For the history of the Turtles, check out the post here.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dominated most of the 80s and 90s. But, like with many other franchises, its popularity soon began to wane even if it didn’t fade out completely.
|Donatello as a cyborg.|
By 1996, Image Comics had taken up publication of the comic series, launching a third volume notable for its emphasis on action and the physical damage inflicted on the main cast (Leonardo lost a hand, Raphael an eye, Donatello had his body smashed and replaced with a robotic one, etc.). That same year, the long-running animated series had finally come to a close. It wouldn’t be long for the Turtles to return to the airwaves, however, as the following year saw the debut of the live-action Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation by Saban Entertainment. The show loosely followed the continuity of the three live-action movies and introduced the maligned fifth Turtle, Venus de Milo (often credited as the first female Turtle, but in actuality was preceded three years earlier by April O’Neil being mutated in Archie Comics’ 1994 Winter Special). The show was cancelled after its only season, marking the first time in a decade the Turtles didn’t have a show.
|New looks for Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo,|
In 2002, Mirage Studios entered into a partnership with 4Kids Entertainment to bring the Turtles back to television with a new animated series after a proposed CGI series with Rainbow Studios failed to catch on. The series was a complete departure from its predecessor with stories presented in a more serious and action-oriented manner, as well as introduced the element of magic for the first time. Greater care was taken to adhere to the original Mirage comics across each title in the Turtles universe to the point that many early episodes were direct adaptations. Storylines also progressed for entire seasons, leaving noticeable emotional scars on the characters as they continued to evolve throughout the series.
|Ninja Turtles for a new Century.|
For the most part, the Turtles maintained the personality traits audiences had come to know and expect from the various media. Leonardo (Mike Sinterniklaas) was the team leader and the most balanced of the four—at least until the stresses of leadership led him to develop rage issues later on. Donatello (Sam Riegel) was the resident genius who was constantly upgrading and improving the Turtles’ gear, and sometimes lost all focus to his latest project. Raphael (Frank Frankson) was still the impetuous hothead who struck first and thought later, although he tried to work on his anger issues. Michelangelo (Wayne Grayson) was the fun-loving goof of the group, and the only one that maintained the surfer slang that the previous cartoon made synonymous with the franchise. Michelangelo even adopted the superhero identity Turtle Titan and often teamed-up with real superheroes.
|Casey and April.|
Splinter (Darren Dunstan) was restored to being the pet rat of martial artist Hamato Yoshi (Eric Stuart), whereas the two characters were combined in the previous series. For the first time outside of the comics, the Turtles’ first human ally, April O’Neil (Veronica Taylor), was depicted as the lab assistant to psychopathic scientist Baxter Stockman (Scott Williams). Stockman, notable for turning into a fly in the last series, went through the entire show putting his mind from one cybernetic body to another. Casey Jones (Marc Thompson), the Turtles’ other primary human ally, was also depicted as being closer to his comics counterpart. Although April initially couldn’t stand Casey, the two would become romantically involved and eventually marry in the series finale.
Once again, the Turtles’ primary antagonists were the Foot Clan led by the Shredder (Scottie Ray), however the Shredder had undergone significant changes for the series with input from co-creator Peter Laird. The Shredder the Turtles first encounter turned out to be an alien Utrom named Ch’rell, who wore a humanoid exo-suit to disguise his appearance. He was a prisoner that escaped the Utroms when their ship crash-landed on Earth during the Sengoku period of Japan and adopted the legend of a demon Shredder for his new identity, as well as the human guise of Oroku Saki.
That demon Shredder, also known as the Tengu Shredder, had possessed Oroku Saki, the most powerful ninja in Japan, before he was defeated by the Ninja Tribunal and sealed away. Shredder’s followers continually sought to resurrect him, but the Tribunal remained steadfast to prevent that from happening through the ages. The Tribunal was comprised of Kon-Shisho (David Zen Masley), Ninjitsu master of Spirit; Juto-Shisho (Thompson), Ninjitsu master of Weapons; Chikara-Shisho (Lenore Zann), Ninjitsu master of Strength; Hisomi-Shisho, Ninjitsu master of Stealth; and the Ancient One (David Chen), who had trained Yoshi.
