The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is a series based upon characters that originated in a series of comic books created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Beginning life as a parody of dark and gritty comic books, it was adapted into a more kid-friendly animated television series in the late 1980s and subsequently spawned a long line of merchandise such as action figures, as well as a series of theatrical feature films. The franchise has also spawned numerous games, beginning with Ultra Games's NES release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The titular brothers are a quartet of turtles that, through exposure to a mutagen compound, are transformed into anthropomorphic humanoids with human intellect. They are trained in the martial arts by Splinter, a man that was likewise affected by the mutagen and transformed into an anthropomorphic rat. He raised the turtles as a father figure and named each of them after an artist of the Renaissance.
- Leonardo - He is the leader of the group. He wears a blue piece of cloth around his head, wields two katanas, and was named after Leonardo Da Vinci.
- Raphael - The more temperamental of the four, the very aggressive Raphael wields a pair of sai and is recognizable through his red mask. He was named after Raphael Sanzio.
- Donatello - The brains of the group, recognizable through his purple mask. He wields a bo staff and was named after Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi.
- Michelangelo - The comedic turtle known for his slapstick comedy, love of pizza, and nunchaku. He wears an orange mask and was named after Michelangelo Buonarroti.
The turtles' primary ally is April O'Neil, a television reporter they rescue and subsequently befriend. Their primary adversary is The Shredder, an evil, power-hungry ninja master who leads the Foot Clan.
A new cartoon premiered in 2003 produced by 4Kids Entertainment. This new version of the turtles retold the original story of the comic with creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman closely overseeing the production. After the series concluded, a final animated special called Turtles Forever was produced which crossed over the 1987 cartoon turtles and the original comic turtles teaming up to defeat the 2003 version of The Shredder.
In 2009, after Peter Laird sold the rights to Viacom, a new cartoon which was developed by Nickelodeon Animation Studios premiered in 2012. This cartoon reused and referenced tropes to both versions of the previous cartoons while keeping the dark undertones of the original and IDW comics while also introducing new and previously unseen characters to the wider Ninja Turtles universe.
In 2019, a new series called Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiered as a original series taking place while the original Ninja Turtles were still ninjas in training. Unlike the other series before it, several tropes are upended as a means for developing the young ninja's characters (e.g. Raphael is the leader instead of Leonardo).
Film & Television
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have starred in several films, five live action films and one CGI film. The first live action film is meant to be an origin story for how the turtles and their master, Splinter, came to be. The first film showed how the turtles turned into their humanoid forms, as well as introducing other characters such as April O' Neil, Casey Jones, and their nemesis, Shredder. The basic plot of the first film is an attempt to follow the storyline from the original comic while taking some liberties to make it appealing to fans of the comic and the cartoon. The first film was a purely independent film and ended up becoming a huge hit, which allowed for two more live action sequels.
The second live action film, The Secret of the Ooze, is a direct sequel to the first film and is a much more "family-friendly" film than the original. Despite its gritty aesthetics from the first film, The Secret of the Ooze's tone gravitated closer to the Saturday morning cartoon than its comic counterpart. The second film also introduces two new mutant characters, Tokka and Rahzar, who took the place of Bebop and Rocksteady. These new characters were created because the original creator of The Teenage Mutant Turtles, Kevin Eastman, did not like the family-friendly direction of the second film.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is the last live action film in the series and focuses on a story involving time travel. After finding a strange scepter, the turtles are inadvertently transported back in time to fifteenth century Japan, where they thwart a European trader's attempt to seize power before returning to their own time.
A successor to the movies called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was made for TV to further continue the live action adventure of the turtles and introduced a fifth female turtle named Mona Lisa. The series was produced by Saban Entertainment, the same company which produced the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers series. The turtles actually crossed over into the Power Rangers In Space series in the episodes Save Our Ship and Shell Shocked.
A separate but unrelated film, TMNT, was made during the 2003 cartoon's run. Despite an all-star voice cast, the movie was a flop at the box office and plans for a sequel were discontinued.
A reboot of the live-action films was released in 2014 produced by Nickelodeon Studios and Platinum Dunes. The movie is an original take on the Ninja Turtles with some nods to the 1987 cartoon and the IDW comic books. The movie was a mixed success but managed to generate interest in sequels, with the second film introducing the live-action debuts of the Utrom alien warlord Krang, and fan-favorite henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady.