Friday, January 8, 2010

The Cartoon Historian Lesson 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pt.1

Welcome Students to the next Cartoon History Lesson. I'm your Teacher,Stefan the Cartoon Historian. Today we will learn all about The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Cartoon shows.

Ah,The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who doesn't know who the Ninja Turtles are. The franchise was a cultural phenomenom and has spawned many movies,comics,cartoons and even video games. But,in this 2 part lesson,I'm just gonna cover the cartoon series.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a fictional team of four mutant turtles, who were trained by an anthropomorphic, talking rat sensei, Master Splinter, in the art of Ninjitsu. From their home in the storm sewers of New York, they battle petty criminals, evil megalomaniacs, and alien invaders, all while remaining isolated from society at large. The characters initially appeared in comic books before being licensed for toys, cartoons and film adaptations. During the peak of its popularity in the late 1980s through early 1990s, the franchise gained considerable worldwide success and fame.

Now that we cot that out of the way,lets focus on the Cartoons.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in Europe) is a joint-venture between American/Japanese animated television series produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson and Shogakukan Studios. It premiered December 28, 1987 , as a five-part mini-series animated by Toei.

Yes,Students,You heard correctly. Toei,the creators of the Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon Animes,were the original animators of the original show. Astounding,huh? So I guess that means this Ninja Turtle cartoon was originally part Anime.

The series featured the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,comic book characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird .The property was changed considerably, from the darker-toned comic, to make it more light-hearted.

The initial motivation behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series was that, upon being approached to create a toy line, Playmates Toys was uneasy with the comic book characters' bad-ass additude.

So apparently,Playmates didn't like the darker,more bad ass tone of the original Mirage Comic.

Playmates requested that a television deal be acquired first, and after the initial five-episode series debuted, the California toy company released their first series of Ninja Turtles action figures in the summer of 1988.

The two media would correspond in marketing style and popularity for many years to come.

Anyway,David Wise and Patti Howeth wrote the screenplay for the first five-part miniseries with input from Eastman and Laird. When the series continued in the second season, comic artist Jack Mendelsohn joined the show as the executive story editor.

The show was in Saturday morning syndication from October 1, 1988 to September 23, 1989. After it became an instant hit, the show was expanded to five days a week and aired weekday afternoons in syndication in most markets, from September 25, 1989 to September 17, 1993. On September 8, 1990, the series began its secondary run on CBS's Saturday morning lineup, beginning as a 60-minute block from 1990 to 1994 and then as a 30-minute block until the series ended on November 2, 1996.

The show helped launch the characters into mainstream popularity and became one of the most popular animated series in television history. Breakfast cereal, plush toys, and all manner of products featuring the characters appeared on the market during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A successful Archie Comics comic book based on the animated show instead of the original black-and-white comics was published throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. Action figures were top-sellers around the world. In 1990, the cartoon series was being shown daily on more than 125 television stations, and the comic books sold 125,000 copies a month.

And now my students,you know why the Original cartoon was so different from the comic.

The origin story in the 1987 TV series differs greatly from that of the original Mirage Studios comics, presumably to make it more appropriate for a family audience. In this version, Splinter was formerly a human being, an honorable ninja master named Hamato Yoshi. Yoshi was banished from the Foot Clan in Japan after being deceived by the seditious Oroku Saki, who pinned Hamato Yoshi's dogi to the wall with a knife, preventing him from kneeling before their sensei, which was seen as an insult. When Yoshi removed the knife, the sensei was again insulted, believing Yoshi was drawing the blade in opposition to him. Exiled from the ninja clan, the disgraced Yoshi moved to New York City, where he was forced to live in the sewers.

While living in the sewers with the rats as his friends, Yoshi one day found four turtles, recently bought from a pet store by an unnamed boy who accidentally dropped them in the sewer. Yoshi returned one day from his explorations around New York to find the turtles covered with a strange glowing ooze. The substance caused the turtles, most recently exposed to Yoshi, to become humanoid, while Yoshi, most recently exposed to sewer rats, became a humanoid rat, and started going by the pseudonym "Splinter". This, and the following Archie TMNT Adventures Comics, is the only origin story in the TMNT franchise where the Turtles come to Yoshi before being exposed to mutagen.

Also, Yoshi becomes a rat, whereas in most other versions, he is Yoshi's pet rat that becomes humanoid. This is also the only version in which the Turtles become fully grown immediately after exposure to the mutagen, whereas Splinter raises them from infancy in other versions.

Yoshi adopts the four turtles as his sons and trains them in the art of ninjitsu. He names them after his favorite Italian renaissance artists: Leonardo da Vinci ( Leonardo), Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi ( Donatello), Raffaello Sanzio ( Raphael), and Michelangelo Buonarroti ( Michaelangelo). In most versions, the Turtles tend to go by nicknames Leo, Donny, Raph and Mikey, but in this version they are always addressed by their full names. Each Ninja Turtle wears a mask over his eyes. Each Mask is a different color (unlike the comics where the turtles masks were all red). Each turtle is also Trained with a personal weapon.

Meanwhile, Oroku Saki has left Japan and tracked Yoshi to New York City, where he intends to destroy him once and for all. He has become associated with Krang, a disembodied alien brain who has been banished from his home, Dimension X, where he was a great warlord. Now it's unknown how Saki met Krang. it was never ever explained.

Saki has taken on a new persona, donning a suit covered with razor spikes, complimented by a long cape, and a metal mask over his mouth. He has also taken on the pseudonym "The Shredder".