The final shredder was known as Cyber-Shredder. Cyber-Shredder was an engram of Ch’rell locked in a Foot data vault until the living computer virus Viral (Eva Christensen) set it free. Cyber-Shredder sought to escape cyberspace and worked at making a portal to do so.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was initially pitched to Warner Bros. to be broadcast on one of their networks. WB, however, passed on the series and instead it debuted on February 8, 2003, on FOX as part of their FoxBox programming block. FoxBox replaced the original FOX Kids block when 4Kids entered into an agreement with FOX to lease the Saturday morning hours from the network and handle all of the programming. In 2005, the block was renamed 4Kids TV for the remainder of its run.
|Hun and the Purple Dragons.|
The first season introduced the Turtles and their world to the viewers, while slowly established their rivalry with the Foot Clan. Introduced for the first time in animated form was the Purple Dragons street gang (although a similar, yet unnamed, gang did appear in the 1987 series) led by Hun (Greg Carey & Mansley), who was created for the series and named after Attila the Hun. Hun was the primary antagonist of Casey and often worked with the Utrom Shredder. In an unproduced episode, Hun was revealed as being the formerly conjoined twin of original series villain Garbageman (Mike Pollock). Casey’s neighborhood friend Angel (Tara Jayne & Carrie Keranen) was featured as a potential recruit for the Dragons, which Casey put a stop to. Also introduced were the Guardians: a team of humans charged with protecting the Utroms on Earth.
|Leonardo and Karai.|
The second season featured the Triceratons, an army of rhinoceros-like aliens, who factored more prominently into the series than they did in the 1987 show, as well as Professor Honeycutt, aka the Fugitoid (Oliver Wyman). The season saw the debut of Shredder’s adopted daughter Karai (Karen Neil), who had a conflicted and potentially romantic relationship with Leonardo as she went back and forth between friendship with the Turtles and loyalty to the Foot. Season 3 introduced new antagonist John Bishop (Mansley), the head of the anti-alien Earth Protection Force who would use any means he saw fit to accomplish his mission; including siding with Stockman. The fourth season would explore Leonardo’s psychological damage as well as lay the groundwork for the debut of the Tengu Shredder and the Ninja Tribunal. The episode “Insane in the Membrane” was initially banned in the United States due to content issues, particularly Stockman drowning, and although it was released to DVD it wouldn’t be seen until a Nicktoons Channel marathon in 2015.
For season five, the plan was to continue with the Ninja Tribunal storyline. However, in the face of declining ratings, it was decided to bump up season six instead. Subtitled Fast Forward, the season saw the Turtles accidentally shunted to the year 2105 by Cody Jones (Christopher C. Adams), the descendant of Casey and April. The future saw Bishop, surviving through cloning, as having changed his stance on aliens and become the president of the Pan Galactic Alliance, as well as the threats of Darius Dunn (Mansley) and Sh’Okonabo (Sean Schemmel). Dunn was the CEO of O’Neil Tech who sought to eliminate Cody, the rightful owner, and take complete control of it while also using the company for illegal enterprises. Sh’Okanabo was an alien shapeshifter who had dark plans for Earth and used seeds to create loyal Kanabo to help him achieve it. This season also introduced sentient computer virus Viral (Eva Christensen) and mercenary Torbin Zixx (David Elliott). Another ten-episode season set in the future was planned, but ultimately scrapped in mid-production. An animatic for the first proposed episode was initially released though the 4Kids website before making its way to YouTube. The title and basic plot for “The Incredible Shrinking Serling”, which focused on Cody’s robotic butler Serling (Thompson), was later recycled and reused with some alteration during the final season.
Meanwhile, production on the Tribunal season continued with producers deciding to release it directly to DVD. However, 4Kids signed a deal with Comcast to air the season on Comcast-On-Demand beginning August, 2006. Fans became confused at which was the true season five, not that it mattered for long as Comcast stopped airing the episodes after the first five. Plans for a DVD were resumed with a tentative 2007 release date, but ultimately 4Kids decided to air it on television beginning in February of 2008. Promoted as The Lost Episodes, the series focused on the Turtles learning mystic arts they’d need to combat the return of the Tengu Shredder. One episode, “Nightmares Recycled”, was cancelled by 4Kids for being too violent. The episode would have shown the separation of Hun and Garbageman as infants by a back-alley surgeon and Garbageman subsequently being discarded.
The final season was subtitled Back to the Sewers and returned the Turtles to the present. 4Kids wanted to bring the series closer in tone and style to the recently-released 2007 movie TMNT, which was a loose continuation of the movie franchise (ignoring Next Mutation). 4Kids pitched an idea called “Superworld” that would focus on a card game; however, Laird shot it down. 4Kids then pitched TMNT Overload that would involve a glitch bringing the Turtles’ younger selves with them to the present. Mirage liked that one, but Playmates Toys hated it. Playmates attempted to make their own pitch that would introduce elements from the movies, previous show and the Archie Comics run, but that, too, was rejected. By October of 2007, the three parties had agreed on a direction which infused elements from the “Overload” pitch. The season focused on the Turtles trying to find pieces of Splinter in cyberspace while dealing with the rising threat of the Cyber-Shredder after Viral interfered with their return to the present. Following the series finale, “Wedding Bells and Bytes”, a series of 13 shorts called “chapters” aired during episodes of Ninja Turtles and Chaotic: M’Arrillian Invasion after being streamed on the 4Kids website the week prior. The shorts were later edited together and aired as a new episode, “Mayhem from Mutant Island”, the following year.
