REVIEW: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES CLASSICS MICHELANGELO
You know a toy line must be insanely popular when you don't even really know that it existed, because you never saw it in the stores until learning of it through other means -- after it had already been released. Offhand, I can't think of any previous occasions where that's happened to me -- until now.
Certainly, I was aware of the return of the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. This fearsome foursome, having enjoyed a substantial series of animated adventures, starting in the late 1980's, followed by several live-action movies as well as a live-action television show, had seen their fortunes wane a bit, only to make a recent return with an all-new animated series in Nickelodeon, accompanied by a new line of action figures based on the series, produced by Playmates, the makers of the original Turtles toys.
The new toys flew off the shelves faster than you could say, "Cowabunga, dudes!" For quite some time, the only real evidence of them in any of the major toy-carrying retailers, whether it was Toys "R" Us, Walmart, or Target, was a series of shelf price tags and maybe some dedicated decorations. Finally, they started turning up in greater numbers to better accommodate the demand, and I was able to secure the four Turtles in their new forms.
I was, for the most part, impressed, although the new designs were just a little more stylized than I was used to. Although I hadn't been all that ardent a fan of the original Turtles, I had certainly seen their initial animated offerings, as well as their live-action movies, and these were more how I tended to view the Turtles.
I had heard -- rumors -- as much as anything, about a line of Classic Turtles, that were based more closely on their 1980's incarnations. But I never saw them. I had more or less started to assume that, for one reason or another, they simply hadn't come out. Such things had certainly been known to happen. The number of toys that have appeared in some form of early publicity, only to vanish into the ether when none of the major retailers expressed sufficient interest for them to reach the production stage, is substantial to the point of being downright depressing.
But then, I saw a picture of one of the Classic Turtles, on a Web Site that has its own "awards" ceremony, for the top toys of the year. And it certainly wouldn't have included the Classic Turtles if they hadn't actually come out. I learned from the host of that particular Web Site that the Classic Turtles had, indeed, come out, mostly at Toys "R" Us -- at least that was the only place that he'd ever seen them -- but that supply wasn't anywhere near demand, and that they disappeared faster than a real ninja could melt into the shadows and be gone.
So I was faced with a dilemma -- which I had certainly faced before -- of being impressed with what I saw, but not seeing it in person. That is, until I attended a local annual toy collectors' show, and one of the dealers had one of the Classic Turtles... and for a far more reasonable price than I was seeing elsewhere on the secondary market, especially online. The Turtle in question was MICHELANGELO, and he came home with me, and I could certainly see precisely why these particular Turtles were so astoundingly popular.
Let's consider something of the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and then Michelangelo in particular, and then have a look at this remarkable Classics Turtles 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 Michelangelo.
More fun-loving than his brothers, Michelangelo was given a much bigger role in the 1987 cartoon series, directed at a younger audience, than in the more serious original comic books which was aimed at an older audience. He came to epitomize the late 1980s and early 1990s popular culture incarnation of the TMNT, coining most of their catchphrases.
His mask is typically portrayed as orange outside of the Mirage/Image comic series, in which all of the Turtles had red masks, and his weapons are dual nunchaku, though he has also been portrayed using other weapons, such as a grappling hook, tonfa, and a three section staff in some action figures.
Michelangelo is consistently portrayed as the most light-hearted and friendly of the four Turtle brothers, Considered by some to be the 'Party Dude'. Upbeat and good-natured, 'Mikey' prefers to spend his time enjoying his life, but Mikey can be serious if the situation calls for it. While his brothers wrestle with the implications of their mutation and their place in the world, Michelangelo enjoys relaxing in front of the TV, skateboarding throughout the labyrinthine underground sewers that the Turtles have made their home, reading comic books, and in other media, eating lots of pizza. Michelangelo's innocent and childlike personality has led to him being referred to as the youngest brother. Michelangelo's brothers, especially Raphael, assume a protective watch over him whenever they venture outside of their abode, and they habitually expect little of their sibling during serious discussions. In the 2007 movie, Michelangelo is referred to by Leonardo as "little brother".
Though his abilities are often underestimated due to his position in the band of brothers, throughout the series Michelangelo reveals an unparalleled level of sensitivity to the feelings of those around him and, as a result, feels a very real and serious need to help those he believes are less fortunate than he. Michelangelo despises confrontation and avoids fights, especially with his brothers, at almost all costs. He simply laughs off most insults thrown his way and prefers to take a more light-hearted approach to solving problems. The other Turtles frequently become frustrated with his constant tendency to downplay serious situations and joke around during them, and it is this attitude that causes most of the conflicts between Michelangelo and his brothers throughout the series.
