Anyone who lived through the ’80s and early ’90s knows the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their’s is the true story of four talking reptiles and one very large rat who befriend a large-breasted woman on their way to fighting a walking cheese grater and in the process taught us all the way of the ninja. And pizza. They’ve spawned no less than four different comic series, a butt load of merchandise, four animated TV shows, one live-action TV show, nearly twenty video games, an awe-inspiring Vanilla Ice song and now six movies with the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
All that started from humble beginnings late one night when struggling artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman sketched some goofy-looking turtles dressed as ninjas. They decided to do a one-shot comic, started their own company called Mirage Studios, signed a licensing deal on a napkin and just like that, a billion dollar franchise was born.
Although in recent years the Turtles popularity may have waned and Michael Bay continues to try his best to blow all the nostalgia right out of them (but apparently far less so with TMNT 2), there’s still a whole lot of sewer to cover.
Here are 12 Things You Didn’t Know About The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
12. Batman Once Beat Up the Ninja Turtles
In late 2015 DC Comics and IDW Publishing released a six-part Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries. In it the evil alien warlord and dismembered talking brain, Krang, transports the Ninja Turtles to an alternate universe known as Gotham City. Leo, Mikey, Donnie and Raph soon run into the Caped Crusader, and it is nothing short of glorious. Without giving too much away, Batman mops the floor with them.
Seeing Batman handily defeat four turtles trained in the art of ninjutsu without breaking a sweat is a master class in awesome. And despite their embarrassing showing, the Turtles can’t help but agree. After Splinter distracts Batman with a smoke bomb and the boys are able to flee with their tails between their shells, they immediately head to an internet cafe, look up the Dark Knight’s resume and start drawing up charts on why he’s so awesome.
Suffice to say, they all eventually join forces to fight Shredder and pretty much every bad guy that ever existed in Gotham, including The Joker, who for some reason mutates into a cobra. Because Turtle Power.
11. Japan Released an Anime Adaptation Called Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seem tailor-made for Japan. So it’s no surprise that in the late ’90s not one but two OVAs (their version of direct-to-video) were created to coincide with the release of the TMNT-inspired Japanese toy lines, Supermutants and Metal Mutants. Overall, they’re similar in appearance to the original cartoon, only anime-fied, and with a title containing as many cool words as possible. What do the shows have to do with Superman? Absolutely nothing.
The plot of Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend is pretty straightforward, involving a tiny fairy in a one-piece, magic crystals called Muta Stones that can turn the Turtles into Super Turtles for exactly 3-minutes, a Ninja Gaiden look-alike, a ghost, a magic mirror, Michelangelo gaining the power of bees and the Super Turtles combining Captain Planet-style into a super duper turtle called “Turtle Saint.” Also, the Neutrinos play a small role. (Remember them?)
Originally these specials were only available in Japan, but thanks to the Internet and some helpful fansubs the rest of the world can now enjoy this super mutation.
10. Michael Bay’s Rebooted Characters Were Inspired By Celebrities
When fans got their first look at Michael Bay’s turtles in 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the initial response was anything but welcoming. Their newly designed humanized faces were a major change that left many bordering on the uncanny valley. Though it makes sense they turned out the way they did when you consider that an array of real life human celebrities were used as inspiration in their creation.
Take a closer look at Leonardo and you might just see Russell Crowe’s eyes and Nelson Mandela’s mouth. Bill Murray’s face, and demeanor, inspired Michelangelo. Donatello did a face meld with Spock. And Raphael has Clint Eastwood’s snarl. Splinter, never one to be left out, embodies famed Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune right down to his samurai rat bun.
9. Daredevil Shares the Same Origin Story
The Ninja Turtles were originally conceived as a parody of some of the ’80s most popular comics like Teen Titans, New Mutants, Frank Miller’s Ronin and, in particular, Daredevil. The Foot Clan is a parody of The Hand, an order of evil mystical ninjas who were often at odds with a band of warriors led by the martial arts master and Daredevil-mentor, Stick (aka Marvel Splinter).
