In the early '90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was riding the sewage wave of popularity: Live-action films; a syndicated cartoon; video games; comic books and an established toyline from Playmates all contributed to shell-shocked childhoods. Welcome to Retro Injection's fifth anniversary special! As Michelangelo would say, "It's gonna be mondo epic."
I was once all about the Ninja Turtles, and I still appreciate TMNT for its anything-goes creativity and martial arts action. I've currently having a blast, revisiting the complete original cartoon series on DVD! There are tons of jokes that I didn't get back in the day. Dumb kids!
The above photo was taken at my eleventh birthday party in 1991. I've just opened Krang's Android Body! This action figure was purchased from our local Hills discount store. My friend Luke and I urban explored what was left of the building (later an Ames) in 2021. You can watch our logic-defying trespassing here. I almost fell through a second-story floor.
Getting the Android Body was a big deal, and I wrote about it in my diary for a future audience. That's you!
The following pictures were taken at my tenth birthday party, held at a Friendly's restaurant in 1990. I'm the one wearing "The Heartbeat of America" shirt. Kids in my school would mock the annoying jingle as "The Fartbeat of America." I stopped wearing the shirt after that, because I was already a prime target for bullying! (Some would argue for good cause.)
My dad sips coffee while I open my presents, the Turtlecycle being among them. In the background are Grandma Clarisa and Uncle Frank. I inherited grandma's house, and built an arcade in it. She would have been proud.
I made the mistake of asking my dad where he got the TMNT tablecloth. As only a father can, he humiliated me in front of my friends when he answered in a sinister tone, "From Shredder!" The story has become the stuff of legend in the family. That Friendly's? It was remodeled into an insurance office, and now sits vacant (center building below). Totally bogus! This place is a ten-second drive from the old Video Tech, as seen in my tribute to defunct video stores.
At that party, my parents gave me the original TMNT film, which I still own. The VHS tape proudly resides in my physical media collection, alongside the fairly solid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, and the lesser third installment, Turtles in Time. The trilogy was produced by Golden Harvest, the studio behind four of Bruce Lee's five films. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles introduced kung-fu movies to a generation. It's aged like a fine pizza cheese, especially next to Michael Bay's CGI atrocities.
The Making of the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour was another gift from that party. This "rockumentary" plays it straight as concert crew members and the Ninja Turtles themselves talk about being rising musical talent. It's almost This is Spinal Tap with guys in bad turtle costumes! I forced my wife to watch it as a pre-marriage test of her patience.
Speaking of tapes, my parents bought me three of the four $3.49 Burger King TMNT videos, containing one episode each! Adjusted for inflation, that's $23.79 for just over an hour of entertainment. Ah, the days before YouTube.
With its "sunglasses on the couch" motif, Burger King's commercial is an unofficial nod to the Maxell cassette ad. If you say "BK TMNT" really fast, you'll find it was pointless.
Didn't get the Maxell cassette tape reference? I got you.
Here's my mom and I toasting to the new year of 1992. I've got my Leonardo color-changing bandana mug, which came shrink wrapped to Cookie Crisp cereal. A set of bowls was also available, but I could never find any: Shoppers would steal the tableware right off the boxes! Contending with these scumbags, I was lucky to get the cup. These were epic freebies to attach to boxes; even back in '86, you had to mail away for a bowl from Nerds Cereal.
Developed by Playmates Toys, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line boasted some of the most creative action figures and playsets of the era. Few Turtle toys were as epic as 1990's Technodrome, the fortified subterranean headquarters of archvillains Krang and Shredder! The 1989 sewer playset is a close second; I played with that once at some random kid's house.
The Technodrome boasts radical features like a retromutagen ooze pit, and my personal favorite, the launching eyeball!
Having been a rabid fan of all things green and ninja-like, I set out at ten years old to get my own Technodrome, by saving allowance money and doing old-fashioned child labor. The Technodrome was the first major purchase I ever made, costing $50.00 in 1991, equivalent to $104.19 in today's stellar economy! (Chris, the kid next door to me, donated a dollar to the cause.) My Technodrome came from the late, great Kay-Bee Toys. I spent collective months in Kay-Bee, and bought way more than the Technodrome from them; check out my acclaimed Kay-Bee Toys tribute here.
I was so psyched about the Technodrome that three days of my diary chronicle its purchase. Girls wouldn't hit my radar for a couple more years.
I went to my mom's house to find some photos for this article. Years ago, she'd bookmarked a page "Technodrome," cutting my search by hours. Cowabunga!
The Technodrome lurks in the background on Christmas morning, 1991. To the left of the Technodrome, you can see the box for Krang's Android Body.
I've held onto my Technodrome because it marks my first realized goal, the story behind it more meaningful than the toy. It's missing some parts and the plastic has yellowed a bit, but we all get older! (Update: I found the Technodrome and Party Wagon pieces in a plastic sandwich bag.)
According to the original TMNT cartoon, the Technodrome is "five times the size of the Houston Astrodome," and has 987 rooms. While the Playmates Technodrome isn't quite that imposing, it's a gargantuan toy that any self-respecting boy would love to this day.
In August of 2022, I sold some of my childhood TMNT toys, along with oddball stuff. (Remember The Incredible Crash Dummies? Nobody misses them!) Included with the lot was the now-broken Turtlecycle from that Friendly's birthday party.
Before I parted with him, I took a video of Talking Donatello. "Talking" is a bit of a stretch: He's supposed to be saying "Cowabunga!," but since it's just four audio tones, it could also be "Donatello!" Or, "Where's the mustard?"
HONORABLE MUTANT MEMORY MENTIONS:
The Ninja Turtles were everywhere in the early '90s! Here are some of my favorite bits of merchandising.
Ninja Turtles ice cream bars, with bubblegum eyes! Move over, Spongebob. These are the only character frozen treats worth getting. They're so iconic that in 2017, the toy company CultureFly translated them into vinyl collectibles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pies were "fresh from the sewers to you." While that doesn't sound particularly appetizing, these incredible offerings from Hostess are sorely missed. Crammed with vanilla pudding and coated with a green pastry shell, they even came with a TMNT sticker!
I have a strangely-distinct memory of Grandma Clarisa buying me a CD-shaped slab of bubblegum. This fake CD was so random, I was shocked to find photos of it online. Released by a company called Zeebs Enterprises, Inc. (1988-2008), here's "Mighty Mutant Power Turtles." I couldn't find any pictures of the back cover, but I remember that one of the "tracks" was "Heroes that are Halfwits!"
I can't forget my Leonardo nightlight, lost to the ages.
Our last Honorable Mutant Memory Mention is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat 'em up arcade game from Konami. I used to play this four-player quarter muncher at the Ground Round restaurant. There are only fifteen Ground Round locations left, and ours is long gone. At nine years old, I could never get past the first level! I'd stand there cashless and watch the older kids slash and bash their way to glory. I'd relive those days in a heartbeat. The Heartbeat of America.
Thanks for venturing down the sewer pipes of nostalgia with me for our fifth anniversary Retro Injection special. Thanks goes out to my wife Adrienne for her photography of these great TMNT toys. You can share your favorite Ninja Turtle memories in the comment box below.
Let's close with this ludicrous Ninja Turtle bicycle helmet PSA. Michelangelo's lame "cowabunga" comes off as, "Sorry for being a major drag, dudes!"