Tag Archives: new line cinema

Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.


NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Donatello

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“Ohhh pizza! I need it!”

2016 did something I never expected (well, it did many things I never expected); it brought me back to the action figure. And in particular, it brought me back to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. First, it was Bandai with its line based on the animated series from the 1980s, then NECA finally released its own take on The Shredder from the original comic (I never reviewed it here because I decided to keep it in box). Now, NECA has done it again with its 1/4th scale Donatello based on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

And my reaction to this figure could be summed up in two words:  Holy shit!

I’ve been collection action figures off and on since I was a kid, going on probably 25 years. It started with toys I would play with that most kids my age had, and then became more for a hobby with toys that would just sit on a shelf, desk, or other surface. In that time, I’ve acquired some pretty awesome toys. I’ve got a Hot Toys Batman based on The Dark Knight film that is incredible to behold, and was also incredibly expensive. In its short existence, Irwin Toys made some premium scale Dragon Ball Z figures that look excellent, and Toy Biz did the same with the Marvel properties in its Legends and Icons line. Nothing I’ve acquired though has nailed a likeness as well as Neca has with its movie-inspired Donatello.

For starters, this is a quarter-scale figure so he’s big, and the size means he should be highly detailed. I don’t typically dig figures of this size, especially now with my house becoming cluttered with the toys of small children, but I made an exception for this figure. The source material, as mentioned previously, is the original 1990 film which is by far the best film based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It might actually be the best thing based on the franchise excluding the original comic. This is actually pretty unique as no action figures before have really strived to capture the look of that first film. That’s partly due to the sequel, The Secret of the Ooze, being fast-tracked to theaters to strike before the fad died out. The sequel was probably more popular due to its lighter tone and more playful nature, making it more reminiscent of the cartoon. It’s possible Playmates, the toy company basically created for TMNT, just didn’t have time to get a line out for both films so they just went with the sequel for its movie line of figures (which were pretty awesome for the time). Even the newer lines done by Playmates based on the films are clearly more influenced by the sequel than the original, so right off the bat, Neca has done something no other toy company has done before.

For a first figure (naturally, the other turtles are on the way) in the line, Donatello is a great choice because he, more than the others, had a distinct look in the first film not captured by the second. His face is a little scrunched, his beak kind of pointy, and the ends of his mouth curl in a way the other turtles don’t. He’d sport a more rounded look in the sequel, and was noticeably taller too. This version of Donatello was always my favorite though. And a really unsung aspect of that original film is how all four turtles had a unique look. If viewed in black and white, it was still easy to point out which turtle was which because they each had their own face and proportions, like people.

This Donatello though, is so spot-on it continues to amaze me every time I look at him. The head sculpt is dead-on and his eyes are expressive and life-like. The shape of his bandana is perfect, and the ends of which are fabric and have enough weight that they hang just as they do in the film. The skin texture is also perfect and captures the look of the film so wonderfully. For me as a kid, that was the biggest difference in going from cartoon to live action as the cartoon never caused me to wonder how the turtles would really look in the real world. The faux leather of the belt and various pads looks superb, and the wash on his shell and chest captures the griminess of the film. This is, after all, a character who resides in a sewer. I had some minor concerns about the look of the figure when looking at the promotional images, but in person it looks great. Part of the disconnect, I think, is due to the characters almost always being in darkness in the film and rarely in a warmly lit location. When I walk into the room I keep this figure in at dusk and I see him it’s like he’s just jumping right out of one of those scenes.

Even though Donatello is huge (roughly 16″), he still sports basically the same articulation as Neca’s smaller figures. There’s still the issue of a bulky shell to work around, so there’s going to be some limitations inherent in a TMNT figure, but you still get double-elbows, ball joints everywhere, and ankle swivels. There is an ab crunch hidden behind that shell which allows for some upper body movement, and the bulky elbow pads do hinder articulation some, but for the most part the figure is pretty solid in that regard. Neca used ratchet joints in places to help the figure support its own weight. This does mean he’s a little hard to pose right out of the box, requiring some play, but it also means he can stand on one foot if you so desire.

Neca also saw fit to include some accessories with our dear friend Donnie. Mostly, these take the form of extra hands, seven total. He’s got hands for holding his bo staff, an open hand for Cowabunga, and twin thumbs-up. He’s got another slightly open hand for holding his other accessories: a slice of pizza and a canister of ooze. The pizza looks good enough to eat, and even resembles the pizza Mikey orders early in the movie. The ooze canister has a small crack, as opposed to being broken in two, making it very specific to the first film (in the second, it’s in two pieces and reads TGRI instead of TCRI, as it does here). Of course, Donatello comes with his signature bo staff which he can hold pretty effortlessly and also has holsters for on his belt. Really, the only thing missing is an extra head with his open smile from the cover of the VHS box. With that, he’d be able to properly do his “Excellent!” pose from the beginning. It’s understandable that Neca only did one head for each turtle given it would probably add considerable cost, but it would have been awesome if they found a way.

