As the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles return to the silver screen, we take a look at a few totally bodacious things that you might not have known about the heroes in a half-shell.
If you grew up in the ’80s or ’90s, the release of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie will no doubt stir up nostalgia of watching the heroes in a half-shell taking on the baddies in the underworld of New York, receiving wise words from their ninja rat father-figure Master Splinter and eating a pizza after every duel. The turtles entertained a generation of kids and were a real merchandising money spinner, spawning toys and video games. The new film is directed by Michael Bay, who brought us the Transformers films, so expect lots of action and Megan Fox in a cute outfit. If you weren’t lucky enough to spend your Saturday mornings shouting ‘turtle power!’ at the TV, then here’s what you need to know about the reptilian heroes ahead of their big screen comeback.
Named after artists
Superhero films often have their quirks – that’s the joy of it. We believe in the characters regardless of their weirdness – in fact that’s usually what we love about them. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are super-strong reptiles that live on a diet of pizza and were raised by a rat in a sewer. Fine. Yet the question that beguiles many is why were they named after Renaissance artists. And the answer is really simple – the creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, felt the artist names were a good fit. When the pair first sketched out the characters in a brainstorming session in Massachusetts in 1983, they initially gave the characters Japanese names. However, these didn’t sound right to Eastmen and Laird, so they went for Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, which they felt were ‘quirky enough to fit the concept’.
All ninjas wear masks – it comes with the territory. But in the original comic by Mirage Studios, the turtles wore black and white masks. When the comics began to appear in colour, they all wore classic superhero red and only their weapons differentiated them. When the turtles were re-marketed for a younger audience, the masks were changed to different colours so kids could tell them apart. It also made them much more marketable.
If there’s one thing that original fans will remember, it’s Michelangelo’s creative vocabulary. Mikey is the gang’s little brother and the clown of the cast – a real surfer dude. So we have him to thank for the popularisation of ‘cowabunga dude!’ The phrase, however, was hotly contested and Eastman and Laird were sued for US$5 million [Dhs18.3 million] by Buffalo Bob Smith, host of the Howdy Doody Show, because he claimed they stole ‘cowabunga’ from his programme. The word was first used as the catchphrase greeting of a Native American character named Chief Thunderthud, however it had been adopted by surfers in the 1960s. After a few months of legal wrangling, Smith settled for US$50,000 [Dhs183.6 million].
Martial arts skills
Each of the teenage turtles has a specialist ninja weapon of choice, which in the comic was the main visual difference between them. Leonardo, the oldest of the quartet, is skilled with twin katana swords; Michelangelo distracts and destroys with the nunchuks; Raphael, the hot-tempered one, likes to fight with a sai, a form of Japanese dagger; and Donatello, the crew’s geeky gadget loving brother, works with a bo staff.
Who is April O’Neil?
April is the constant female character, appearing in everything from the comics to the feature films. She first appears as a talented computer programmer and lab assistant to sinister scientist Baxter Stockman. But in subsequent incarnations of TMNT, April appears as a journalist with a storyline woven in that she was pressured into a career in science by her father despite always having an interest in journalism. In the new feature film she’s played by Megan Fox, and it’s revealed that her father was involved in the creation of the turtles as he worked on the mutagen responsible for their mutation.
The first appearance of the turtles was in Eastman and Laird’s self-published comic book. The two founded Mirage Studios, which was creatively named because there was no actual studio, just a table in Laird’s living room. Eastman used his US$500 [Dhs1,836] tax return and Laird emptied his bank account of US$200 [Dhs734], and they borrowed US$1,300 [Dhs4,775] from Eastman’s uncle to print just 3,000 copies of their first comic book, which sold out in a few weeks. They knew they were on to something when requests continued to pour in from all over the country.
A fifth Turtle?
There could have been one more turtle added to the band of fighting brothers. Eastman and Laird actually sketched out a menacing-looking turtle called Kirby (the name’s not so threatening) for the fourth turtle movie that never made it to production. Kirby would have been introduced to viewers by a magic crystal that brings drawings to life, but initial feedback from fans proved that less was more definitely more.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is out in cinemas across Dubai on from Thursday September 4.