In the pantheon of beloved 1980s pop culture, there’s no question that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ranks among the very best for an entire generation. Whether it’s the comic books that kicked off the franchise, the animated series that added to the core mythology, or the previous films that took the mutant martial artists into live-action, everyone has their favorites.
As usually happens with properties so beloved, news of a modern reboot proved divisive before the first details even surfaced. Thankfully, the finished product was a far cry from a failure (read our review) and actually kept even more faithful to the source material than expected. And with decades of comic, TV and film history to draw upon, we wouldn’t expect any less.
Needless to say, there will be SPOILERS in our list of Ninja Turtles trivia, so read at your own risk.
April in Yellow
Just as the Ninja Turtles themselves have become synonymous with the color of their headbands, so too has intrepid reporter April O’Neil become famously know for her yellow wardrobe. While the yellow jumpsuit was adapted to a yellow raincoat in previous live-action films, Megan Fox‘s version keeps the tradition alive through a yellow jacket (along with the character’s signature red hair – dark, but reddened).
Not every callback to the source material is as easy to spot as clothing or color, but April O’Neil’s overpowering editor undergoes a bit of a makeover. Burne Thompson of Channel 6 was created to give another occasional antagonist to the Turtles of the 1987 cartoon, but in the film, the character is gender-swapped to Bernadette Thompson – played by Whoopi Goldberg.
The sudden appearance of Saturday Night Live cast member Taran Killam in the Channel 6 news room likely took many by surprise, but it’s the character he’s revealed to be playing that would catch the attention of only the most devoted fans. O’Neil delivers a slam of her own in which she refers to Killam’s insulting character as “McNaughton” – as in Jim McNaughton, a colleague of O’Neil’s from the 1986 comic.
Although the responsibilities of Karai (Minae Noji) as the lieutenant to central villain Shredder may have seemed par for the course, the high-ranking Foot Clan member may have been far more important than it seemed. In the past, Karai has been written as the daughter or niece of the iconic Turtles villain, at times even outranking him. While the film version doesn’t get to don her own set of armor, the tinge of red in her hair is a nice homage to its color scheme.
While causal observers might expect an ambitious journalist to have ice running through their veins, April O’Neil has shown a tendency to become… well, as overwhelmed as anyone would be by the sight of enormous humanoid reptiles. Her tendency to lose consciousness was carried over from the comics into the 1990 film, and the same reaction can be seen in the latest meeting.
What’s in a Name
Plenty of movie fans may bristle at what they see as a change to canon, with April O’Neil now implied to have named each one of the Turtles (lab experiments in ‘Project Renaissance’). While April’s exact reason for selecting the names of Italian Renaissance-era artists may have been altered, it’s not the first time that she’s been given the honor in the many versions of the comic books.
Hip-Hop Christmas Album
When Raphael first expresses a desire to leave behind his brothers and head out into the world alone, it’s Michelangelo who tells him he can’t – his hip hop Christmas album is still in need of a ‘Hype Man.’ The brothers show an interest in impromptu music later on in the film, but this line is likely a reference to the very-real We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, a direct-to-video special featuring the Turtles’ “Wrap Rap.”
To make sure that one of his sons spills the beans on the Turtles’ nocturnal adventures, Splinter tempts Michelangelo with a Pizza Hut pizza claimed to contain more cheese varieties than ever thought possible. While the explanation for the pizza-loving brothers switching from Domino’s Pizza to their longtime rival is never provided, we can only assume that the sting of a moldy pizza spanned two decades.
As is expected of the movie’s stars, their weaponry makes short work of their favorite food – pizza. While the brothers may not recreate the football passes of previous live-action adaptations, director Jonathan Liebesman did repeat the previous gag of having a slice end up on the head of an unamused Splinter.
The new film sets the live-action origins of Splinter and the Turtles in line with that of the original comic books, as mutated subjects exposed to an alien ‘ooze.’ The acronym for Techno Cosmic Research Institute (TCRI) was changed to TGRI (Techno Global) for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, given its non-alien origins in that story. But in the new reboot, the iconic canister – and its original initials – remain intact.
Aliens? That’s Stupid
You can’t say that the film’s crew doesn’t have a sense of humor. After producer Michael Bay got himself into hot water with fans by misinterpreting the alien origins of the ooze, and claiming that the new Turtles would be from an alien race, all were quick to correct him. The Turtles are once again mutants (from an alien ooze), but Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) makes the same mistake. April is quick to correct him by explaining that to assume they’re aliens is “stupid.”
