Yes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I wasn’t expecting it to happen, folks – it genuinely caught me unaware. As I wandered the hallowed halls of the remodeled Toys ‘R’ Us this past weekend, waiting for my niece to pick out a new set of Barbie clothes for her own vast collection, they finally reclaimed my soul.
And as I walked with my set of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo action figures to the counter, it felt comfortable. Like falling into the world’s biggest bed, and then being surrounded by affectionate kittens and an endless supply of hot cocoa. I tried to rationalize myself out of buying them – “if they don’t have the whole team, I’ll leave them here”, “I don’t have the room”, “what are you, 10?”…. but as I dug through the pegs and revealed that final red-masked Turtle at the back of the shelf, I knew that they were coming home with me. As I remarked to my family as I reunited with them in the Littlest Pet Shop section, “You left me alone for too long.”
Of course, these aren’t the exact same Turtles of yore – these are the digitally-animated Turtles of 2007, which are fundamentally similar in everything from color to expression to weaponry, fortunately. Post-comic-book TMNT has always been a goofy franchise – never taking itself too seriously (except for the live Radio City Music Hall musical performance, which caused me to cringe so hard that I actually turned inside-out), and perhaps that’s the enduring appeal. Four Turtles with distinct personalities, bumbling villains, fighting action, and action figures produced in massive, ridiculous quantities. Secret Agent Turtles, Star Trek Turtles, Wild West Turtles, Turtle Trolls… yes, the variety of basic Turtles was even more ridiculous than the Hydro-Mech-Squirrel-Ketchup-Assault Batman figures out there – but they made a lot more sense, because they weren’t really supposed to make sense in the first place.
TMNT has accompanied the modern resurgence of key toy and cartoon properties from the 1980s and early 1990s. So far, we’ve had re-released He-Man, GI Joe, Transformers and Star Wars figures, all using similar or identical molds to those used in their original production, and even using nearly identical packaging. While Ninja Turtles have not been yet re-released in their original, bulky form, a vast majority of the original figures are still very inexpensive, if not well-played with. Playmates has taken the figural helm once again and produced a copious amount of figures based on the current animated show – which has already lasted over five successful seasons, and into the aforementioned animated movie, making it perhaps the most vibrantly enduring television cartoon property of all time.
Ninja Turtles were some of the first heroic drawings I made, and some of the most frequently played video games in the stash, even if I could never make it past the swimming level with the deadly pink electro-seaweed. In fact, my earliest action figure was an extra Casey Jones that my friend and neighbor got as a birthday present and passed along to me. We’d spend long hours sending the giant eyeball atop the spherical Technodrome rolling down the pop-out ramp, using Turtles for target practice. And still, I never considered myself a serious collector or aficionado at the time.
It wasn’t until I brought these Turtles home, opened them up, and displayed them in fighting poses on my drawing table that I realized that I actually have a TMNT collection already. Original figures, a handful of newer figures, Pez dispensers, video games, some video tapes, trading cards… when those four sets of two-toed footprints were no longer walking next to me on that beach, well… they were probably in the Turtle Van, but they were still there.