If you didn’t live through Turtlemania, I simultaneously pity you and envy you. I pity you because you missed out on the Golden Age of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were everywhere, in everything and the Green Machine was hopelessly inescapable. You read the comics, you watched the cartoon, you saw the movies, you played with the toys, you ate the disgusting pudding pies and you cleansed your filthy consumerist body with the officially licensed foaming aerosol bath soap. As popular as the Turtles are now, as popular as the Turtles were 10 years ago, it all PALES in comparison to the iron grip they held on popular culture during the early ‘90s.
It still exists, but now it smells like mango.
So then why do I also envy you? Because holy s--t, so much of it was terrible.
With the Turtles being licensed to the breaking point, it should come as no surprise that a goodly portion of their off-shoot media fell noticeably short in the quality department. I mean, yeah, even Star Wars Mania in the ‘70s and ‘80s produced its Holiday Special and occasional rap video. These things happen.
But when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shat out something awful, dear God in Heaven. You don’t understand how bad it was. If you think Saban’s Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation TV series or the TMNT III motion picture were the worst live-action Turtle media out there, you’ve barely smelt the tip of the shitberg.
Yes. Worse than this.
And thanks to You Tube, now you can experience for yourself just how bad the darkest corners of Turtlemania really were. And if you were there and saw it all the first time, well, let’s suffer through this together just like we did in the ‘90s.
Here are 5 virtually unwatchable live-action TMNT video specials.
5. Operation Blue Line
In this thrilling promotional video, April O’Neil wants to tell everyone in Los Angeles about the new RTD Metro Blue Line train system. Unfortunately, the evil Gridlock wants LA to be drenched in traffic congestion and smog, so he uses the Gigameter from Ghostbusters II (I’m sorry, the “Gloosmday Device”) to make all advertisements for the RTD Blue Line disappear. April summons the Turtles, or guys in theme park mascot costumes, and they use the Blue Line’s easy access and reliable service to chase the villain down.
Of all the videos on this list, I’d say “Operation Blue Line” is the least offensive because it has mercy enough to be short. Right around 10 minutes, its stupidity doesn’t overstay its welcome. All the other videos on this list are going to run between half an hour and feature-length, so get ready for that.
The oddities in this promotional video for a state of the art train system (that’s probably become a mobile crackhouse by now) make it a little interesting to watch. So April and the Turtles operate out of Los Angeles in this universe instead of New York City? Sure, why not.
One thing you might appreciate is that they got the actual voice actors from the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon to reprise their roles for the video. Yep, that’s Cam Clarke (Leo), Townsend Coleman (Mike), Rob Paulsen (Raph) and Barry Gordon (Don). They won’t be in any of the other videos in this s--t-a-thon, either. Yeah, for some reason, whenever licensees decided to make a crappy live-action TMNT video special, they cast people who, even on your most charitable days, you would never describe as “voice actors”. So this was a welcome bit of authenticity.
Operation Blue Line is, like I said, the least offensive of the batch; hence it’s ranking at #5. If you couldn’t make it through all 10 minutes of that video, then boy, you are NOT ready for what’s about to come next.
4. We Wish You a Turtle Christmas
This was one of several sing-a-long videos starring the Turtles. In fact, four out of five of the videos on this list are either sing-a-longs or musicals. I’m not sure what the deal with that was; why the go-to gimmick for live-action TMNT VHS tapes was singing and dancing. It just turned out that way and many childhood weekends were the worse because of it.
I mean, seriously, imagine being a kid in 1993, going to Blockbusters on a Friday after school with the promise that you could rent one tape for the weekend. And you unknowingly walked away with THIS garbage. This sort of thing happened all the time, mostly because there were so many of these crappy TMNT live-action sing-a-long tapes; it was hard NOT to pick one by accident.
So imagine the crushing dismay when popping in what you THOUGHT was a tape of Secret of the Ooze and instead seeing the Turtles decorate a Christmas tree while singing a reggae version of “Deck the Halls”. And it’s only downhill from there.
And jeez, man. Secret of the Ooze featured songs from Vanilla Ice and it STILL had a better soundtrack than “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas”.
The voices for the Turtles are… interesting. Whoever was in charge of this thing figured that since the Turtles are from New York, they should all have appropriate accents. So Raph tries the Brooklyn thing like his movie counterpart, while Leo has a Jersey Guido accent that’s monumentally off-putting. Mikey also sounds suitably Nyew Yahkuh, but also tries to do the Surfer Dude dialect and it amounts to auditory mayhem. Donnie is the only one not stressing a New York accent of some flavor, God bless him.
