The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the last great toy fad of my youth. By the time the next one rolled around - the similarly-named Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers - I had moved on from action figure collecting and was interested in things like friends, girls and... girls. But during the heyday of Turtles mania, I was swept up in it entirely - perhaps even more so than I had been with He-Man or Transformers.
I have many fond memories of my TMNT era. I remember my first encounter with the Turtles. I was sick and home from school, and my father went out to buy some comics for me to read. One of them was this (I think the other one was a Madballs comic). I don't remember where it went from there, but I was swiftly caught up in the whole TMNT phenomenon - the comics (both the Archies and the original black and white ones), the cartoon, the videogames, and especially the toys.
My parents took me out of school early to see the premiere of the first TMNT movie (which I still think is a better film than it had any obligation to be). I took another day off from school (the Turtles and missing school seem to be oddly linked...) when my father and I went on the infamous "Turtle Hunt" one fine October day to find the toys, which were then hidden away until Christmas. My father also came through later by tracking down the one Turtles figure I wanted more than anything but couldn't find anywhere: Ray Fillet.
It seems my entire childhood has been recently strip-mined by the nostalgia purveyors, and TMNT has proven to be no exception. Now, I am of the mind that it is just too early for a TMNT revival. Nostalgia (in my perception) seems to work in 20-year cycles: in the '70s people watched Happy Days and American Graffiti and had a general nostalgia for the '50s; in the '80s the yuppies fondly absorbed aspects of '60s popular culture to relieve some of their profound boredom; and in the '90s we were gifted with Boogie Nights, That '70s Show and whatnot.
Now, with the advent of GTA: Vice City, the aforementioned return of He-Man, resurgent Michael Jackson obsession, Paula Abdul on American Idol, Kylie Minogue in the news, and Cellular One commercials featuring cheesy '80s songs, the '80s nostalgia wave is clearly washing over us. I must point out, though, that it seems to me this particular wave of nostalgia feels a bit more contrived than previous ones. Americans have become so bored with their current popular entertainment climate that we spend half our time consuming previous ones. What happened to history, philosophy, artistic culture? Not to sound elitist, of course...and I can hardly complain, given my well-known enthusiasm for the revamped MotU toy line.
But, case in point: the Ninja Turtles. The Turtles' heyday was 1988-1991 or so; they should arrive as the '80s nostalgia wave is cresting near the beach six or seven years from now. The old figures aren't even going for much on eBay yet (though, as one of my toy-collecting acquaintances pointed out, they probably will go for quite a bit someday; like the He-Man line and other toy lines, the Turtles were collected mainly by kids, and as such most of the figures were taken out of their packages. MOC TMNT will be quite valuable someday, when those kids - the ones who were about five or ten years younger than myself as the time - grow up and want to rediscover their childhood. That is, unless it has been repackaged yet again.) In any event, the little kids who collected the Turtles can't be much older than 20 right now. That's simply too young for a good wave of nostalgia; the average He-Man or Transformers fan is in his mid-twenties at least, and making the money needed to buy new toys.
With that belief, I had intended not to buy any of the new TMNT toys being released by Playmates. Indeed, I had intended to ignore the entire TMNT revival; after all TMNT had never really gone away, existing in various incarnations right up to a 1998 live action series ("The Next Mutation"). But when I started hearing good things about the revival - and saw the new cartoon, which is more faithful to the original independent comics than the 1980s cartoon ever was - I broke down and picked up a few figures, starting with my personal favorite, Leonard. O. Leonardo.
Leonardo is my favorite for three simple reasons: he's the Turtles' leader, he has a blue bandanna, and he carries two swords. Those things alone make him cooler than all the other Turtles, in my opinion.
I must admit, I'm surprised by how much I like the new figures. They've done a few things here they didn't the first time around. First of all, the packaging is great; not quite as busy as the originals, and more stylish.
But the design of the figure itself is even better. Playmates has taken a very pared-down approach to the new line, "going back to basics," as it were. I like how they brought back the brown-colored elbow and knee pads on all the figures, rather than the multicolored ones; now only the bandannas have the different colors. I also like the sculpt itself. The head is especially good. They captured a sense of expression that I would almost think wasn't possible with an anthropomorphic turtle. Part of what works so well with the sculpt, though, is the plastic; it has just the right texture. Again, the head is particularly impressive, as is the slightly rubbery plastic of the front shell. If anything's wrong with the sculpt, it may be that the shells are just a bit flatter than I think seems realistic; but this may be part of a desire to make the Turtles less dumpy-looking than they were in the original incarnation.
One aspect of this toy that might easily be overlooked are the paint applications, which are largely what makes this figure work, I think. I'm not sure whether the head bandanna is simply painted or a separate piece, but there's certainly no spillover onto the head itself. The front shell has a nice wash, and the bandages are tight and accurate. Which makes the belt are the more disappointing; in fact, it's the most disappointing aspect of the whole figure. The belt looks cheap, is painted poorly and lacks any kind of believable texture. The sword-scabbards on the back are fine; it's just the belt itself that looks lame.
The accessories, though, make up for it. This time around, the Turtles get colored weapons. Leo's swords are a bit too short, in my opinion, but at least they're silver, with brown handles. He also comes with some ninja stars and some hand-fitted suction cups, which he can use to climb walls.
The figures are a tad more articulated this time around, featuring real ball-jointed legs and ball-jointed shoulders, as well as wrist articulation. It's about as much as could be crammed into a figure this scale, and I have no real complaints, though the movement of the legs seems a little constricted somehow.
If these new figures lack the punch of, say, the Masters of the Universe revamp, that's mostly because the figures were pretty good the first time around. The original MOTU line was (at least in the early days) little more than a game of mix-and-match, re-using molds left and right to create a "new" character. A redesign, using the small stylistic cues from the first line, was easy to do. Playmates has done the exact opposite: they've toned down some of the wackiness of the original line and treated TMNT with, well, a tad more dignity. I have no idea how long-lived this newest incarnation will be - again, there's no real nostalgia factor involved - but I'll give Playmates credit for making a cool toy line. Just fix those belts.
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