the popularity of zombies, or romantic vampires, or some of that sort of thing.
Some things that are popular, I get. Super-heroes, that makes sense. Sci-fi like Star Trek and Star Wars, fine. And I realize it's all a matter of personal taste and opinion. But if there's enough people out there with the opinion that something is cool, it's going to be popular.
A certain foursome of Turtles, trained to be heroic ninjas? THAT surprised me. Okay, they're cool. I don't have a problem with them in the least. I've gotten a kick out of their adventures, too. But it still surprised me.
And it's not that often that a popular concept can seem to wane in the public eye, and then make a comeback. And yet, the Turtles have done exactly that. Not only do they have a new animated series in Nickelodeon, but even the Classic incarnation of the Turtles have found a renewed popularity.
As one would expect, with the return of the Turtles to the airwaves, there's also been a return of them to the toy stores. And this has not only included their modern incarnations, but some seriously impressive Classic versions, as well.
Ever since the line returned to the toy stores, it's proven hugely popular. For quite some time, the average store display looked like a lot of empty shelf pegs. That's changed a bit, with the product finally catching up to the demand. But if they happen to be the Classic Turtles, well, in true ninja fashion, you'd hardly know they were around in the first place.
I knew the concept had made a comeback, both on TV and in the toy stores, and I'd heard rumors of a Classics line of particularly impressive Turtles, but it wasn't until I saw one at a local toy show some months ago that I knew they'd even been released. I've been waiting ever since for them to return to retail but I've largely had to resort to other means, until recently. Michelangelo I snagged at the aforementioned toy show. Leonardo I got through a reasonably priced eBay auction. Finally, one day recently at Toys "R" Us, they had restocked the Classic Turtles. And all that was left after a mere couple of days, was a single DONATELLO.
Let's consider the storied history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Donatello in particular, and then have a look at his Classics action figure.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a team of four teenage anthropomorphic turtles, who were trained by their anthropomorphic rat sensei, Splinter, in the art of ninjutsu, and named after four Renaissance artists. From their home in the storm sewers of New York City, they battle petty criminals, evil overlords and alien invaders, all while remaining isolated from society-at-large. The characters initially appeared in comic books before being licensed for toys, cartoons, video games, films, and other merchandise. During the peak of its popularity in the late 1980s through early 1990s, the franchise gained considerable worldwide success and fame.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created in an American comic book published by Mirage Studios in 1984 in Dover, New Hampshire. The concept arose from a humorous drawing sketched out by Kevin Eastman during a casual evening of brainstorming with his friend Peter Laird. The young artists self-published a single-issue comic.
Much of the Turtles' mainstream success began when a licensing agent, Mark Freedman, sought out Eastman and Laird to propose wider merchandising opportunities for the offbeat property. In 1986, Dark Horse Miniatures produced a set of 15 mm lead figurines. In January 1987, they visited the offices of Playmates Toys Inc, a small California toy company who wished to expand into the action figure market.
Development initiated with a creative team of companies and individuals: Jerry Sachs, ad man of Sachs-Finley Agency, brought together the animators at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, headed by award-winning animator Fred Wolf. Wolf and his team combined concepts and ideas with Playmates marketing crew, headed by Karl Aaronian and then VP of Sales, Richard Sallis and VP of Playmates, Bill Carlson. Aaronian brought on several designers and writer John Schulte and worked out the simple backstory that would live on toy packaging for the entire run of the product and show.
Phrases like "Heroes in a Half Shell" and many of the comical catchphrases and battle slogans came from the writing and conceptualization of this creative team. Accompanied by the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 TV series, and the subsequent action figure line, the TMNT were soon catapulted into pop culture history.
Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiered in May, 1984, at a comic book convention held at a local Sheraton Hotel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was published by Mirage Studios in an oversized magazine-style format using black & white artwork on newsprint, limited to a print run of only 3,000 copies. Through a clever media kit that included an ad placed in Comic Buyer's Guide #545, the public's interest was piqued and thus began the Turtle phenomenon.
