Teenage Mutant Ninja Friendship – The longevity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (further abbreviated as TMNT) is one of the world’s largest and longest running massively successful franchises. Be it comics, television shows, movies, action figures, or video games, America can’t seem to get enough of these adolescent shinobi reptilians. But what is it about the TMNT that makes them so successful? Not many franchises can continue to generate profit over the course of over 30 years.
While the key to success for the Turtles themselves in mutation, in reality, the key to success for the franchise is evolution. Over the course of 4 different televisions shows (5 if you include the brief 2-episode anime that aired exclusively in Japan) and 6 big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, the TMNT brand has continually evolved, while still maintaining what makes the series so popular. This is the key to evolution, keeping what works, and changing and/or getting rid of what doesn’t.
So, through the course of this article, we’ll take a look at what had continued to work throughout the longevity of the TMNT franchise, but also what has changed from TV show to movie, to TV show and beyond.
Perhaps the most important thing about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is their personalities. As the theme song as the original 1987 television show dictates, “Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines … Raphael is cool but rude, Michelangelo is a party dude!” While this may just seem like basic personality traits, they are key to the success of the Ninja Turtles franchise, thus the personalities of the Turtles remain mostly the same across all different iterations of TMNT. Whether they actually are connected by blood (this varies between iterations) the Ninja Turtles are always the best of friends. The four turtles are also a very relatable archetype for children. Most kids viewing any Ninja Turtles cartoon, be they 1990s kids, 2000s kids, or 2010 kids, have an easy time picking their favorite turtles, which is generally the one they most closely identify with. A nerdy kid is likely to relate to Donatello, while a more rambunctious child may more closely relate to Michelangelo. Over the last 30 years, it’s likely been very easy to find kids on any elementary school playground pretending to be the Turtles themselves, which not only brings the children closer together, strengthening their friendship, but it also frequently keeps the Turtles on their mind. It gives the children a common interest, and they can always look forward to getting together and playing with their TMNT action figures, watching the newest TMNT movie, or perhaps enjoying the newest (often co-op) Ninja Turtles game together. There’s a solid connection not only between kids and their groups of friends, but also between the groups themselves and the Turtles.
While the personalities of the Turtles are mostly the same across all various forms of Ninja Turtles media, how those personalities are conveyed is what changes from iteration to iteration. For example, in the live action series Ninja Turtles The Next Mutation (originally airing in 1997) Raphael may make fun of Donatello for being a “computer dork” or something along those lines. Whereas in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutants in Manhattan (released in 2016) Michaelangelo may pick on Donatello for taking a “nerd selfie.” Obviously, colloquial english has evolved over 17 years, so the Turtles follow suit. In another, more general example, it’s interesting to look at the general difference in mood between the three animated Ninja Turtles television programs. While all three animated series are fairly lighthearted, the 2003 cartoon seems to feature a slightly edgier and darker tone than the other two. It may be a bit of a stretch in correlation, but it’s possible that the general darker tone of society in the years of the shows release may be a cause to this. Perhaps we can see a bit of progression in society across the three shows, starting in the period between 1987 and 1996 where things were a bit more lighthearted, like the original Ninja Turtles animated series. Then, between the years of 2003 and 2009, during the release of the second animated series, things were a bit darker and more serious, and the world seemed a bit darker, what with economic downturns and not-so-great relationships between countries and private organizations. However, around 2012, things started to look up again, and they continue to do so, as with the newest animated TMNT series. The staunch comparison between TMNT series is most evident in the above picture, which features the 1987 version of the Turtles in Turtles Forever, a 2009 TV movie based around the second animated series, showing the differences between the differently timed Ninja Turtles.
Over the years, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have stuck with what works, without getting stuck in the past. The Ninja Turtles feel the mood of society around them and adjust accordingly. Each iteration of the Turtles continues to utilize the Turtles’ distinct and relatable personality traits, while also capturing and capitalizing on the zeitgeist. Also, no matter what year it is, no matter where you are, it will never not be cool to let out a victory “Cowabunga, Dude!”