The significance fans place in the character of Baxter Stockman depends largely on the version they’re familiar with. In the comics, Baxter was the inventor of the robotic Mousers, leading him to become a bank robber, later a dangerous android. In the cartoon, he is most famously known for his strange transformation in to a human/fly hybrid. The character’s role in the future is a mystery, but Stockman did appear in the film, played by K. Todd Freeman in a brief flashback to the experiment that created the Turtles.
The alien race known as the Utrom may not be known to every fan, but the small, pink beings (resembling a human brain with eyes and a mouth) play a significant role in the Turtles mythology. Namely, since they are the source of the alien mutagen that created both Splinter and the Turtles. And according to many sources, the Japanese artwork belonging to Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) contains a few brief images of the Utrom.
For the record, the famous cartoon villain Krang is usually not considered a true Utrom, but with the filmmakers already thinking of potential Dimension X stories in future films, any tease of one or the other will be welcomed.
When Eric Sacks first sees for himself how successful Project Renaissance truly was, he is shocked, claiming that the study had initially planned on “using rabbits.” While moviegoers took a second to imagine (and wish for) a team of teenage mutant ninja rabbits, those in the know took it as a direct reference to Miyamoto Usagi, the star of comic series “Usagi Yojimbo” (literally “Rabbit Bodyguard”).
In his own comic, the brainchild of Stan Sakai is defined by his role as a Japanese ronin (a samurai without a master) not his animal appearance, but a number of crossovers between Usagi and the Turtles have forever linked the anthropomorphized animal warriors in the minds of many.
The fan following enjoyed by Will Arnett (playing Vernon Fenwick) is due in large part to his role as ‘Gob Bluth’ in Arrested Development. Although this role was more serious than those fans have come to expect, the actor did work in an unmistakable Easter egg to anyone looking for one.
The lack of food in the Bluth Family’s model home led to some residents mixing parmesan cheese and mustard into an edible(?) substance. After the blend became a running joke in the show’s recent season, Vernon can be seen making a sandwich with the two condiments when April O’Neil calls for his help.
In addition, Fenwick can be heard listening to a fairly iconic saxophone solo from the song “Careless Whisper” – made famous by George Michael. As in George Michael Bluth, Gob’s nephew.
The discussion of how effective or distracting product placement in TMNT may be is a conversation for another day – but shortly after the Turtles (minus Raph) have been kidnapped by the Foot Clan, a billboard for the upcoming Project Almanac is featured quite prominently along a New York City street. While Paramount was no doubt looking to give the film some extra attention, Almanac also happens to be the directorial debut of Dean Israelite, Jonathan Liebesman’s cousin.
Turtle Van & Theme
The signature set of wheels for the Ninja Turtles may have been snagged from Baxter Stockman in the cartoon, but it comes courtesy of the Foot Clan in the latest reboot. Beyond the paint job returning the iconic Turtle Van to the movie mythology, Donatello can be heard playing a riff on the cartoon’s theme song with the vehicle’s horn as well.
The closing moments of the film prove that Mikey is just as much in love with April O’Neil (in a friend way, of course) as in previous films. In this case, he demonstrates his romantic intentions by serenading April with impromptu karaoke of the 1967 hit “Happy Together” – originally performed by The Turtles.
Although it may be hard to view each of the Turtles’ new character designs in full during the film’s action, that doesn’t mean the designers didn’t fit in a few Easter eggs for eagle-eyed viewers. For Raphael, that includes one of his metal bracers, apparently fashioned from a trashed Campbell’s soup can. According to others, his shell is marked with the phrase “Mikey was here” – written in Japanese kanji.
The wealth of cobbled-together technology and wiring that give Donatello his edge in analyzing the battlefield is home to a few odd items, but director Jonathan Liebesman confirmed to i09 that his gear also includes a (likely well-worn) tribute to the Ninja Turtles’s past video game fame as well:
I’ll tell you what I designed, but I don’t think you’re allowed the product placement. There is a Nintendo controller on his arm. A vacuum cleaner on the back. A solar panel on his back to power all his stuff. I originally wanted an Xbox on his back to sort of be the CPU that powers everything.
Those are all the easter eggs, bits of comic book, cartoon and movie trivia we managed to spot on our first viewings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but if you have any that have been missed, please share them in the comments.
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