When little-known Playmates Toys Inc. was approached about producing a TMNT action figure line, they were cautious of the risk and requested that a television deal be acquired first. On December 28, 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' first cartoon series began, starting as a 5-part miniseries and becoming a regular Saturday morning syndicated series on October 1, 1988 with 13 more episodes. The series was produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson Film Productions Inc. The show places a much stronger emphasis on humor than the comics do. Here, the Ninja Turtles are portrayed as four wise-cracking, pizza-obsessed superheroes who fight the forces of evil from their sewer hideout, and make their first appearance in masks color-coded to each turtle, where previously they had all worn red. Starting on September 25, 1989, the series was expanded to weekdays and had 47 more episodes for the new season.
In 1997–1998, the Turtles starred in a live-action television series called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation that follows the events of the movies. A fifth turtle was introduced, a female named "Venus de Milo" who was skilled in the mystical arts of the shinobi. The series seemed to be a loose continuation of the movie franchise, as Shredder had been defeated and the Ninja Turtles encountered new villains. These Turtles even made a guest appearance on Power Rangers in Space.
In 2003, a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series produced by 4Kids Entertainment began airing. The series was co-produced by Mirage Studios, and resulted in a cartoon that came across more closely to the original comics, creating a darker and edgier feel than the 1987 cartoon, but still remaining lighthearted enough to be considered appropriate for children. This series lasted until 2009, ending with a feature-length television movie titled Turtles Forever, which was produced in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the franchise and featured the Turtles of the 2003 series teaming up with their counterparts from the 1987 series.
The Turtles have featured in four feature films. The first three, produced in the early 90s and released by New Line Cinema, feature live-action, with the Turtles played by various actors in costumes featuring animatronic heads. The fourth, released in 2007 by Warner Bros., was an all-CGI animated film.
On October 21, 2009 it was announced that cable channel Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom, had purchased all of Mirage's rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property, and have announced that they are moving forward on development on a new CGI-animated TMNT television series consisting of at least 26 half-hour episodes. And certainly, it seems to be doing abundantly well, if sales of the action figures are any indication. But I won't say any more about that, since this review is for one of the Classic Turtles. And on that note, let's turn out attention to DONATELLO.
In the Mirage/Image comics all four turtles wear red bandana-masks -- which I've always thought must have been confusing as heck -- but in most other versions he sports a purple bandana-mask. His signature weapon is the bo staff. In all media he is depicted as the most knowledgeable of the four turtles, often speaking in technobabble with a natural aptitude for science and technology. He is named after the sculptor Donatello.
In the comics, Donatello is originally presented along with Leonardo as one of the two calmer turtles, and while the originals have no official command structure, in the early stories he is depicted as the second in command.
The second issue elaborated more on each turtles personalities and opened with Donatello soldering a circuit. Later in the issue, Donatello states that he is "familiar with some computer systems" and helps April O'Neil deactivate the Mousers. During the turtles' exile to Northampton, Donatello becomes obsessed with fixing up and repairing the many broken things within the farmhouse they were living in. Most notably he spent days and nights fixing the boiler to give his family hot running water and builds a windmill and a water wheel to provide electricity.
In the "Shades of Grey" storyline, Casey Jones encounters the turtle by a ravine as he was pondering "the fractal structure of natural patterns". Casey accuses the turtle of using big words and acting better than everyone else. Donatello suggests they should continue the conversation when Casey is sober. Grabbing a stick, an angry Jones continually pokes the turtle until he loses his temper and sends Casey careening into the water.
In the "City at War" storyline, the turtles return to New York to put an end to the Foot Clan's civil war. During a battle with Shredder's Elite Guards in the ruins of the Second Time Around Shop, Donatello falls through the floor and breaks his leg. Seeing their ally Karai subdued and about to be killed, Donatello grabs one of the Foot's machine guns and repeatedly shoots the Foot Elite. Donatello is visibly shaken by the violence and throws the gun away. At the end of the story, the turtles, April and Casey move back to New York, save for Donatello who chooses to stay in Northampton with Master Splinter to heal from his injury as well as reflect on everything that had happened.