What’s amusing, I guess, is that their accents make them all sound like they’re angry. All the time. So these light-hearted arguments about who forgot to get Splinter a Christmas present feel uncomfortably tense, like at any second Leo is just gonna straight up cut Raph for mouthing off to him.
Anyway, on the off chance you couldn’t finish the thing, here’s Splinter:
This is what passed for entertainment in the early ‘90s. We paid money for the privilege to watch this.
3. Turtle Tunes
So this was made by the same sadists who produced We Wish You a Turtle Christmas. Because one just wasn’t enough.
Now, I want to say I noticed something and it will be interesting to absolutely nobody. The turtles used in the title sequence to Turtle Tunes and We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, recreating the origin of the TMNT in a crude montage, are red eared sliders.
Believe it or not, but that is canonically accurate to the original blood-soaked Mirage comics, where the Ninja Turtles are mutated red eared sliders. I’m also entirely certain that it’s just a coincidence the people filming this thing got the subspecies of turtle right, but credit where credit is due. They got SOMETHING right, and that counts.
So the plot of this one is that April has pulled some strings and now the Turtles can pitch Turtle TV, a music video network to a cable executive. But first they have to film some music videos. So after recycling the same footage from the Christmas video of them dancing their way out of the sewers, they go to a playground and meet a bunch of kids. I don’t see any parents, either. This is troubling.
As with the Christmas thing, most of the songs they sing are parodies of public domain tunes. Like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “On Top of Old Smokie” and s--t like that. They also sing educational songs to the kids with lessons such as “don’t talk to strangers”. But talking to strangers in Ninja Turtle costumes who want to video tape you when your parents aren’t around? That’s totally fine.
And just because things weren’t lame enough, they also sing a song about picking up litter. And none of the kids dancing along in this video look like they’re having even a little fun. I guess this is what they did to juvenile delinquents in New York during the early ‘90s; sentenced them to costar in educational Ninja Turtles video tapes.
Also, they actually filmed these things in New York City? Well, I guess now we know where the budget actually went; it costs a fortune to film ANYTHING there.
2. Gettin’ Down in Your Town
So we just crossed a threshold of crap that Turtle Tunes and Turtle Christmas can’t even TOUCH. We’re into the live stage show stuff, now. The Tenth Level of Hell.
Gettin’ Down in Your Town was the follow-up to the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour. So yeah, if I’m covering the follow-up in the #2 slot of this countdown then I wonder what the top spot could be? But we’ll suffer that indignity when we get there.
Gettin’ Down contains a lot of the leftovers of Coming Out of Their Shells. Basically, songs that appeared on the soundtrack but not in the live performance or characters who were spared the first time around receive their overdue butchering (poor, poor Casey Jones).
While Coming Out of Their Shells was a major media event and treated like a Very Big Deal (more on that later), Gettin’ Down in Your Town was a lower key affair. Yes, it’s a cheaper, crappier version of Coming Out of Their Shells. Can you imagine? Well, I mean, you don’t have to imagine. The videos are right up there waiting for you.
From what I’ve read, while there was a road show version of Gettin’ Down that travelled the shopping mall circuit in 1993, it was mostly performed at Six Flags theme parks. Evidently the Six Flags show used a lot of additional licensed music and references to try to spice it up, all of which the VHS version had to cut for purposes of cost. So the video is actually an even WORSE version of the thing. It’s like they distilled the show down to its very essence. And what an essence it is. I mean, just look at that live audience enthusiasm:
You can actually see the people getting up and leaving. And that was the BEST audience footage they could find to splice into the video.
By 1993, Turtlemania really was breathing its last gasps and things like this are part of what killed it. The kids who liked TMNT were now getting too old for it and the kids who were the right age were STILL too old for embarrassing s--t like these stage shows.
Anyway, I’ll save you the trouble of using the fast forward button and just show you Casey Jones:
Well, they tried.
1. The Coming Out of Their Shells Tour (ALL of it)
The Coming Out of Their Shells Tour was big. I don’t think you understand how big it was. This was a major multimedia EVENT and there was no escaping it. Assaulting our senses in 1990, Turtlemania was at its zenith and Coming Out of Their Shells was the epoch of brand saturation and interactivity at the time.
You didn’t just rent some video tape from Blockbusters. Coming Out of Their Shells was much bigger than that. You had to endure the thing in carefully portioned doses across numerous outlets, building up to the crescendo of garbage that was the actual stage performance.
Speaking of garbage, your first stop was Pizza Hut.