But perhaps the best comic connection appears in the Turtles origin story. In the Marvel comics, Matt Murdock saves a man from a speeding truck, only to be hit in the head by a radioactive canister, causing him to go blind and gain the extra-sensory powers of the Daredevil. In the Mirage comics, the canister then pulls a magic bullet, bouncing off of Murdock into a nearby glass jar of pet turtles and then into a sewer grate, where it cracks open, bathes the turtles in ooze and mutates them into bipedal, talking anthromorphs with the powers to consume vast quantities of pizza.
8. Pizza Hut Sponsored a Popular International Concert Tour
Some may remember that following the success of the first TMNT film our half-shelled heroes were sent around the world to perform in a live-stage show called “Coming Out of Their Shells,” which in hindsight was probably an ill-conceived name on many levels. Harder to recall is just how popular this victory lap was.
Pizza Hut spent $20 million on this tour that sold out stadiums everywhere it went. It produced a studio album and had a pay-per-view Radio City Music Hall special that people actually paid for. Highlights included jean jackets, Splinter singing about skipping stones, the crowd waving lighters to “April’s Ballad” and Shredder asking someone’s mom if they wanted a one-way ticket to his Technodrome then rapping about the New Kids on the Block breaking up. To top that, the green rock stars appeared on Oprah, which ends with her dancing with them onstage and singing “Pizza Power.” Classic.
Unfortunately, a lot of the songs created for the studio album were cut from the stage show, which is why a few years later the Turtles went on a second tour comprised of these rejects to shopping malls and Six Flags. It was called “Getting Down in Your Town” and was understandably far less popular.
7. Roger Corman’s Production Studio Wanted to Make a TMNT Movie Starring Billy Crystal
Early on, as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles quickly grew in popularity, a lot of opportunities came knocking on their door. One was from a production company founded by the “Pope of Pop Cinema,” famed B-movie director Roger Corman.
Corman’s New World Pictures pitched a film where four of the best ’80s comedians of the day would wisecrack for 90 minutes dressed in green-face and turtle shells. One version of the R-rated treatment involved them fighting naked nuns wielding uzis on rolling skates. And who would be playing our underground heroes? None other than Billy Crystal, Sam Kinison, Bobcat Goldthwait and Gallagher (yes, that guy with a skullet who smashes watermelons).
6. They Have a Terrible Christmas Special
For anyone who’s ever thought Michael Bay ruined the Ninja Turtles or that the Stars Wars Holiday Special was the worst thing ever done by a beloved franchise, probably hasn’t seen We Wish You a Turtle Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve, and after singing a song about how great they are, the Ninja Turtles realize they’ve forgotten to get Splinter a present. They hit the town, meet some homeless kids, Michaelangelo sings opera and they eventually find the perfect gift – a framed plastic pizza.
Containing some truly unbodacious Christmas songs and a lot of teeth, this one’s probably best left to rot in the sewers. If their borderline offensive accents aren’t enough, there’s Splinter, who looks like a cross between Chewbacca’s butt and a dead cat. The gang would appear in several other live-action videos, including one where they force kids to film them singing in hopes of starting a music network called TMNT TV and another meant to promote the opening of a LA metro line in which they fight the evil Gridlock. But, surprisingly, out of all those, We Wish You a Turtle Christmas takes the plastic pizza.
Alright, we take it back, the Star Wars Christmas Special is still the worst.
5. Kirby Was Almost the Fifth Turtle
Everyone knows about, and pretty much universally hates, Venus de Milo, the female turtle that was created for the live-action TV show, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. (Fun Fact: Her real name is Mei Pieh Chi and she was raised by a magician.) What’s not so well known, is that she was originally meant to be a male turtle named Kirby and star in a fourth live-action movie that was to follow 1993’s feudal Japan epic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3.
Intended as a less kid-friendly return to the grittiness of the first movie, TMNT 4 would have introduced this fifth turtle, named after legendary comic artist Jack Kirby. Conceptual designs created by Kevin Eastman showed the character having claws, a spiked shell and tattered cape, slightly reminiscent of Slash from the cartoons. Unfortunately the film studio insisted the new turtle be a girl, and the whole thing was scrapped.
