REVIEW: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES MICHELANGELO
What is it that causes four cartoon turtles, mutated into humanoid form, living in a human world, tutored by a large, humanoid rat for a sensei to become martial arts experts and ninjas, to be so popular? Whatever it was, it worked, and since the mid to late 1980's, the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES have been a reasonably steady presence in the pop culture world, even if that presence has been a bit more sporadic in recent years. But get ready, world -- the Turtles are back!
Where did the Turtles come from? In the early to mid 1980's, when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first came up with the concept, three-fourths of their group name were extremely popular concepts in the pop-culture world.
Teenage heroes were popular because of an enormously popular revitalized "Teen Titans" title being produced by Marv Wolfman and George Perez for DC Comics. Mutants were popular courtesy of the ongoing adventures of the X-Men. Ninjas were popular thanks to everything from G.I. Joe characters like Storm Shadow, to the fact that Wolverine, one of the best known X-Men, was starting to have some ninja conflicts of his own.
But -- Turtles!? One has to assume here that Eastman and Laird took the three most popular pop culture concepts of the time, and assigned them to the least likely of animal-based, anthropomorphic characters. And somehow or other -- it worked.
And now, the Turtles are back once again, with an all-new action figure line from Playmates, based on a new animated series that will air on Nickeolodeon. The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are turning up for the first time in several years, with a brand new line and a distinctly new look. And I decided to bring in MICHELANGELO for this review. And if early sales are any indication, then the Turtles stand to make a hack of a comeback. Took me a while to round up all four of them, and even department stores that are otherwise trimming their toy sections have made room for the Turtles.
Let's consider some of the history of the Turtles, and then have a look at this representative of their newest incarnation.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a team of four teenage anthropomorphic turtles, who were trained by their anthropomorphic rat sensei, Splinter, in the art of ninjutsu and named after four Renaissance artists. From their home in the storm sewers of New York City, they battle petty criminals, evil overlords and alien invaders, all while remaining isolated from society-at-large. The characters initially appeared in comic books before being licensed for toys, cartoons, video games, films, and other merchandise. During the peak of its popularity in the late 1980s through early 1990s, the franchise gained considerable worldwide success and fame.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created in an American comic book published by Mirage Studios in 1984 in Dover, New Hampshire. The concept arose from a humorous drawing sketched out by Kevin Eastman during a casual evening of brainstorming with his friend Peter Laird. The young artists self-published a single-issue comic.
Much of the Turtles' mainstream success began when a licensing agent, Mark Freedman, sought out Eastman and Laird to propose wider merchandising opportunities for the offbeat property. In 1986, Dark Horse Miniatures produced a set of 15 mm lead figurines. In January 1987, they visited the offices of Playmates Toys Inc, a small California toy company who wished to expand into the action figure market.
Development initiated with a creative team of companies and individuals: Jerry Sachs, ad man of Sachs-Finley Agency, brought together the animators at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, headed by award-winning animator Fred Wolf. Wolf and his team combined concepts and ideas with Playmates marketing crew, headed by Karl Aaronian and then VP of Sales, Richard Sallis and VP of Playmates, Bill Carlson. Aaronian brought on several designers and "concepteer" and writer John Schulte and worked out the simple backstory that would live on toy packaging for the entire run of the product and show.
Phrases like "Heroes in a Half Shell" and many of the comical catch phrases and battle slogans came from the writing and conceptualization of this creative team. Accompanied by the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 TV series, and the subsequent action figure line, the TMNT were soon catapulted into pop culture history.
Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiered in May, 1984, at a comic book convention held at a local Sheraton Hotel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was published by Mirage Studios in an oversized magazine-style format using black & white artwork on newsprint, limited to a print run of only 3,000 copies. Through a clever media kit that included an ad placed in Comic Buyer's Guide #545, the public's interest was piqued and thus began the Turtle phenomenon.
When little known Playmates Toys Inc. was approached about producing a TMNT action figure line, they were cautious of the risk and requested that a television deal be acquired first. On December 28, 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' first cartoon series began, starting as a 5-part miniseries and becoming a regular Saturday morning syndicated series on October 1, 1988 with 13 more episodes. The series was produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson Film Productions Inc. The show places a much stronger emphasis on humor than the comics do. Here, the Ninja Turtles are portrayed as four wise-cracking, pizza-obsessed superheroes who fight the forces of evil from their sewer hideout, and make their first appearance in masks color-coded to each turtle, where previously they had all worn red. Starting on September 25, 1989, the series was expanded to weekdays and had 47 more episodes for the new season.