It becomes clear in the first season that the mutagen that transformed the Turtles and Splinter into their new forms was dumped into the sewer by Shredder in an effort to destroy Yoshi. Shredder thought it was a deadly poison. The Turtles vow to take revenge on the Shredder for dishonoring their master, as well as turning him into a rat.

The Turtles want to force him to turn Splinter back into a human again, though this quickly evolves into stopping Shredder's ongoing criminal career with the aid of Channel 6 reporter April O'Neil. The Turtles begin to take on the role of vigilante crime-fighters operating outside of the jurisdiction of law enforcement against any criminals, much like Casey Jones in the third season.

For the first couple of seasons, it seems as if the Turtles are constantly preoccupied with hiding their existence. This seems to be slowly relaxed and, by the last few seasons, most citizens seem to be well aware of them. They also frequently have to deal with citizens misunderstanding them, thanks to the efforts of Burne Thompson, April's employer, and Vernon Fenwick, a Channel 6 cameraman, who distrust the Turtles and frequently blame them for the trouble that the Shredder and Krang cause.

Shredder, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady (two street thugs morphed into animal form by exposure to the Shredder's mutagen) and a small army of robotic Foot Soldiers try to destroy the Turtles and take over the World. Much of their quest for world domination hinges on bringing the Technodrome (Krang's mobile fortress, and his and The Shredder's base of operation) to the surface as it was either stuck in the earth's core, Dimension X, the arctic or Arctic Ocean.

In the last two seasons of the show, the Turtles finally banish The Shredder and Krang to Dimension X. They destroy the engines and the "trans-dimensional portal" of the Technodrome preventing them from ever returning to Earth. The show, which had already lasted well past the average lifespan of most Saturday morning cartoon series, then went through dramatic changes. The animation became darker and closer to the original comic book style, the color of the sky in each episode changed from the traditional blue to a continuous and ominous dark-red sky (which was commonplace with newer action-oriented children's programming at that time), the theme song was changed, the introduction sequence added in clips from the first film, and the show took on a darker, more action-oriented atmosphere.

A new villain, Lord Dregg, an evil alien warlord, also appears as their new chief nemesis. Lord Dregg begins a propaganda campaign against the Turtles, turning the general population against them and in favor of him and his forces. In the last episode of the series, the Turtles trap Dregg in Dimension X.

In addition to the new story, the Turtles, as well as the other characters, are seen breaking the fourth wall by saying things to the audience and talking both about their themesong and about their episodes. It's also worth noting that the writers were used to writing Comedy,rather than true action. This is why the action scenes were so goofy and full of jokes and puns.

In 2009, the Turtles, Shredder, Krang and various other characters from the 1987 series returned for the 25th anniversary crossover movie Turtles Forever, in which they meet up with their counterparts from the 2003 series. Due to legal reasons, none of the original voice actors were able to reprise their roles, and replacement actors were used instead. It is unknown in the 1987 series continuity at which point in time its Turtles and the rest of the cast are taken from, though due to the style of animation used and comical personalities of the characters, it is assumed that they are from some point between Seasons 1 and 7 (1987 - 1993).

While the story diverged heavily from the original conception of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and has never been considered canon with the universe of the original Mirage comics, the 1987 television series is probably the most notable and popular incarnation, and drove the franchise to the phenomenal status it would achieve in pop culture. The series was in production for nine years, and was still quite popular when it went out of production. It was responsible for introducing many of the catch phrases associated with the Turtles, such as "Cowabunga!", "Heroes in a half-shell!" and "Turtle Power!", into the lexicon. The animated series was such a prominent part of the Ninja Turtles that many people consider it the definitive and canonical version.

This version is also renowned for its critically acclaimed soundtrack. Through most of the series, the episodes featured a background music which reflected the mood of the situation (e.g. danger, action, exploration, confusion, mystery, winning), as well as ID music for settings such as the Technodrome, the sewers, Channel 6, etc. which contributes to the show's dynamic uniqueness. The soundtrack was composed by Dennis Challen Brown (credited as "D.C. Brown" and later as "Dennis C. Brown") and Chuck Lorre. Lorre penned the famous theme song and became a successful television producer.

I'm now gonna explain how and Why Michaelangelo lost his Nunchucks and why The Ninja Turtles were known as The Hero Turtles in the U.K.

In the United Kingdom, TMNT was released under the name Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (TMHT). This was due to the controversy surrounding ninjas and related weapons such as nunchuks at the time. Not to mention that,at the time,Nunchucks were an extremely popular weapon amung Brittish Thugs.

So,the intro sequence was heavily edited because of these reasons,replacing the word ninja with hero or fighting and removing any scenes in which Michaelangelo wields his nunchuks,replacing them with random clips from the show. Speaking of which,in the show itself,all of Mikey's "Nunchuck Scenes" were cut.

Well after a while,the Creators of the show decided to give in to the British cencors and replace Mikey's Nunchucks with a Grappling Hook. Nowadays however,U.K has given up on it's "Anti-Ninja" and "Anti-Nunchuck" policy. And when the 2K3 series made it there,it stayed as is. The original title was even kept.

Our Next lesson will be the second part of this one. So Next time,I'll be talking about the 2K3 series. Class Dismissed.

Rock On and Stay Cold,
Stefan aka The Cartoon Historian

1 comment:

KingsSideCastle said...

Definitely a classic series. Great summary of the plot, characters and the cartoon's development history. ^_^