Despite their personality differences, Michelangelo generally gets along well with his brothers. He admires Leonardo for acting as the archetypal eldest brother and de facto leader, as well as a strict practitioner of bushido and ninjitsu. Michelangelo views Leonardo almost as a parental figure and will often look to him for reassurance. Leonardo is the stable pillar in Michelangelo's life, always silently watching and waiting, doing his best to ensure the safety of his younger brother. Leonardo frequently raises the issue of Michelangelo's safety in the 2007 film, on one occasion asking who would keep an eye on Michelangelo while he was gone. When they reunite later on, Leonardo is a little embarrassed when Michelangelo hugs him. In the 2003 animated series, when Michelangelo is challenged to a fight in the episode "Grudge Match", Leonardo takes up the responsibility of being Michelangelo's trainer. When the time comes for the match, Leonardo reassures Michelangelo by saying that "...If one falls, we all fall."
Similarly, Michelangelo looks to the hot-tempered and aggressive Raphael for emotional support and protection. Although Raphael acts tough and rebellious, he cares deeply for Michelangelo, even openly admitting that the mere thought of his brother being grievously injured causes him to experience violent rage. Michelangelo knows that Raphael will do everything in his power to protect him. However, out of all his brothers, Michelangelo spends the most time with his genius brother, Donatello. Despite vastly different interests and personalities, the pair seem to get along very well and rely heavily upon one another when fights occur between Leonardo and Raphael. Their closeness probably stems from their passive personalities, which set them apart from the more authoritative Leonardo and confrontational Raphael, and makes them common sparring and video game partners.
Although a well-trained ninja, Michelangelo is primarily a social being and lacks the discipline of Leonardo, the relentless ferocity of Raphael, and the quick mind of Donatello. However, Michelangelo makes up for these losses with the boundless energy, unorthodox fighting style, and fierce determination that he shows when he fights alongside his brothers. In several portrayals, Michelangelo exhibits a strongly creative side. In a side story in volume 2 of Tales of the TMNT, it is revealed that at an early age, Michelangelo was a talented artist. In the Image comics, Michelangelo became a published author.
In the original comic books, Michelangelo was initially depicted as fun-loving, carefree, and, while not as aggressive as Raphael, always ready to fight. He is much more serious-natured in the comic book than in the film incarnations, which have labeled his character a permanent "dude" talking teen. It was Michelangelo's one-shot in this series that fleshed out most of the traits that have become synonymous with the character, such as his playfulness, empathy, and easygoing nature. In one-shot story, Michelangelo adopts a stray cat (which he names Klunk) and also stops thieves from stealing toys meant for orphaned children.
After their defeat at the hands of the Foot Clan the Turtles, Splinter, April O'Neil, and Casey Jones retreat to a farm house in Northampton, Massachusetts which used to belong to Casey's grandmother. While there, April is worried to note that Michelangelo is not himself. He spends his days in the barn taking out his aggression on a punching bag. A scene shows him lashing out at his surroundings and repeatedly punching the wall of the barn until it breaks, then collapsing on it despondently, anger spent. The end of the story implies that Michelangelo's sorrow and frustration have been resolved, as subsequent issues restore Michelangelo's more relaxed, optimistic personality.
It is during the group's time at the farm we learn that Michelangelo also has an interest in comic books, specifically ones involving superheroes such as "The Justice Force" (comic book heroes based on The Justice League and The Fantastic Four). He also finds solace in writing fiction and has produced a story depicting himself as a ronin in Feudal Japan.
In the issue City at War, Michelangelo instantly bonds with Casey Jones' adopted daughter Shadow. In the second volume, the Turtles decide to try to live apart from one another. Michelangelo, social creature that he is, moves in with April and Casey so that he can be close to Shadow. Throughout the first two volumes, Michelangelo seemed to act as peacemaker of the team. These stories also laid the foundations which demonstrated his closeness with Donatello, their laid-back natures separating them from the more contentious Leonardo and Raphael.
Michelangelo is depicted in the live-action movies as the easy-going, free-spirited turtle. One of his movie catchphrases is, "I love being a turtle!" Owing to his popularity with children, he is given many lines and comes up with several slightly outrageous plans to advance plots. In the first movie, he and Donatello were regularly paired together while Leonardo and Raphael were arguing.
Michelangelo is regularly treated as the youngest brother and little is expected of him. Raphael and Michelangelo mostly have a love-hate relationship in which Michelangelo frequently antagonizes Raphael, but Raphael shows that he cares about him whenever he's in danger. He also seems to be very close with Donatello.
