While scouring ancient and loosely archived versions of Playmates Toys’ website, I found a goldmine of late ‘90s Ninja Turtles crud. What an interesting time for those guys!
Many of us stopped collecting TMNT toys years before the line died (if it ever truly did), so if you’re like me, you missed some incredible stuff on the tail-end. If you think about it, lots of lines hit their creative peak too late for it to really matter. Arguably, Kenner’s best Star Wars figures were the ones nobody had. Arguably, Mattel’s best Masters of the Universe toys came out long after He-Man lost his cool.
It was the same with Playmates’ Ninja Turtles collection. No longer guaranteed strong sales on brand name alone, the toys grew weirder and more intricate, with the kinds of goofy special features that aren’t seen in toy lines until they hit their seventh string. If you never gave up on TMNT, you were rewarded in a big way.
Below: Tons of Ninja Turtles figures that some of you never knew existed!
Holy hell, I WANT THESE. I was aware of the “micro” line of Ninja Turtles toys, but I had no idea that there were corresponding playsets shaped like Ninja Turtles!
Here, our four heroes start off as “complete” action figures, each with exclusive weapons and accessories. They would’ve been interesting enough even if they didn’t fold out to reveal two miniature Ninja Turtles living inside!
The “base” figures doubled as playsets, with a flavor akin to Mighty Max toys. Every part of them popped up, down or sideways, creating whole little worlds for your mini-figures. As expensive as they’ve become ($60 and up from what I see), can any true TMNT fan resist something called a Turtle In A Turtle?
TMNT STRETCH FIGURES!
Released as part of TMNT’s 10th anniversary celebration in 1996, this was a line of stretchy figures, made from magic rubber and filled with gooey sand. If you counted “Donatello with triple long arms” among the things you couldn’t live without, these figures were for YOU.
The four Turtles were included, of course, as was Shredder. Shredder was the most interesting, if only for yet another mangling of his traditional colors. This time, Shredder had a black helmet and an almost entirely purple body. (I suppose those were his “Super Shredder” colors, but he looked like a California Raisin masquerading as Smash from Demolition.)
“So elastic, they’re spastic!” Yeah, I’m pretty sure that tagline wouldn’t fly in 2014.
COIL FORCE FIGURES!
These muscular Ninja Turtle figures were fitted with sturdy metal coils at their joints, which allowed kids to pose them in all sorts of crazy ways. This gimmick was canonically referred to as “Kowa-Boinga coil technology,” and that’s honestly the only reason I’m including them here. “Kowa-Boinga coil technology.”
DINO TURTLES FIGURES!
When the chips are down, every toy company turns to dinosaurs. The “Dino Turtles” morphed our pals into dinosaur/turtle hybrids, and as strange as that sounds, it actually worked well. (It’s also worth noting that the packaging made these Turtles seem almost villainous in their ferocity. We’d come a long way from smiles and pizza!)
As was usually the case with these weirder spinoffs, Shredder’s “upgrade” was the most intriguing. In this series, he became Tyranno Shredder, with only the original’s spiky wardrobe to betray his true identity. (Apparently, the Turtles took on their dinosaur forms to handle the newly monstrous Shredder, who mutated himself! I guess losing battles for ten years straight would make anyone a little desperate.)
Ahhh, another for “must buy” list. Remember the Jaegers from Pacific Rim? This was the TMNT version. Each set came with a small Ninja Turtle figure that could “ride” inside a larger Turtle mech!
As detailed as the mechs were, the neat thing was that they weren’t that much larger than regular TMNT figures. Your old plastic Rocksteady would be mighty confused as to why he was suddenly battling a half-sized Ninja Turtle in full-sized Ninja Turtle robot suit.
The other neat thing? Compared to the other toys featured here, Muta-Force figures haven’t skyrocketed in value. With some patience, you can find one for $20 or so, still in the package.
Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation may be the most polarizing “thing” in the TMNT universe. The switch to a live action format was not in itself a horrendous move, but from everything I remember, the execution was… iffy. The budget clearly didn’t allow the format to shine, and even if it did, the show’s ambiance was just so cheesy. (To the point where it sometimes felt like it was made for younger audiences than the cartoon!)
No matter what you thought of the show, it at least helped to keep Ninja Turtles toys in production. The Next Mutation inspired scores of playthings, including an interesting line of “Turtleflage” figures. These were normal figures at heart, but they came with snap-on outfits that made the characters look like… uh, various backgrounds? (Turtleflage = Camouflage, duh.)
Shown above is Venus de Milo (the fifth and only female Ninja Turtle, who has since been erased from history) in her “Camo-Armor” disguise. This let Venus naturally blend in with dilapidated castle bricks. Okay!
NINJA POWER FIGURES!
And here’s a super diverse group of Ninja Turtles figures. Five different sets, each with their own flavor and special features. (Though Playmates put them all under the “Ninja Power” umbrella, the toy packaging indicated otherwise.)
There are a few standouts here. Pizza Tossin’ Turtles shot miniature pizza missiles, but more importantly, they had crazy, Vinton-esque bugout eyes. Perhaps even cooler were the Mutations figures, which allowed heroes and villains to transform into their pre-mutation looks. (Those figures were as close as TMNT came to aping Transformers.)
Hope you enjoyed this romp through some of TMNT’s lesser-known exploits. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably gonna go drop too much money on eBay now.
Turtle in a Turtle? Come on!