Tag Archives: jim henson

NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.


#17 – A Muppet Family Christmas

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A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

A Muppet Family Christmas has become an almost mythological Christmas special due to its limited availability. First debuting in 1987, it got tangled up in licensing issues shortly there-after and has been infrequently rebroadcast. It also has been released in very limited fashion with a lot of what first appeared in the special being left behind. And now that Disney has acquired The Muppets, a re-release on DVD or even Blu Ray seems unlikely so long as Disney does not own the rights to the other properties featured in the special.

A Muppet Family Christmas was an ambitious special as it sought to combine multiple Jim Henson properties into one special:  The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street. It starts out rather simply with Fozzie leading the Muppets to his mother’s farm house to surprise her for Christmas. Unknown to him, his mother was planning on heading to Malibu for some fun in the sun for Christmas and has rented her home out to Doc and his dog Sprocket for the holidays. Doc is seeking a nice, quiet, Christmas and he gets anything but that when The Muppets arrive. It turns out, Fozzie also invited the Sesame Street gang which just adds to the overcrowded house, and Kermit and Robin discover that the Fraggles live downstairs. An impromptu concert breaks out with Electric Mayhem and Sesame Street also stages a play. A horrible blizzard descends on the house trapping everyone in there, but when Miss Piggy fails to show up it’s up to Doc to go out and find her.

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That’s one packed house.

Aside from the mash-up of properties, the special is most known for its inclusion of several musical numbers. The special is basically over-stuffed with them, especially at the end, and it almost feels like one of those old sing-a-long VHS tapes. The combination of The Muppets and Sesame Street actually works pretty well and lends itself well to some jokes. Henson and his writers weren’t shy about poking fun at their educational property, probably knowing that if they just played it straight the results would be kind of dull. There’s nothing vulgar by any means, or even mildly offensive, so the property isn’t hurt at all by it. The Fraggles are kind of tacked-on, and since they only interact with Kermit and Robin, their segment is a bit dull. As usual, the funnier members of The Muppet clan do the heavy lifting here and mostly succeed at drawing laughs.

At this point in time, A Muppet Family Christmas’s reputation likely exceeds its true value, but it’s still a unique and entertaining Christmas special. At least until you get to the end and the nonstop caroling becomes tiresome. Kids might like that though.

As I mentioned in the lead-in, this one is pretty tough to track down these days and is no longer broadcast on television. An edited DVD was released over ten years ago, but if you want to see it as originally constituted, you may need to turn to Youtube where people (like me) who were fortunate enough to have recorded the original special in ’87 have uploaded it for all to enjoy.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Teenage_Mutant_Ninja_Turtles_(1990_film)_posterHollywood loves to go after us folks who are suckers for nostalgia.  We’re easy targets as it doesn’t take much to lure someone in with a touch of nostalgia.  Especially today.  We live in a world of 24 hour news networks and the internet puts information at our fingertips at all times.  The media’s tactics haven’t changed either, there’s still a lot of doom and gloom coming over the airways, especially in trying economic times.  It’s easy to let nostalgia take over as for most it’s the act of bringing one back to their childhood, which for many, was a happier time.  The sad truth though is that Hollywood usually lets us down when it revitalizes an old product.  Over the years we’ve seen movies based on Transformers and G.I Joe, none of which proved very satisfying.  If you want to indulge in a bit of a nostalgia, your best bet is to seek out an old television show or movie on home video.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a great start for anyone looking to recapture that nostalgic magic.  The original film arrived at the height of Turtle-mania when every kid in school was seemingly sporting a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox, backpack, or pencil set.  It was inescapable.  Recently I acquired the new compilation of TMNT comics and had a blast looking through them for the first time.  It really got me to thinking about the Turtles from my youth, the animated and the live action.  I thought that after reading the original books that it was a good time to go back and check out the original film.  I always had held the impression that it was pretty faithful to the comics and wanted to confirm that.  Instead I came away thinking it was a success because it combined both the animated series and the comics in a truly harmonious way.