So, how's the figure? Impressive -- EXTREMELY impressive. No offense to Playmates, but many of the original Turtles figures back in the day were rather astoundingly lacking in articulation. Granted, that didn't slow down their popularity one bit, but for someone such as myself who was more used to G.I. Joe at the time, it was a little disappointing.
These days, when I hear the word "Classic", I tend to think of something like DC Universe Classics, or Masters of the Universe Classics. These two lines from Mattel, designed and sculpted by the masterful people at Four Horsemen Studios, have set new standards in the industry for precision, detail, and articulation. And anything calling itself Classic had better be prepared to live up to it, regardless of who it's made by.
The Classic Turtles most certainly do this, if Michelangelo is any indication. You want detail? You want articulation? 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.
For starters, this Turtle is huge. Michelangelo stands 6-1/2" in height. That's a good bit larger than the average Turtle figure, and in some sense, almost makes him to scale with those two Mattel lines I mentioned in the last paragraph. Granted, when you're talking about a rather cartoonish-looking Turtle relative to the more realistic looks of human-based super-heroes and Eternian warriors, that's not the easiest thing in the world 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.
Nothing that's going to get you a degree in either anthropology or zoology, but it looks cool.
To turn that humanoid turtle into a ninja, you give him the aforementioned mask, as well as elbow pads, wristbands, knee pads, and a belt around his waist with 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, Michelangelo's color is orange.
Now, how do you take that Turtle, and create an action figure out of him that successfully earns the name "Classic"? You articulate the heck out of it. And make it look good in the process.
Michaelangelo 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.
Quick raise of hands, people -- 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 Michelangelo as astounding degree of dexterity in his hands. He can readily grip his weapons, and probably a great deal of other martial arts hardware.
One thing that really impresses me about Michelangelo, something that sets him apart even from other action figure lines using the term "Classics", 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 Michelangelo are the eyes, within his mask, and the initialed belt buckle.
Everything else 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.
Personally, I think this 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. You wouldn't see, let's say, a figure of the Riddler done like this. What would you do -- glue all those question marks to him? Or a G.I. Joe figure. If he's wearing a camouflage uniform, it's going to need to be painted.
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. It's one of the reasons why, as much as I enjoy them, I'm always just a little concerned about each month's online offerings of Masters of the Universe Classics and the DC Signature Series. You never quite know what you're going to get until it shows up in your mailbox.
Given the extremely limited amount of painted detail on Michelangelo here, and I assume his three brothers are made in much the same fashion, as really, they can all use the same body, it would take a seriously unprofessional level of sloppiness to mess up the paint job. If you can't paint basic eyes and a monogrammed belt buckle, even in a mass-production setting, then you probably should've stopped being anywhere near paint after you washed it off your fingers in kindergarten. Fortunately, Michelangelo's painted details are indeed very neatly painted.
Let's consider his accessories. Michelangelo favors nunchuks, and these are just as impressively made as the figure. Michelangelo comes with a pair of nunchuks, and each one has an ACTUAL METAL CHAIN between the two long ends. There's something you don't see all that often -- although I'll admit a recent DC Signature Series figure, Phantom Stranger, had a real metal chain holding his cape on, as well as being used for a medallion around his neck. Some "small chain" makers are doing rather well with toy companies these days.
The nunchuks are extremely impressive, mostly orange in color with a bit of silver trim, and the chains are also silver. There are slots in the back of Michelangelo's belt for them to fit into, so he can carry them at all times.
The only thing that surprised me a little was that they were a different color of orange than Michelangelo's mask and other costume details. They were a somewhat deeper, more "orange" orange, as opposed to the somewhat yellow-orange that Michelangelo is wearing. Personally, I would've preferred to have seen that darker orange used on Michelangelo's mask, pads, and such, not just on the nunchuks. But really, this figure is so impressive I find it impossible to register that as any measurable complaint or criticism. Just a color preference observation.
Michelangelo 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 "Mikey" 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 Michelangelo -- and his brothers. But given how completely absent they've been from the toy stores, and where I found this one, you obviously don't need me to tell you that.
From where I stand, this is one down, three to go. And the individual that I bought him from claims that he's seen early pictures of an extension to the line, which includes some new characters, but that the Turtles themselves will also be returning. I fervently hope he's correct. And you'll know as such time as I'm able to obtain them, because I will certainly be reviewing them.
In the meantime, I am truly pleased to have Michelangelo, and mightily impressed by him. I am certain that you will be, as well.
The TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES CLASSICS figure of MICHELANGELO definitely has my highest recommendation!