Above is a classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure. The original Playmates line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures ran from 1988 to 1996. Eight years. That’s the length of time the Beatles were together. The original series consisted of the four turtles, their trusty sidekick April, their Master Splinter, and their enemies–the evil Shredder and his goons Rocksteady, Bebop, and a Foot Soldier.
I was a huge TMNT fan, and I loved to go to Toys R Us with my grandmother, who was a soft touch. I knew I could get a Splinter out of her, which she thought was a dog. I could also make easily the case to my mother to buy me these figures. I need a bad guy for the Turtles to fight. I need a car for them to drive in, so that they can get there to fight the bad guys.
In 1989, Playmates released a second series of the figures, featuring secondary-but-still-popular characters like vigilante Casey Jones and evil fly Baxter Stockman. I got these figures, too, though I had to wait until Christmas or my birthday. The Ninja Turtles empire was growing. Soon, I also needed the cereal, the lunch box, the kite, the fun time bubble bath, the plush doll, the corn snack chip, the frozen pizza, and the Hostess snack pie.
..And the video games, VHS movies, and absolutely, hell yes, the sheet cake for my birthday.
I was hooked on the TMNT crack pipe. I was one of their best customers. They needed to keep me. They needed to keep all of us. So they kept churning out the toys. In 1990, they began releasing figures such as Ray Fillet, a sting ray mutant, a character who wasn’t even in the cartoon, but was connected to the TMNT universe through the Archie comic series. And why not some other mutated amphibious friends, like frogs and geckos, too? Enter Napoleon Bonafrog, Mondo Gecko. Then they began to really stretch it. Why not pandas? A kung-fu fighting Panda? Panda Khan, too, was released in 1990.
And then things began to get really ridiculous–and that’s if you didn’t already consider pudding pies with green filling ridiculous. I have researched the Internet far and wide to present to you what I consider to be the 15 most ridiculous Ninja Turtle figures.
1. Tokka and Rahzar
I think it’s appropriate to begin with Tokka and Rahzar. Their arrival was the precise moment I knew the Ninja Turtles were cheapening their brand. It was 1991. I was a savvy ten year old consumer, sitting in the theater watching Secret of the Ooze. I had finished my popcorn during the previews, and now I was just eating the salt off the bottom of the bag, licking it my fingers.
I loved the movie, but there was one troublesome thing. (Two troublesome things, if you’re counting the already played-out Vanilla Ice.) The two mutant bad guys in the movie were not Bebop and Rocksteady. I couldn’t wrap my ten-year-old mind around it. Who the shit were Tokka and Rahzar? I squinted at them, hoping to somehow shape them into Bebop and Rocksteady. I even called them Bebop and Rocksteady in vain.
Tokka and Rahzar had never appeared in any cartoon or comic book in the TMNT universe. But lo and behold, after the movie was released, so were action figures of the characters.
In action figure form, Tokka (the turtle) was pretty bad ass, but something was off about Rahzar (the wolf). Maybe it was that silly loincloth he wore. In fact, I made it a point as a child to not play with things that wore loincloths. But if I thought these two was the nadir of the Ninja Turtle line of toys, I was sorely mistaken. There was plenty more to come.
2. The Jolly Turtle Tubboat
The Ninja Turtles had a ton of awesome transportation choices, from the Party Van to the Blimp to the Pizza Shooter. But the Jolly Turtle Tub? Not so awesome. Leonardo is driving a bathtub.
3. Sexy April
1992 gave us April, the Ravishing Reporter–or as I like to call her, Sexy April. April’s yellow jumpsuit was replaced with a non-practical short skirt. Girl, you can’t throw down in a skirt like that. They also gave her a boob job. I’m surprised she didn’t also come with a ninja brush so you could brush her hair.
Let’s just take a look at the original April —
I’ve always thought it was awesome that the Turtles had a strong, main female character. I mean, April! She wasn’t resigned to the ditz or romantic interest roles. She was the kick ass investigative reporter. Sigh. Could we ever bring ‘em back once they have gone? Oh April, no.
4. Bandito-Bashin’ Mike
This gem was also released in 1992, part of a series of wacky wild west Turtles that also featured Leonard as an Indian, a cowboy Donatello, and some sort of sheriff Raphael. But, man, here’s Michaelangelo. Let’s take a private moment to reflect about racial insensitivity.
5. Doctor El
So I actually think Doctor El is pretty neat-looking, but come on, it is a witch doctor elephant. Here’s when I think the Turtles were slipping away from the original concept.
6. Monty Moose
Again, so close and yet so far from the original concept. They weren’t even making these things ninja anymore. Now they were making them Canadian.
So we loved Joe Camel as kids, even though we knew we weren’t supposed to. And I’m pretty sure the makers of Sandstorm knew this.
We’re still in 1992 with all of these, which was truly a banner year. Playmates released an onslaught of figures. At least this one was a semi-return to amphibious creatures. Sort of.
This is my favorite of the worst. A machine gun totin’, hoops shootin’ giraffe. That freaking rules. I love Halfcourt.
10. Turtle Troll Leo
AND bam, we hit rock bottom with this dumb shit.
11. My First Ninja Turtle
This was supposed to indoctrinate the kiddies young. Get ‘em hooked on the TMNT crackpipe early. The box says “He’s warm, he’s wiggly, he’s a Ninja Turtle,” and it creeps me the hell out.
12. Crazy Clownin’ Mike
13. Sumo Raphael
1993 and 1994 continued the trend of releasing the Turtles in all sorts of predicaments. The Turtles dressed as monsters, cavemen, astronauts, and even the characters from Star Trek. And then in 1995, as sumo wrestlers. I included Sumo Raph in my list because I can’t stop starting at it. It’s a fat Ninja Turtle.
14. Rahzar with Warrior Fur
Rahzar came back in 1995. They weren’t even trying to release new figures now. They were just adding synthetic pelts and calling it “warrior fur.” Weird.
15. Pizza Tossin’ Leo
1996. Just look at this distorted, doofy figure, with a Domino’s Pizza offer on the front on the package. Playmates had lost respect for the toys.
Fortunately, they’ve redeemed themselves since then, releasing some awesome figures, including the 25th Anniversary line of toys, which I’ve been buying. Here I am all these years later, stilling taking my hits on the crack pipe. They’ve really got me. I’m re-buying the toys I already bought the first time. Christ. They really got me.