If you come from outside of the UK, Ireland or several other European countries then you would be forgiven for thinking that the title of this post was wrong, and should in fact be Ninja Turtles. Well, these days that is definitely the case, but back in the mid 1980’s, when the Turtles cartoon first aired in the UK it was renamed because the word Ninja was seen as being too violent to be associated with a childrens TV programme.
Luckily this didn’t really effect the cartoon too badly. Other than a change to the logo and a few changes to the theme song the adventures of Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo were relatively untouched by the censors scissors, at least as far as I’m aware. Michelangelo did have some nunchuks, which were banned in films and on TV for many years in the UK, even in adult films (most notably Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, which suffered a fairly heavy cut) so there may have been a few scenes cut here and there involving those, but given these would have only been fight scenes the storylines and humour of the series would not have been compromised too much.
Originally the Turtles started life as comic book characters, but it wasn’t until the cartoon series appeared in 1987 that Turtle Power really hit the big time and they became a merchandising sensation stretching to action figures, films, videogames and all the other associated things like pencil cases and lunch boxes. More on some of these another time perhaps, but for now we’ll concentrate on the cartoon.
Probably the biggest influence the cartoon series had was to introduce different coloured bandanas for each of the Turtles. Prior to this they had all worn red, but in the cartoon only Raphael had red. Leonardo wore blue, Michelangelo wore orange and Donatello plumped for purple accessories. Another minor difference was the origins of Splinter. In the comics, Splinter, the Turtles mentor, was the mutated pet rat of Hamato Yoshi, a Ninja master. In the cartoon, Splinter was actually a mutated Yoshi (the Ninja master, no the weird green dinosaur thing from the Mario games!)
Whilst the enemies main enemy was still Shredder, his foot soldiers had become robots (to avoid the problem of killing people in a kids show) and he was also helped (hindered) by mutated goons Bebop and Rocksteady. Shredder was also bossed around by Krang, a villain from the mysterious Dimension X, who resided in a big tunneling vehicle called the Technodrome. Krang was a little pink brain like blob, with two little tendrils that he used to operate the controls of a giant robotic suit that allowed him to move around a bit quicker. His voice was wonderful to listen to, and is hard to describe, varying in pitch and tone as he spoke in a most bizarre way.
The Turtles were still helped out by reporter April O’Neil, who tried to present them in a good light on her news broadcasts, but was about the only person who believed that they weren’t scary monsters out to cause trouble. They also were aided by Casey Jones, a street vigilante who wore a hockey mask and normally carried a baseball bat as a weapon. Unsurprisingly Casey wasn’t a great deal more popular with the public that the Turtles were.
The cartoon was also interesting in that whilst its episodes were generally fairly stand alone, there was normally some kind of story arc playing out as well, with events from previous episodes coming back up in future ones. A great many guest characters appeared from time to time, including cross overs with other comic books. Most notable of these was Samurai Rabbit Usagi Yojimbo, who appeared in the Turtles cartoon a number of times and was even made into a Turtles branded action figure. Usagi Yojimbo may not be that well known, but he has been around for twenty-plus years as a successful comic book character, and even had his own videogame.