When you become a long-running multimedia franchise, there are gonna be a lot of different versions of the same concept for each rendition. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is no different, with incarnations ranging from dark and gritty to comedic and everything in between.
In the mid-90s, Saban Entertainment acquired the rights to the Turtles franchise and decided to produce the first live-action Turtles series: Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. It took elements from the never-produced fourth live-action film and turned it into a comedic martial arts action program, similar to Saban’s popular Power Rangers franchise. And what better way to promote the show than with a crossover into that franchise?
Power Rangers in Space was the version produced at the same time as Next Mutation, and both being on Fox Kids made the crossover possible. The only hitch was that since both shows were filmed in different locations, the performers for the Turtles weren’t the same ones used on their own show. In “Shell Shocked” written by Judd Lynn, the Turtles were brainwashed by the Space Rangers’ nemesis, Astronema (Melody Perkins), to serve her and attack the Rangers. However, the Turtles are eventually freed from her control and aided the Rangers in defeating her. This was the second and last time that the Rangers franchise would cross over with another show outside of comics (the first being Masked Rider), and due to Next Mutation’s cancellation shortly after this crossover was deemed non-canon by Ranger fans.
In 2002, 4Kids Entertainment acquired the Turtles license and produced their own animated series the following year; simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (although it would gain subtitles in future seasons). Unlike its 1987 predecessor, the series placed more emphasis on a serious tone and action, as well as featured season-long story arcs that would noticeably make psychological changes to the Turtles. The 2003 Turtles ultimately came to an end when co-creator Peter Laird sold the franchise to Nickelodeon (co-creator Kevin Eastman had previously sold his stake back in 2000). 4Kids decided to end their incarnation with a bang while simultaneously celebrating the 25th anniversary of the franchise with the TV movie Turtles Forever, written by Rob David, Matthew Drdek and series developer Lloyd Goldfine.
The 2003 Turtles discover that the 1987 Turtles were accidentally brought over from another dimension, along with their Shredder (David Wills) and Krang (Bradford Cameron). 1987 Shredder sought an alliance with 2003 Shredder (Scottie Ray) as a way to finally beat the Turtles, only to have 2003 Shredder take his Foot Clan and technology and turn them into frightening instruments of war. 2003 Shredder ultimately discovers that additional dimensions exist with their own Turtles that could potentially stop him, leading him to decide to eliminate them all by destroying the one he’s identified as the “prime” universe. That universe contained the black and white 1984 Turtles from the original Mirage comics. The twelve Turtles are joined by friend and enemy alike to put an end to 2003 Shredder’s plans. In a meta touch, Eastman and Laird make a cameo appearance at the end as they put the finishing touches on the first Turtles comic. Incidentally, during one scene, 2003 Shredder shows the Turtles the Turtle multiverse which included the movie versions, the various comic versions, and other random interpretations inspired by the “Guest Era” of the comics (a span of the first run from #22-44 that were produced by guest creators and later deemed non-canon by Eastman and Laird).
Nickelodeon’s first outing for their newly-acquired Turtles franchise was the 2012 CGI-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They opted for a return to the lighthearted fun reminiscent of the 1987 series while injecting a bit of the seriousness (and some original characters) of the 2003 version. So, it was only fitting that the 1987 universe would make several appearances during the course of the show (outside of the theme being the 2012 Turtles’ ringtone). And, unlike the non-union 4Kids who couldn’t use the original actors for Turtles Forever, the 2012 series was able to employ them readily (heck, Rob Paulsen—who was part of the 1987 series—was already a regular cast member for 2012).
The first instance were cameos in both parts of the two-episode “The Manhattan Project” (aka “Wormquake!”) written by Brandon Auman and John Shirley. The 2012 crew sees the 1987 characters through a portal in the first part, while the team actually appeared at the end of the second part to deal with a giant worm-like creature that had entered their dimension through a portal. They became a major part of the story in their next appearance, “Trans-Dimensional Turtles” (again by Auman), when the 2012 Turtles—currently on a space adventure in the past to stop the sinister Triceratons from constructing a weapon that will destroy Earth in the present—end up transported to the 1987 universe where their counterparts ask for help in stopping Krang (Pat Fraley) from destroying both their dimensions with a special bomb. As a nod to the original series, the Turtles were rendered in a mimicked cel animation style whenever they were in the 1987 world. This episode had a bit of fun with continuity as well, retconning Krang’s origin to his being Kraang Subprime’s (Gilbert Gottfried) cousin that was banished to the 1987 world. Similarly to Turtles Forever, an additional bomb was placed in the “Prime” dimension which was rendered in a comic book panel style, black and white, and featured the 1984 Turtles as silent animatics. Because this technically took place in the past, the episode ended with the 1987 Turtles confronting the giant worm from their last cameo, which by extension led to an encounter with the mutant Tiger Claw (mistakenly sporting the eyepatch he had not yet acquired by this point).
Their final main appearance was in the three-part series finale that spanned across “Wanted: Bebop & Rocksteady”, “The Foot Walks Again!” and “The Big Blow-Out!” by Peter DiCicco, Mark Henry and Jed MacKay. 1987 Shredder (Kevin Michael Richardson, replacing the late James Avery) and Krang come to the 2012 dimension to continue Krang’s earlier plan of dimensional destruction. They had to employ the 2012 Bebop (J.B. Smoove) and Rocksteady (Fred Tatasciore) to help with their plans when they accidentally left their versions behind, and discovered that the 2012 henchmutants proved more effective than theirs when they’re sent out to capture the 1987 Turtles that followed them. In order to combat Shredder and Krang’s plans to open a portal to Dimension X and call in an army of rock soldiers, the 2012 Turtles attempt to turn their counterparts into genuine ninjas (their fighting was ineffective as a commentary to the neutered violence forced on the original series) and get some help from their human allies, the Foot Clan and the Mutanimals (whose roster included characters voiced by Corey Feldman and Robbie Rist, who provided Turtle voices in the live-action films). Ultimately, it took Bebop and Rocksteady deciding that they didn’t want the world destroyed to turn on Shredder and Krang and help ruin their plans. This trilogy not only closed out the 2012 series (even though it wasn’t the intended finale) also served as a 30th anniversary celebration of the 1987 series as it aired just a few weeks shy of the original’s debut.
One final encounter happened between the 2012 and 1987 Turtles. In the short Turtles Take Time (and Space), the 2012 Turtles get sucked into a time vortex when Michelangelo (Greg Cipes) plays with a scepter that April (Jessica McKenna) bought. They’re shunted onto a pirate ship, back into their aquarium when they were babies, and an extreme dimension where the Turtles and Shredder were jacked. Finally, they returned to their lair only to discover it was the lair of the 1987 Turtles. Only Cipes and Townsend Coleman reprised their respective roles as Michelangelo for the short.
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