Two weeks ago was Memorial Day weekend. Whenever holidays like these fall on a Monday or a weekend when the market is open, I go shopping to the Hartville Flea Market (in northeast Ohio). I often do not have a specific goal in mind while shopping, but sometimes I start the day off seeing one unique item I had not thought about and spend the rest of the day searching for similar finds. On this day, my unique hunt became Ninja Turtles action toys.
Like most children of the 90s, I was a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I wanted every action figure and playset that was available (with the exception of the sports collection – I just couldn’t handle the Michelangelo with a snake). The playsets my parents could not find at yard sales I made myself from shoeboxes. I not only owned several copies of the live tour soundtrack, but attended the stage show, freaked out about Shredder the entire time (which as I watch that special today, I probably should have been more worried that I was enjoying the music). Ninja Turtles was a big part of my childhood.
Thinking about my collection, I came back to a recent documentary called Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Released in 2014, just after the first of the newest movie reboot, the documentary looks at beginnings of the turtle craze, starting from its original comic inception as Kevin Eastman met Peter Laird, a young cartoonist who had already been working as a freelance illustrator for comics. With similar interests in superhero comics (especially the work of Jack Kirby), the duo jokingly created ninja turtles. The next year, a perfectly-sized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released, revealing the story of the four turtles and how the Shredder was defeated.
Turtle mania didn’t truly begin until 1986, however, when Playmates toys took interest in the property as their first Playmates-licensed action figures. To sell the products however, a cartoon would need to be released to market the toys. These 5 episodes would have been the only animated evidence of the turtles also, if not for producer Fred Wolf who fought for the rights from Playmates to continue the series after its initial marketing run. From here the series would run up to six days a week, with a multitude of figures, characters, playsets, specials and, before long, the movies and concert tour.
While this is an excellent documentary and a basic history of the 90s craze, it lacks just as much. As each piece of the puzzle is introduced (the comic, the toys, cartoon, movie, etc.) only enough information to explain its importance is discussed before jumping to a new topic. Given the cartoon’s 9-year run, along with 3 movies, an additional live-action spin-off series, two resurgences since the 90s, plus so much more surrounding the craze, 100 minutes is not enough to be a “definitive history.” Nevertheless, if you’re on a marshmallow and sushi pizza binge while looking back on the fandom as a whole, it is a perfect entrance to a rabbit hole.