With the purchase of a personal pan pizza, you received the Coming Out of Their Shells starter pack. It came with a cut-out mask, a poster, a comic book, a show program and a soundtrack on cassette tape. The comic book actually set up the backstory of the show (the Turtles thought they’d defeated Shredder for good and are charged by Splinter to spread joy and merriment across the world), the program told you what locations the show would be playing at, and the cassette tape got you… pumped to hear the music live?
Well, not really. The songs were pure torture and even as a 6 year-old you didn’t want to hear them. It was more the excitement built up by the marketing that sucked us all into this infamously wretched thing. Yeah, I went to Pizza Hut and got the whole package. I recall only trying to listen to that tape ONCE on my Walkman and quickly shelving it in disgust. Bear in mind that in my teenage years, I listened to Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. I was never a child of discriminating taste.
But that was merely stop number 1. The hype train had only just begun chugging along. Your next destination was the Oprah Winfrey Show:
As a kid, I only watched Oprah when my mom MADE me. Like, Oprah would do a Very Special Episode about drugs (this was the early 90s) and mom would tape it while I was at school and when I got home I had to sit and watch it. “Pay attention, Mark. This is important!” All I knew was that if Oprah hated drugs then I needed to get me some heroin purely out of spite.
This was a promotional thing, if you couldn’t guess. The Turtles perform one of their awful musical numbers, they try to talk about the message of the show, April joins them and gives her support, Shredder shows up to declare his intent to ruin their show and good god almighty. Those poor kids. Just look at them.
They do NOT want to be there. Many of them were probably even Ninja Turtle fans, too. But they weren’t when they walked out of that studio.
But we’re not quite there, yet. Before you could watch Coming Out of Their Shells, you had to watch the Making of video. Yeah, it had its own separate Making of special that was released separately on home video. This was a rental all by itself. You were expected to be as excited to learn about how they MADE Coming Out of Their Shells as you were to watch the real thing.
The whole special is done in-character, with the Turtles discussing how “they” made their stage show. At least this way it kept real human beings from having to shoulder the blame.
The Making of video gave us an even more intimate preview of the show and its… glorious production values. You’d think after Oprah and this video, we’d have taken the hint that this was going to be awful, but you underestimate the brainwashing power of Turtlemania. We saw this:
And STILL wanted to see the stage show.
And that brings us to the actual Coming Out of Their Shells Tour stage show. There were so many opportunities available to view it that you didn’t have an excuse to miss it, unless you were cognizant enough to not want to.
The show premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in New York and travelled across the country from there. But hey, didn’t have a performance anywhere near you? That’s okay, the show was broadcast on Pay Per View! Yes, Pay Per View. It’s not just for wrestling and porn, anymore. The Ninja Turtles are there, too.
And lastly, if you managed to avoid seeing it live or on Pay Per View, well, there was the VHS release…
I believe the appropriate, universal reaction is “Uuuuuuggghhhhh.”
All those other videos were a half hour or forty-five minutes at most. This s--t is feature-length. I recall renting it from Blockbusters, because that was how I saw it, and I don’t think I watched the whole thing. Ninja Turtles became very uncool, very quickly after seeing this. I mean, here’s the Shredder:
If you thought his portrayal in the ‘80s cartoon was undignified, you’re going to have to adjust your parameters for that sort of thing.
Baxter Stockman was there, too, because no character was granted mercy.
Baxter mans a cannon that turns records into confetti (shot into the audience). All this presages the Shredder’s rap song “I Hate Music”. The irony of the title is the closest this show ever got to being clever.
Anyway, the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour spelled the end of Turtlemania, at least from how I perceived things. It was that sobering moment where we all got caught up in the hype one last time and once it was all over, we were DONE with it. It was like getting drunk at a party, making an idiot of yourself, and then everyone looking awkwardly at one another the next day. “Let’s never do that again.”
While Turtlemania went on the decline after this, it would be a while before the Turtles would go away. There’d be two more movies and the cartoon still had, like, 6 more years left in it (although it got reduced to brief 8-episode seasons near the end). But the Turtles had almost instantly become very uncool in the eyes of a lot of children and this monstrosity generally takes the blame.
I’m actually glad so much of it is preserved on You Tube or other places across the internet (who knows if all these embedded videos will be working in a year?). I mean, I don’t like it for the nostalgia, but more as a reminder of the sorts of insanely stupid s--t we got excited for back in the early ‘90s.
I look at old photographs and films of kids from the ‘50s going bonkers for Howdy Doody or Bozo the Clown and I’m all “What the hell? Were kids in the ‘50s retarded or something?” But then videos of kids from my generation pop up, going apeshit for the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour, and I quietly bow my head in shame.
Perspective is a Hell of a thing.