4. Britain Can’t Handle Ninjas, Nunchucks or Turtles
When TMNT crossed the pond, the creators didn’t realize just how sensitive Europe was to the subject of ninjas. Fearing that “ninja” was too violent a word and might lead children into a life as clandestine assassins, local censors in the UK changed the TV show’s title to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.
With the innocence of Europe’s youth saved, TMHT was free to go. Or was it? Apparently, Europe was also extremely sensitive to the subject of nunchaku. Since chainsticks were banned in the UK and several other European countries, every exported scene from the first seasons of TMHT that showed nunchucks were either cut or replaced by stills containing words like “Biff!”. This included the scene in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze where Mikey holds a string of sausage links. Obviously things got confusing. That’s why, by Season 4, Michelangelo started using a turtle shelled grappling hook and by Season 5 he stopped carrying nunchunks entirely.
The Ninja Turtles would eventually get their revenge by causing an environmental crisis in the UK. Fans of the show started buying red-eared sliders (the terrapin breed they are derived from) in hordes, only to realize turtles suck as pets. As a result, people naively released them into the wild. Considered one of the world’s most invasive species, this caused a serious ecological problem, one that continues to this day.
3. They’ve Met Archie, the Ghostbusters and the Power Rangers
We’ve already touched on their visit to Gotham City, but that wasn’t the only instance when the Turtles took part in a cool crossover. At one point they attended a Josie and the Pussycats concert with Archie and the gang, then helped rescue Veronica from kidnappers masquerading as IRS agents. Another time, in celebration of the 30th anniversaries of both franchises, a four-issue comic was released uniting TMNT and Ghostbusters.
Perhaps campiest of all was when the Turtles (including Venus) appeared on Power Rangers in Space. All five got hypnotized by Astronema to take over the Rangers spaceship and “turtle-fy” its onboard computer. In one scene, the Red Ranger easily beats up Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo (just like Batman) and later uses telekinesis to save the day. Eventually, the Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles fight side-by-side, the bad guys get piled up like trash and the Turtles go surfing through space without helmets. Who needs The Avengers or Batman v Superman when you can have a totally rad Power Rangers/Ninja Turtles team up?
There are plenty of other crossovers as well, like those with Usagi Yojimbo or the one with the Lone Gunmen from the The X-Files. But you get the point. The Ninja Turtles get around.
2. April Isn’t Human
Yep, that’s right. April is actually a drawing done by her “father” of his ideal daughter. In the TMNT comic universe there exist magic crystals that, when attached to a pencil, or pen, can bring anything drawn to life. This guy really wanted a daughter so he got his hands on some and presto! April O’Neil. Understandably, tracing back her origins (through time travel no-less) messed April up pretty good, causing her to flee to Alaska to ponder the existential implications of being an ink drawing.
If that’s not confusing enough for her, there’s also been a long dispute swirling around over whether or not April was meant to be black in the original Eastman and Laird comics. It’s true the character got her name and was in small part a tribute to Kevin Eastman’s girlfriend at the time, who was black. Beyond that, the evidence varies. However, the ’80s cartoon definitely went through some whitewashing, having turned the comic’s Dr. Baxter from black to white. Though, we should also note the awesome fact that Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the voice of Shredder, who was supposed to be asian.
1. Raphael Punched Hitler in the Face
In the late ’80s, Archie comics published a new TMNT comic book series initially inspired by the cartoons. However, things very quickly veered into the bizarre. For instance the trans-dimensional decapitated cow head named Cudley the Cowlick once transported the Turtles in his mouth to an intergalactic wrestling match.
Then there’s the memorable occasion when a time machine powered by Hitler’s brain goes back to reunite with his past physical self. The Turtles follow in hot pursuit and, to prevent past Hitler from getting hold of his future brain, Raphael calls him a perv and then knocks him out… you know, for the millions. Leonardo finishes the job by telling Hitler he is in Hell and that they are green demons in possession of his soul who now want his brain. This is too much for Hitler to handle so he shoots himself in the head to protect his mind.
The moral of the story is don’t believe everything you read in the history books. The real reason Adolf Hitler committed suicide was because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tricked him into doing it.
Did we miss any unknown ninja facts? Let us know in the comments!