For a generation, an interest in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came as a result of the hugely successful 1980s cartoon.The amount of time they remained avid fans after seeing their first few episodes differed and over the years as the cartoon made way for movies, a live-action show and another toon, some lost interest.With each interpretation of the Turtles there came new fans and a new generation who found something remarkable in a bunch of mutated creatures.Some fads burn out quickly and even though the turtles proved they were no fad, some of the companies that did have merchandising associations with the brand, did come and go.One of these companies did remain however, and that was Playmates Toys, whose association with the brand has lasted to this day.Beginning in 1988 with a selection of figures including all four Turtles, their sensei Splinter, reporter April O’Neil, the evil Shredder and his henchmen Bebop, Rocksteady and a Foot Soldier, Playmates managed to capture children’s imaginations in the same way the cartoon series had.This was a clear step in the right direction, as along with a selection of playsets and vehicles, these figures represented the core characters associated with the programme.Anyone wanting to recreate their favourite moments outside of the cartoon were able to and thanks to the show’s popularity the figures were highly sort after items.With this kind of interest in the line, Playmates continued to roll out more figures for the second wave, including regular characters such as exiled warlord Krang, fromDimension X, and science nerd Baxter Stockman and not so regular characters like Ace Duck.This new selection of figures displayed a lot of detail and the intricate designs demonstrated that a great deal of thought had gone into sculpting a toy-line which in all honesty would have sold regardless.
Playmates, like any other toy company, needed to keep the main four Turtles in each wave of figures because they would always sell and so 89s wave saw the first in a run of figures with action features, like Breakfightin’ Raphael and Sewer Swimmin’ Donatello.These figures had a windup motorised feature, and once activated would give the heroes in a half-shell the ability to move their legs, arms or in Raph’s case, to spin on his shell.This continued into 1990 with the likes of Slice n’ Dice Shredder, but this also saw the beginning of the move towards putting the Turtles in a variety of different guises.What followed from this were sporting Turtles, space Turtles, monster Turtles, Turtles as superheroes, Turtles in Star Trek uniforms and even Turtles designed by comic-book artist Jim Lee.The action feature turtles were still there as well, so kids could play with head dropping Turtles one minute and then stretch them out like a rubber band, the next.But with the years moving forward and the Turtles taking the next step to Hollywood, Playmates also released figures based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II & III and the short lived, live-action series The Next Mutation, meaning they remained as strong as the Turtles throughout the 1990s.
In 2003 a new toon hit the air and so once again Playmates had a new batch of figures ready to greet adoring fans, new and old, who wanted to expand their love for the Turtles.Just like with that initial wave in 88, all four Turtles were there along with Shredder and Splinter, and over the course of that year the line continued to expand so more characters and vehicles could be released.The cartoon proved another success and so in turn provided yet more characters to be turned into plastic, and the designs closely matched the look and style of the new cartoon, offering a more grown-up feel, yet still maintained an eye for detail.This renewed interest in the Turtles saw yet another movie, and so Playmates depicted the characters from the CGI movie, TMNT, into a toyline and this remained the way forward for the line by the time the cartoon had drawn to a close in 2008.For 20 years Playmates had an almost continual line of Turtles figures and playsets and as the Turtles celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2009, there also came the news that they were being bought by Viacom.This was quickly met with more news that Playmates would continue to produce Turtles toys, which was handy as a new cartoon and movie were in development.It seemed as if, for as long as there was a need to produce Turtles toys, then there would be a place for Playmates.With a big dollop of humour, a whole lot of creativity and continual push into the right market at the right time, Playmates had sustained lasting success where other toy companies had failed.The popularity of the Turtles certainly gave the company a leg up in the market, but it was down to their own determination to drive forward with ideas, which saw them reap the rewards and prove they had as much longevity as the Turtles themselves.
*In 2009 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of TMNT, Playmates re-released some of the original figures, including all four Turtles, Splinter, April, Beebop and Rocksteady.
*Playmates are not the only company to have produced figures based on TMNT. Recently NECA released figures based on the original Mirage comics, and as the comics were printed in black and white, a set of black and white Turtles were released as well.
*Numerous vehicles were released from Playmates into the TMNT line; some appeared in the cartoon and some didn't. The vehicles most associated with the show, which include the Party Wagon (aka Turtle Van), Turtle Blimp and Krang's base of operations, The Technodrome were all available to buy.
*As well as TMNT, Playmates Toys also produced figures based on Earthworm Jim, Darkwing Duck, Jackie Chan Adventures, Star Trek, Toxic Crusaders, The Addams Family, Talespin, Zorro and Coneheads.