10 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’
Any self-respecting kid who grew up during the late 1980s through the early 1990s knows ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ like the back of their hand. Origin story involving mutagenic ooze? Wise old sensei in the form of a talking bipedal rat? Arch villain bristling with a set of pointy armor? Check, check and check.
But despite this easy familiarity with the almost 30-year-old series, there may be some things about the heroes in a half shell you didn’t know. There’s a ton of obscure trivia surrounding the comics, toys, cartoons and movies that would interest any fan. Check out our roundup below.
The Turtles Come from Humble Beginnings
The idea for the original comic came from a drawing by Kevin Eastman during a casual brainstorming session with friend Peter Laird in 1983. The doodle showed a masked turtle brandishing nunchucks, and the two were struck by the contrast of a slow reptile with the fluid grace of a ninja.
From there, they funded a single-issue comic in 1984 with money from a tax refund and a loan from Eastman’s uncle, and meant it to serve as a parody of four popular comics at the time — ‘Daredevil,’ ‘New Mutants,’ ‘Cerebus’ and ‘Ronin.’ Little did they know that the comic would give rise to a full-blown phenomenon.
The Turtles Share an Origin Story With ‘Daredevil’
The connection between ‘Daredevil’ and ‘TMNT’ is particularly striking. In the Marvel comic, Matt Murdock saves a blind man from a speeding car and is struck in the side of the head by a radioactive canister, which blinds him but makes his other senses more powerful.
According to the Turtles’ backstory, the same radioactive canister then rolls into a sewer and bathes them in glowing, green goo, transforming them into the masters of ninjutsu we know and love today.
Of course, Daredevil is never explicitly mentioned in the ‘TMNT’ comics, but the reference is pretty clear. How’s that for a cool tie-in?
The Original Comics Were Dark
The Turtles may seem like a fun-loving bunch in movies and on TV, but once you’ve checked out the source material, you’ll see them in a totally new light.
The original comics published by Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Studios were filled with graphic violence, including blood spray, stabbings and ritualistic suicide. (Shredder actually dies in the first issue.) There’s even a smattering of alcohol consumption and cursing for good measure.
The First Live-Action Movie Was a Huge Success But Difficult to Film
Although it all looks pretty seamless on screen, the live-action 1990 movie was an ordeal to film. The suits that the actors wore were unbearably hot and were in a constant state of disrepair, requiring frequent touch-ups by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Plus, their complicated animatronics often went awry and voices had to be dubbed in later, resulting in film dailies that were a “mess,” according to director Steve Barron. “You had to suspend your belief and go with your instinct as to how it would all come together,” he said.
In addition, most studios wanted nothing to do with the movie and the crew filmed for the first few months without a deal. Eventually, then-independent New Line Cinema signed on to distribute and the film was released in 1990. It earned a total of over $200 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing independent film of all time, though it was later surpassed by ‘The Blair Witch Project.’
There Was Once a Female Ninja Turtle
Except for a few minor changes, the Turtles’ line-up has remained fairly consistent from series to series. But ‘Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation’ on Fox Kids, which ran from 1997 to 1998, broke that tradition with the introduction of a female turtle named Venus de Milo.
At some point during the series, the character mysteriously vanishes from the storyline and no official explanation is given for her disappearance, but there’s some indication that co-creator Laird wasn’t happy with the female turtle. When discussing ground rules for the making of ‘TMNT,’ Monroe said that Laird forbid him to mention the character in the movie. “There’s absolutely no mention of Venus de Milo, the female Turtle,” said Monroe. “You can’t even joke about that with Peter. It’s just one of those things that he hates with a passion.”
The Idea for Shredder’s Armor Came from a Kitchen Utensil
Shredder may be one of the most instantly-recognizable bad guys out there, but the inspiration for his lethal set of armor came from an unexpected place — the kitchen.
According to lore, Eastman got the idea for Shredder’s armor one night after coming across a large triangular cheese grater while drying dishes. “Can you imagine a character with weapons on his arms like this?,” he reportedly asked Laird. This also explains the character’s original names — “The Grater” or “Grate Man,” which, if you think about it, just don’t pack the same menacing punch.
The Director of the First ‘TMNT’ Movie Worked With Michael Jackson
Prior to helming the first (and best) ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ movie, director Steve Barron was an early pioneer of music videos. Some of his clips include Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean,’ A-ha’s ‘Take on Me’ and Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing.’ Post ‘Turtles’ he went on to helm the ‘Coneheads’ movie and TV miniseries like ‘Merlin’ and ‘Treasure Island.’
Uncle Phil Was the Voice of Shredder
The 1987-1996 ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ cartoon boasted fun plots, colorful animation and a voice cast made up of animation vets like Rob Paulsen (Raphael) and Townsend Coleman (Michelangelo). But there was one heavy hitter in the cast from the world of live-action TV — actor James Avery, best known as Will Smith’s Uncle Phil on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ Avery voiced Shredder for seven seasons, though other actors filled in from time to time. No stranger to animation, Avery also voiced War Machine in the ’90s ‘Iron Man’ cartoon.
In Some Countries, They Are the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles
Concern over the amount of imitable “ninja” violence in the TMNT concept led some countries to censor the cartoon. The show went by the name ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ in several countries, while Michelanglo’s nunchuks were replaced with grappling hooks. And then there was the Japanese animated series, where they were turned into muscular Turtle men. Check out the weirdness below.
They Once Went on Tour
From cartoons to cereal to pudding pies, the Turtles were everywhere during the ’90s. They were also in your hometown, provided you lived in one of the stops of their ‘Coming Out of Their Shells’ Tour. This live-action stage spectacular featured the boys in green sporting jean jackets and performing such songs as ‘Cowabunga’ and ‘Pizza Power.’ (Sponsor Pizza Hut supplied the actual pizza boxes.)