It’s hard to consider Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a comic to film adaptation because it’s quite obvious that without the cartoon, this movie never happens.  The comic may have started this whole thing, but it was the cartoon (and probably the toys) that reached the biggest audience.  And it was that audience comprised mostly young boys that made the Turtles into such a big thing in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Even if the writers wanted to adapt the comic for film, they would have never secured enough funding without targeting the cartoon’s audience.  This put the developers behind the film into a position where they could take from both mediums while adding their own touch.

The similarities between the comic and film are quite apparent.  The Turtles themselves live in a sewer that looks like a sewer, unlike the TV show.  There’s a damp and dank feel to the scenes shot in their sewer home that’s certainly comforting from the couch.  The Turtles’ origin is also mostly intact.  Splinter was now always a rat, like the comic, and Oroku Saki murdered his master Hamato Yoshi.  The only difference is the removal of Saki’s brother, Nagi, who in the comic feuded with Yoshi over the love of a woman.  The removal of Nagi just shortens the story slightly and doesn’t lessen the impact of Saki’s actions against Yoshi.  The writers even decided to make it slightly more personal by having Splinter get some licks in on the would-be Shredder, who responds by slicing his right ear off.

“I bet he never has to look for a can opener!”

The Shredder may actually be the most faithfully adapted character from the comics to film.  It was pretty much a given that the writers were not going to use the bumbling screw-up Shredder that the cartoon possessed, but they also ditched that Shredder’s design.  Not that there was much separating the two Shredders visually, but the film’s Shredder is basically lifted from the pages of Mirage comics.  He sports a red suit and all of the appropriate blades are in place (save for his right hand which is missing the two hand blades for some reason).  They even toss a cape on Shredder for his first big scene, some weird zebra-print thing that they wisely ditch for when Shredder finally confronts the Turtles.  Shredder also gets to show his lack of honor, when he tries to sneak a dagger into Splinter which is reminiscent of him pulling a grenade on the Turtles in the comics.  The writers do give the character a bit more depth.  In the comics we really don’t know much about Shredder’s operation in NYC.  In the film we see it’s a process where kids are brought in at a young age and brainwashed by the Shredder into thinking of their order as a family.  They presumably graduate to pickpockets as they get older until the best show they can handle being full-fledged members of the Foot.  And the foot soldiers themselves are pretty faithful in appearance to the comics.

Don and Mike have a close relationship with one another.

As for the Turtles, they’re pretty much a mash-up of the two mediums.  Leonardo is the most faithful to his comic book counterpart, which makes him pretty faithful to his cartoon persona as well.  No turtle really changes as little as Leo when moving from one medium to the next.  Here he is the unquestioned leader of the Turtles, and serves as an extension to Splinter.  He’s also a bit uptight when compared to his brothers, but not to a fault.  Raphael is definitely more similar to his comic approach.  He’s the hot head and loner of the group, only here that loner quality is amplified for dramatic effect.  Splinter laments how hard he tries to get Raphael to let go of his anger and to let others in.  We get the impression that it’s a constant battle, but Raphael grows and changes in a believable way as the film moves along.  Michelangelo is the turtle who most clearly takes after his cartoon character than the comic book one.  He’s a goof ball and has a hard time being serious about anything.  His lingo isn’t quite so surfer heavy as the cartoon but he’s always expressive and exhuberant.  Donatello, on the other hand, doesn’t really fit the mold of either portrayal.  In the comic book he’s a quiet gear head, a bit introverted though not a loner like Raph.  In the cartoon he’s basically a genius and his genius is practically a super power.  In the film, he’s got more of a goofy side and comes off as kind of a dork.  He struggles to come up with the interjections that Mike is so fond of but other things come much quicker.  He seems pretty intellectual though not showy.  His sense of humor also comes across as a coping mechanism.  He’s arguably the most developed character and that might have to do with his voice actor being the biggest “name” in the film, Corey Feldman.  Either way, this is my favorite take on the Donatello character.  It should also be noted, that the Turtles do bring their strong affection for pizza from the cartoon to the big screen (and Dominoes paid a lot of money to make sure we knew it was their pizza the Turtles preferred).