In 1997–1998, the Turtles starred in a live-action television series called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation that follows the events of the movies. A fifth turtle was introduced, a female named "Venus de Milo" who was skilled in the mystical arts of the shinobi. The series seemed to be a loose continuation of the movie franchise, as Shredder had been defeated and the Ninja Turtles encountered new villains. These Turtles even made a guest appearance on Power Rangers in Space.
In 2003, a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series produced by 4Kids Entertainment began airing. The series was co-produced by Mirage Studios, and resulted in a cartoon that came across more closely to the original comics, creating a darker and edgier feel than the 1987 cartoon, but still remaining lighthearted enough to be considered appropriate for children. This series lasted until 2009, ending with a feature-length television movie titled Turtles Forever, which was produced in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the franchise and featured the Turtles of the 2003 series teaming up with their counterparts from the 1987 series.
The Turtles have featured in four feature films. The first three, produced in the early 90s and released by New Line Cinema, feature live-action, with the Turtles played by various actors in costumes featuring animatronic heads. The fourth, released in 2007 by Warner Bros., was an all-CGI animated film.
On October 21, 2009 it was announced that cable channel Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom, had purchased all of Mirage's rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property, and have announced that they are moving forward on development on a new CGI-animated TMNT television series consisting of at least 26 half-hour episodes. A teaser hints at some changes, namely the two Turtles who traditionally carry blunt weapons have had their weapons changed to similar bladed versions. Donatello uses a naginata instead of a bo, and Michelangelo uses a kusarigama instead of nunchaku.
It is this new series that is the basis for the new action figure line from Playmates. Let us now consider the character of Michelangelo.
First off, sometimes his name is spelled "Michaelangelo", which is how he gets called "Mike" or "Mikey" by his siblings. However, the toy package spells it "Michelangelo", which is technically the correct spelling, in relation to the classic artist, so that's what I'm going with for this review.
More fun-loving than his brothers, Michelangelo was given a much bigger role in the 1987 cartoon series, directed at a younger audience, than in the more serious original comic books which was aimed at an older audience. He came to epitomize the late 1980s and early 1990s popular culture incarnation of the TMNT, coining most of their catchphrases.
His mask is typically portrayed as orange outside of the Mirage/Image comic series, in which all of the Turtles had red masks, and his weapons are dual nunchaku, though he has also been portrayed using other weapons, such as a grappling hook, tonfa, and a three section staff in some action figures.
Michelangelo is consistently portrayed as the most light-hearted and friendly of the four Turtle brothers, Considered by some to be the 'Party Dude'. Upbeat and good-natured, 'Mikey' prefers to spend his time enjoying his life, but Mikey can be serious if the situation calls for it. While his brothers wrestle with the implications of their mutation and their place in the world, Michelangelo enjoys relaxing in front of the TV, skateboarding throughout the underground sewers that the Turtles have made their home, reading comic books, and in other media, eating lots of pizza. Michelangelo's innocent and childlike personality has led to him being referred to as the youngest brother. Michelangelo's brothers, especially Raphael, assume a protective watch over him whenever they venture outside of their abode, and they habitually expect little of their sibling during serious discussions. In the 2007 movie, Michelangelo is referred to by Leonardo as "little brother".
Though his abilities are often underestimated due to his position in the band of brothers, throughout the series Michelangelo reveals an unparalleled level of sensitivity to the feelings of those around him and, as a result, feels a very real and serious need to help those he believes are less fortunate than he. Michelangelo despises confrontation and avoids fights, especially with his brothers, at almost all costs. He simply laughs off most insults thrown his way and prefers to take a more light-hearted approach to solving problems. The other Turtles frequently become frustrated with his constant tendency to downplay serious situations and joke around during them, and it is this attitude that causes most of the conflicts between Michelangelo and his brothers throughout the series.
Despite their personality differences, Michelangelo generally gets along well with his brothers. He admires Leonardo for acting as the archetypal eldest brother and de facto leader, as well as a strict practitioner of bushido and ninjitsu. Michelangelo views Leonardo almost as a parental figure and will often look to him for reassurance. Leonardo is the stable pillar in Michelangelo's life, always silently watching and waiting, doing his best to ensure the safety of his younger brother. Leonardo frequently raises the issue of Michelangelo's safety in the 2007 film, on one occasion asking who would keep an eye on Michelangelo while he was gone. When they reunite later on, Leonardo is a little embarrassed when Michelangelo hugs him. In the 2003 animated series, when Michelangelo is challenged to a fight in the episode "Grudge Match", Leonardo takes up the responsibility of being Michelangelo's trainer. When the time comes for the match, Leonardo reassures Michelangelo by saying that "...If one falls, we all fall."