In December of 2008, the 4Kids TV block was ended. FOX was no longer able to guarantee sufficient coverage for it by affiliates in places where FOX networks refused to air it, and subsequently decided to use the four-hour time frame for something other than children’s programming due to increased competition. 4Kids had also defaulted on paying FOX for the time lease for some time. As a result, Ninja Turtles moved to The CW for its final season as part of The CW4Kids programming block, which, as the name implied, was also run by 4Kids. The block was the replacement for Kids’ WB, which was ended due to children’s advertising limits and competition from cable.
|The new character designs for the Turtles' final season.|
The series was developed by Lloyd Goldfine and animated by Dong Woo Animation in Korea. For the show’s two reinventions in the Fast Forward and Back to the Sewer seasons, the character designs were modified; the latter in particular to better resemble the ones used in the TMNT movie (namely by giving the Turtles pupils in their eyes) and to reduce animation costs. The series also featured five different theme songs, all composed by Norman J. Grossfeld and Russel Velazquez. Fans of the show were given a chance to vote between six different themes for the final season. The rest of the series’ music was composed by Velazquez with Ralph Schuckett, Rusty Andrews, John Angier, Mark Breeding, Louis Cortelezzi, Joel Douek, John Petersen, Pete Scaturro, John Siegler and John Van Tongeren. Amongst the series’ writers were comic creators Eric Luke, Christopher Yost, Danny Fingeroth, Joe Kelly, Adam Beechen, Roger Slifer and Steve Murphy.
The show received mixed reviews from fans; those familiar with the comics praised its faithfulness to the material, but fans of the original series weren’t happy with the numerous differences between the two shows. Although the series performed well, it was ultimately ended by Laird selling off the franchise to Nickelodeon (co-creator Kevin Eastman had sold off his shares of the franchise back in 2000). 4Kids’ final entry in the Turtles franchise was the TV movie Turtles Forever, which celebrated the franchise’s 25th anniversary by teaming up their Turtles with the 1987 and original black and white Mirage comic versions.
|The Dreamwave comic.|
Dreamwave Productions published a series of comics based on the show in 2003. The first four issues were adaptations of the first four episodes told from the perspectives of the supporting characters. The series, written by Peter David and drawn by Lesean Thomas, was cancelled after seven issues due to a poor reception and sales. David had completed #8 and plotted #9-10, and Thomas had done some initial work on #8. That material saw publication in 2007 as bonus content in Titan Books’ TMNT Volume 2: Out of the Shadows trade paperback.
As they had with the previous Turtles series, Playmates produced action figures, vehicles and other toys based on the show between 2003-06 before focusing on the TMNT movie. Mega Blocks released various playsets beginning in 2003, and Mighty Beanz based their line of collectibles on the series’ designs and characters.
|Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmares.|
Konami primarily produced video games based on the series. The first was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 2003. It was a beat-‘em-up following the first season where each Turtle had their own unique levels to beat as well as other challenges. The Game Boy Advance version was single player while the console versions allowed two-player co-op. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus was released in 2004 and followed the second season and allowed four-player co-op, as well as the ability to unlock additional playable characters and the original arcade game. The Game Boy Advance version was more of a platformer/shooting game. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare followed the third season in 2004 and featured Turtles in Time as an unlockable bonus. 2005 saw the release of TMNT: Mutant Melee which was the first fighting game in the series.
|The Shredder Reborn! title screen.|
That same year, Uclick and Overloaded released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fast Forward: Ninja Training NYC on mobile devices that could be played as either a platformer or fighting game. 4mobile released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ninja Tribunal as an RPG based on The Lost Episodes of the series. Later that year, 4mobile released the sequel The Shredder Reborn. Tech-2-Go released three Plug ‘n’ Play games in 2006. Battle for the City was a platformer, Mutants & Monsters Mayhem was a shooter, and The Way of the Warrior utilized a camera to put the player into the game and follow their movements.
Funimation handled the initial DVD released for the show. Season one was released in eight volumes from 2003-04 and later collected into two volumes in 2007. Season two was released in six volumes from 2004-05, and again collected into two in 2008. Season three was released in seven volumes from 2005-06. From season four, only 14 random episodes were released in 2006. Fast Forward was released in two sets in 2007 while The Lost Episodes were finally released to DVD in 2008. In 2015, Nickelodeon released four episode collections called NYC Showdown, Search for Splinter, Meet Casey Jones, and Cowabunga Christmas.