Donatello's appearance in the Archie publications were largely based on the 1987 Fred Wolf incarnation, but with Mirage writers on board at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures such as Steve Murphy and Ryan Brown, a lot of references to his Mirage counterpart were made. Donatello was showcased to be pure of heart and soul, being able to pass through the Netherworld unscathed. He was also chosen of the Turtles by a group of aliens known as the Sons of Silence to share their wisdom. He was one of the few who could telepathically communicate with them. Donatello was almost a pacifist, detesting every time he used violence.
In the 1987 animated series, the first animated television series depicts Donatello as a genius who invents many of the turtles vehicles and equipment including the Turtle Van, the Turtle Blimp and the Turtle Com. Unlike the 2003 series his other minor inventions often malfunction, but many of them end up serving a practical purpose. In subsequent seasons he made many revolutionary inventions, the most notable being the portable portal capable of opening gateways to other dimensions as well as an early warning system which warns of impending attacks from other dimensions or from Krang and Shredder. Despite Leonardo being the official leader of the team, given the sci fi nature of the series it is Donatello who comes up with most of the plans and solutions to the turtles' predicaments. At times he displays little appreciation for human culture beyond the scientific community, and he even earned a degree via mail.
In the 2003 animated series, Donatello has a complex personality and thus is a popular character. Several episodes concentrate on him, as well as his emotional and intellectual struggles. As in his other incarnations, he is intelligent, good with his hands, and very introspective, frequently becoming pensive over things he doesn't understand. He also displays closeness with Michelangelo akin to that seen in the original movie. Even more pacifistic than his other incarnations, Donatello shows a greater interest in technology than his ninjutsu training. Even so, Donatello will defend his brothers at any cost, and he frequently assists the team in many ways through the technology he develops, mostly vehicles and communication devices. In this animation, Donatello is generally well liked by all of his brothers, never engaging in major confrontations with them. In fact, Donatello was the one to reunite his brothers against the Shredder in the episode "Same As It Never Was", having been sent to an alternate future where the team fell apart after he vanished.
In the first three live action films, Donatello is arguably less mature than he was in the original comics and the 1987 animated series, as he is shown joking around more. The first film never officially identifies Donatello as the group's resident "whiz kid", though he is occasionally shown tinkering with various devices and is seen to have a vast knowledge of obscure topics (he is shown to be a master at 'Trivial Pursuit' when playing against the other Turtles and later astutely labels Casey Jones a claustrophobic).
He takes his time deciding on the most appropriate victory cheers, though his choices are sometimes quite perplexing. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, however, clearly established Donatello as the most scientifically-minded turtle as well as the most introspective, feeling dejected when he learns that the ooze that created the Turtles only exists because of an accident, although Splinter consoles his dejection by pointing out that the circumstances of their origins cannot define their present worth.
So, how's the figure? Really, really outstanding. Playmates has created an incredible series of Turtles here. If you're looking for the ultimate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, look no further. Here they are.
You want detail? You want articulation (something the original action figures tended to lack somewhat)? You want a Turtle that looks like he stepped right out of the late 1980's and is still ready to take on the present day? You've got him, right here.
This Turtle is big. Donatello stands 6-1/2" in height. That's a good bit larger than the average Turtle figure, and in some sense, almost brings him into scale with other popular 6-7" scale action figures. Granted, when you're talking about a rather cartoonish-looking Turtle relative to the more realistic looks of human-based super-heroes or Eternian warriors, for example, that's not the easiest thing to determine. But if you use the live-action movies as a basis -- yeah, he pretty well works.
How do you produce a humanoid ninja-trained turtle? You give him a sort of oblong head with a noseless muzzle for a face, below the eyes, which are masked with a narrow bandanna. You put a huge shell on his back, and a segmented, somewhat armored-looking front to his torso, and then you have two relatively human-looking arms coming out of the sides, and two relatively human-looking legs below, but the hands only have two fingers and a thumb, and the feet have two big toes. Darwin would probably have a fit, but what the heck, it works.