Similarly, Michelangelo looks to the hot-tempered and aggressive Raphael for emotional support and protection. Although Raphael acts tough and rebellious, he cares deeply for Michelangelo, even openly admitting that the mere thought of his brother being grievously injured causes him to experience violent rage. Michelangelo knows that Raphael will do everything in his power to protect him. However, out of all his brothers, Michelangelo spends the most time with his genius brother, Donatello. Despite vastly different interests and personalities, the pair seem to get along very well and rely heavily upon one another when fights occur between Leonardo and Raphael. Their closeness probably stems from their passive personalities, which set them apart from the more authoritative Leonardo and confrontational Raphael, and makes them common sparring and video game partners.
Although a well-trained ninja, Michelangelo is primarily a social being and lacks the discipline of Leonardo, the relentless ferocity of Raphael, and the quick mind of Donatello. However, Michelangelo makes up for these losses with the boundless energy, unorthodox fighting style, and fierce determination that he shows when he fights alongside his brothers. In several portrayals, Michelangelo exhibits a strongly creative side. In a side story in volume 2 of Tales of the TMNT, it is revealed that at an early age, Michelangelo was a talented artist. In the Image comics, Michelangelo became a published author.
In the original comic books, Michelangelo was initially depicted as fun-loving, carefree, and, while not as aggressive as Raphael, always ready to fight. He is much more serious-natured in the comic book than in the film incarnations, which have labeled his character a permanent "dude" talking teen. It was Michelangelo's one-shot in this series that fleshed out most of the traits that have become synonymous with the character, such as his playfulness, empathy, and easygoing nature. In one-shot story, Michelangelo adopts a stray cat (which he names Klunk) and also stops thieves from stealing toys meant for orphaned children.
After their defeat at the hands of the Foot Clan the Turtles, Splinter, April O'Neil, and Casey Jones retreat to a farm house in Northampton, Massachusetts which used to belong to Casey's grandmother. While there, April is worried to note that Michelangelo is not himself. He spends his days in the barn taking out his aggression on a punching bag. A scene shows him lashing out at his surroundings and repeatedly punching the wall of the barn until it breaks, then collapsing on it despondently, anger spent. The end of the story implies that Michelangelo's sorrow and frustration have been resolved, as subsequent issues restore Michelangelo's more relaxed, optimistic personality.
It is during the group's time at the farm we learn that Michelangelo also has an interest in comic books, specifically ones involving superheroes such as "The Justice Force" (comic book heroes based on The Justice League and The Fantastic Four). He also finds solace in writing fiction and has produced a story depicting himself as a ronin in Feudal Japan.
In the issue City at War, Michelangelo instantly bonds with Casey Jones' adopted daughter Shadow. In the second volume, the Turtles decide to try to live apart from one another. Michelangelo, social creature that he is, moves in with April and Casey so that he can be close to Shadow. Throughout the first two volumes, Michelangelo seemed to act as peacemaker of the team. These stories also laid the foundations which demonstrated his closeness with Donatello, their laid-back natures separating them from the more contentious Leonardo and Raphael.
Michelangelo is depicted in the live-action movies as the easy-going, free-spirited turtle. One of his movie catchphrases is, "I love being a turtle!" Owing to his popularity with children, he is given many lines and comes up with several slightly outrageous plans to advance plots. In the first movie, he and Donatello were regularly paired together while Leonardo and Raphael were arguing.
Michelangelo is regularly treated as the youngest brother and little is expected of him. Raphael and Michelangelo mostly have a love-hate relationship in which Michelangelo frequently antagonizes Raphael, but Raphael shows that he cares about him whenever he's in danger. He also seems to be very close with Donatello.
So, how's the figure? Awesome, dude! Okay, maybe that was a bit of a stretch. Seriously, though, the figure is very cool -- if a bit short.
Michelangelo definitely lives up to the "little brother" moniker placed on him by his siblings. The figure is not quite 4-1/4" in height, distinctly shorter than the 4-5/8" average of the others. It wasn't until I had all four Turtles rounded up -- which took some doing -- that I realized that, unlike many previous incarnations of the Turtles, these Turtles don't share a lot of body parts. This is categorically not a case where they all have the same basic body, just molded in a different shade of green and given a different head. All of the Turtles are unique. These days, that's especially impressive.
His overall design is somewhat cartoonish, relative to, let's say, his live-action counterparts, but it's less humorous in appearance than some of his early animated incarnartions.