As for the supporting characters, April (Judith Hoag) is not surprisingly a news reporter instead of a lab assistant.  This just works better and suits the plot.  The writers are able to work her old VW into the story, as well as her antiques store from the comics.  Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) also shows up and his portrayal is pretty spot on.  He plays off of Raph and the other turtles quite well and makes for a good addition to the story.  The romance angle between him and April does feel a bit forced and unnecessary though.  April’s boss Charles and his son Danny (who apparently loves Sid Vicious) serve as a minor subplot to the tale as well, and as far as I know, were created just for the film.

The plot of the movie borrows quite heavily from issues 1, 2, and the Raph micro issue for its plot.  It’s mostly the issue #1 but with the Shredder on the offensive as opposed to the Turtles.  Certainly it’s a lot easier for parents to buy into these characters as appropriate for their kids if they don’t come across as blood thirsty creatures out for revenge.  The writers take what Eastman and Laird already had done, and do a good job of turning it into a different story.  The film, at its heart, is basically a father-son tale with emphasis placed on the Turtles and Splinter as well as Danny and Charles.  There’s certainly an element of brotherly love as well, as the Turtles learn to rely on each other as they’re basically all they have.  It’s a nice approach that I find charming.

Jim Henson has plenty of reasons to smile in this picture.

The visuals are what people remember most about this film.  It was a risk taking the Turtles to live-action as anthropomorphic creatures rarely play well in that form.  New Line Cinema wisely recruited Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to create the turtle costumes and what a great job they did.  The Turtles stylistically combine the comic and cartoon look, keeping the comics understated belts but keeping the cartoon’s color-specific bandanas.  The design of the Turtles is pretty spot-on, they look like turtles!  To achieve the proper look, the masks were outfitted with some sophisticated animatronics for facial expressions and mouth movements.  It’s quite impressive the range of emotions exhibited by the Turtles through-out the film.  I’m not sure if they had to swap out masks for the actors for certain scenes or if each head was capable of sadness, joy, anger, etc.  It is obvious that they had at least one other mask for the fight sequences.  Those masks full of gears were probably pretty heavy and tough to backflip in, so during the fight scenes the Turtles are noticeably sporting slimmer heads with static expressions.  It’s really noticeable if you’re looking for it and not really jarring.  The director does a good job of hiding each turtle’s mouth if they had to speak during one of these sequences.  The most obvious scene is Mikey’s nunchaku duel with a foot solider as his head there is an almost entirely different shape.

I have a home movie where members of my family can be seen watching this scene in the background. Everyone busts up laughing over Don’s “It’s a Kodak moment,” line. The reaction of people laughing at that moment is way funnier than the actual line.

Script-wise, the performance is a mixed bag.  There’s lots of one-liners and puns and plenty of them are groan inducing.  This is the downside of watching a movie geared towards kids.  There are a couple of bright spots though.  I do love Mikey’s line for the pizza guy (“Wise men say, forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for a late pizza.”) and Casey’s misunderstanding of the word claustrophobic is quite amusing as well.  And even though it may be a tad on the cheesy side, Splinter’s “Cowabunga!” is pretty awesome too.  The film’s score is mostly up-beat pop tunes.  It’s nothing special, but the main theme is pretty damn catchy.

When I watch this movie it’s pretty much an experience of pure joy.  I can notice its short-comings but really few of them bother me.  A lot of fans, as the kids of 1990 become the adults of 2012, have gone on to really embrace the original comics and are aching for a true to comic film, but it’s never going to happen.  No studio is interested in making a TMNT movie that alienates the kids in the audience.  And even if one did I really don’t see how the Turtles could better be adapted for the big screen.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is, by no means, a perfect film.  However, it is the perfect Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film and needs no improvement.