To turn that humanoid turtle into a ninja, you give him the aforementioned bandanna-mask, as well as elbow pads, wristbands, knee pads, and a belt around his waist with a strap over his right shoulder and his initial on the belt buckle. And you give all the Turtles different colors of wardrobe so you can tell them apart. As mentioned before, Donatello's color is purple
Now, how do you take that Turtle, and create an action figure out of him that successfully earns the name "Classic"? You articulate it as much as possible. And make it look good in the process.
Donatello is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, fingers, thumbs -- yes, I said thumbs -- mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, ankles, and toes -- individual toes.
Now, when's the last time you encountered an action figure that could wiggle its toes? I have, on occasion, encountered action figures where the front of the feet are poseable, but never individual toes. Okay, so he's only got two toes per foot. Big deal -- they're still individually articulated.
The hands are even more impressive. Not only are the two fingers of each hand individually articulated, but the thumbs not only move back and forth -- they rotate! This gives Donatello an astounding level of dexterity in his hands. He can readily grip his personal weapon, and probably a great deal of other martial arts hardware.
The worst thing I can say is that a few of the articulation points are a little looser than I'd like. But that could very easily just be this figure. As of this writing, I now have three of the four Turtles (I told you they weren't easy to find), and I have not encountered this situation with all of them.
One thing that really impresses me about Donatello, and his teammates, is the figure's assembly. Now, please allow me to explain that. There are virtually no painted details on this figure. In fact, the only painted details on Donatello are the eyes, within his mask, a small row of teeth on one side of his head, showing through a slightly open mouth. and the initialed belt buckle.
Everything else on Donatello has been molded in the appropriate color of plastic to begin with. That even includes his chest, which surprised the heck out of me. His chest was molded in the gold color that you see in the pictures accompanying this review, and then attached to the rest of his green body. Everything you see on this figure was molded in the appropriate color, and then all assembled together. The body, the shell, the mask, the elbow-and-knee-pads, the wristbands, the belt -- everything. As I said, the only painted details are the eyes and the belt buckle.
The Turtles are all slightly different shades of green, as well. This has long been established in the toy line. Technically, Donatello is the lightest of the lot, but in the case of the Classics line, not by much. He's very nearly the same shade as Leonardo. Leo is very, very slightly darker, but I think it'd take a computer color analysis to determine by how much. They're otherwise very much the same shade of olive green.
Personally, I think the overall assembly procedure is great, even if I realize at the same time that there's virtually no other action figure lines that could get away with it. I can't see it working on Star Wars, or Masters of the Universe, or DC or Marvel figures.
But I'll admit, one thing that is one of my main griping points about action figures is sloppy paint work. I don't see it all that often, but when I do, I find it very aggravating. The lack of extensive paint details on Donatello nicely avoids this problem.
Let's consider his accessories. Donatello prefers a bo staff, and he comes with one. It's just shy of six inches in length, is a wooden brown in color, and has white wrappings around its center. This is a little unusual, since the other Turtles have some color-coding to their respective weapons. I suppose Don couldn't find any purple tape. He's able to hold it in his hands very effectively, and it fits into a sheath on his back better than I expected it would. I thought it would look like something he'd be inclined to trip over, relative to the more compact weapons of the others, but it works.
Donatello also comes with a display base, a circular, dark metallic gray manhole cover, nicely detailed and with the classic Turtles logo embossed on it. It's certainly appropriate to the character, but it should be noted that Donatello is abundantly capable of standing up on his own, especially with this range of articulation.
So, what's my final word? If you're any sort of Turtles fan, especially one with a fondness for the original series, which maybe you watched when you were a kid (or, like me, not so much of a kid, at least not chronologically), then you need to own this Classics Turtles Donatello -- and his brothers, although I will advise you they're still not easy to find.
Now, I just need to track down Raphael... In the meantime, I am truly pleased to have Donatello, and mightily impressed by him. I am certain that you will be, as well.
The TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES CLASSICS figure of DONATELLO definitely has my highest recommendation! Cowabunga!