The face is largely unchanged from how Michelangelo and his brothers have always been designed -- a rather oval-shaped head, with something of a nose-less muzzle jutting out slightly from underneath the eyes, with a fairly wide mouth. The distinctive orange-colored mask/bandana is in place, with Michelangelo's eyes appearing blank white through the mask.
Michelangelo's head is about average in shape for any of the Turtles. His mouth is slightly open on the left, and somewhat more widely open on the right, revealing two rows of teeth (Do turtles have teeth!? Must be part of the mutation). The result is a sort of snarl on Mikey's face, not necessarily in character, but it works well enough.
Another method of differentiation is skin color. The Turtles are all green, of course, but Playmates has been in the habit of using somewhat different colors of green for each Turtle. Michelangelo is easily a relatively pale olive green, not unlike Donatello, but Mikey is a more yellowish green than his sibling. The shell on his back is a somewhat darker and more "olive" olive green, but still green, and his torso is yellow-orange, fairly bright relative to his siblings
Along with the orange mask, Michelangelo is wearing protective elbow and knee pads, which are brown in color, and cloth wrappings around his wrists, fingers, and ankles. These are an off-white in color around his hands, and brown around his feet. He also has a brown belt with spaces in the back to hold his weapons.
Distinctly missing on Michelangelo, compared to his original animated counterpart, is an initialed belt buckle. You're just going to have to remember who's who from mask color this time around.
Detail on Michelangelo is very impressive and nicely done. His skin has a somewhat leathery texture sculpted into it, and there are some dents in his armored torso. He's been in a few fights. There are also distinct textures sculpted into his shell, and the cloth wrappings.
The Turtles have somewhat limited digits. Michelangelo's hands each have two fingers and a thumb, and his feet have one large toe and two smaller ones. In an interesting bit of design for this incarnation of the Turtles, the lower arms and lower legs are actually wider than the upper arms and legs. It's not really manga or anime -- I'm not sure what to call it. I believe it is somewhat reminiscent of the original look of the Turtles as created by Eastman and Laird. In any case, for Mikey and his siblings, it works. It wouldn't work as well if attempted on a human, I'm rather sure of that.
Let's talk articulation. This is one poseable Turtle! This is one area very specifically where the newest Turtles have their early predecessors beat. Michelangelo has a ball-and-socket articulation to his head, and is fully poseable at the arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, legs (including a swivel), and knees (including a swivel). There's no torso or waist articulation, and no ankle articulation, but I think that would be virtually impossible given the figure's appearance.
This makes Michelangelo as well articulated as the last group of Turtles, the ones from the CGI movie, although their articulation was sorted out somewhat differently.
My only criticism is that Michelangelo's legs will not pose well with the feet flat to a surface. He's got a sort of perpetual "action pose". He still stands well enough -- his feet are certainly big enough -- but he can't put his feet down flat like the other three. I suspect his height may be a factor here with regard to this.
Now, you can't really be a ninja without proper weaponry, and certainly Michelangelo comes well-armed. Most prominently, he has his nunchuks, officially referred to on the package as "kusarigama". Apart from that, he comes with this little plastic "tree" that includes a number of nasty-looking throwing stars, and some sort of blade on the end of a chain. I have no ides what the official name for this might be.
The character description on the back of the package lists Michelangelo as the "Jokester and Hard-Hitting Nunchuk Hero" for the Turtles, so apparently he's maintained a lot of his personality from before. If evidence is needed of this, the bio card illustration shows Mikey with his eyes crossed and his tongue hanging out. I don't think any ninjas have ever been in the habit of making this sort of face, and I'm just as glad that the toys don't try to duplicate the facial expressions of their file cards, at least in this instance...
The bio card on the package goes on to describe Michelangelo as follows: "Impulsive, creative, and very social, Michelangelo is the heart and soul of the Ninja Turtles. The runt of the litter, be may be the smallest of his mutant brothers, but that doesn't make him the weakest (just harder to catch). Enemies beware! Michelangelo is master of the kusarigama, nunchuks with a secret and a sharp surprise!"
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely impressed. I'm genuinely pleased to see the Turtles return, and I hope their new series and new action figures fare well. Playmates has done an excellent job with Michelangelo. The detail and design are excellent, the paintwork is very well done, and I certainly can't argue with the articulation. More fully detailed eyes would have been nice, but I'm not going to quibble that point. At least his tongue's not hanging out.
Can the Turtles make a comeback? I certainly hope so. And if you're any sort of fan of them, then you'll definitely want to look for their new action figure line, and bring them in, certainly including Michelangelo!
The new TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES figure of MICHELANGELO definitely has my highest recommendation! Cowabunga, dudes!