In short, if it isn’t already apparent, I love this toy. It might be my new favorite (until the Leonardo one comes out anyways) as it’s just so perfect. I do wish Neca could have achieved the same in a smaller scale, but apparently that’s impossible due to how their license is constructed. Maybe that won’t be true always, but I’d be really hesitant about holding out for a smaller scale and risk missing out on these figures. The price is steep ($100 MSRP) compared to other Neca products, though far less than Hot Toys and other premium action figures despite being of basically the same quality. I am definitely all-in on this series and can’t wait to complete the quartet.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Season One Review

nick_tmnt_wallpaper1280x1024_02Back in September of 2012, Nickelodeon unveiled the newest incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a one-hour season premiere.  On August 8th, 2013, the first season came to a close with a one-hour season finale.  The symmetrical first season had its ups and downs, but no one can deny it was a smashing success from a commercial standpoint as Nickelodeon has already commissioned a second and third season.  Once again, the Turtles franchise has proven that it’s harder to squish than a cock roach as it rolls on into its fourth decade of cultural relevance.  Such was likely never predicted of the franchise back when it burst onto the scene in the late 1980’s.  I would be willing to bet most adults viewed it as the latest flavor of the month they had to endure to keep their kids happy as toys and various other merchandise was consumed by the millions.  Perhaps more importantly to fans, the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not only a commercial success, but a creative one as well as it successfully melded the various depictions of the Turtles over the years into an all new show.

I watched and wrote about the season premiere when it first aired and described my reaction as tempered enthusiasm towards the show.  That would eventually be replaced with full-on enthusiasm as I set my DVR to record each new episode (which became a challenge to keep track of as the broadcast schedule was all over the place) to watch at my leisure.  The show got better as the weeks rolled by and the writers seemed to become more comfortable with the characters.  A lot of the humor early on missed the mark but eventually the show found its groove in that department and routinely was able to bring a smile to my face.  The show also introduced a major plot thread that was woven through the entire first season revolving around the alien race known as the Kraang which helped make the show feel more significant for regular viewers.  I’ve always been a big fan of this approach for television over stand-alone episodes.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

That’s not to say the show didn’t have stand-alone episodes here and there.  And quite frankly, that was when the show was its most uninteresting.  There was a period in the early part of the season where each episode felt like The Villain of the Week where some poor soul would be mutated into a monster the Turtles had to stop.  There was still humor to be found in these episodes and some nice action, but there was little lasting appeal.  Some of these monsters were also severely lacking in the personality department, both in a behavioral sense and visually speaking.  That is definitely one area where the old cartoon still reigns supreme as the villains often had a pretty interesting and fun look to them.  That was probably due to Playmates wanting a fun toy to market, but it worked.  The show did get better as the season went along, with one of my favorite looks for a villain popping up towards the end in the form of a newt with a Punisher-like pattern to his spots.

Overall, when compared with the old cartoon, the show was less reliant on guest spots and was content to rely primarily on a core group of characters.  The Shredder, obviously, was a big part of the first season even if he was secondary to the Kraang threat.  The writers wisely kept him out of action though, which made the episodes where he took up arms against the Turtles extra special.  He’s also a total bad ass when in combat, a far cry from the bumbling Shredder of the 80’s or even the original comic book Shredder who is famously decapitated by Leonardo at the end of the series’ first book.  This Shredder still retains his old look but with more black and bigger blades.  He’s also far more scarred than any other as his face has been badly burned and he appears to be blind in one eye.  Like the old Shredder, this one also has two mutant henchmen:  Dogpound and Fishface.  While these two are not as stupid as Bebop and Rocksteady, they’re not any more successful and are often beaten back by the Turtles.  Baxter Stockman also falls in with the Shredder during season one and provides him with some heightened technology.  Karai, Shredder’s daughter, is also introduced as a bit of tweener villain in that she has a bit of a friendship with Leonardo which serves as the backbone for a series of episodes during the middle part of the first season.  Other characters familiar to longtime fans also show up, such as Leatherhead and the Rat King, sporting new designs and new personalities.  I particularly enjoyed the new design for the Rat King and thought he was among the best of the villains shown off.  I hope to see more of him in the future.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

On the Turtle front, the cast basically stayed the same throughout the first season.  A lot of old favorites were brought back though such as a new take on the Turtle Van which is now a subway car.  The Turtles retain their signature personality traits but they feel more honest this time around.  Raphael, for example, doesn’t just get pissed-off because he’s supposed to and Leonardo is far from being an emotionless robot.  All of them have strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part, they also feel like teenagers.

Of particular enjoyment for long-time fans were all of the little easter eggs and throwbacks inserted into this series.  Metalhead was brought back as a robot constructed by Donatello.  He looks fairly similar to the old one, only much smaller.  There’s even a spot during the episode were one of the bran-like Kraang latches onto his head, which I have to believe is a nod to the original action figure’s sculpted brain.  The leader of the Kraang also inhabits a giant robot body and the antenna on its head evokes images of Krang’s body from the old cartoon.  Little things like that go a long way towards pleasing the older fans and trying to spot them is part of the enjoyment in watching the show for me.  The Technodrome is also introduced during the season finale, and the long-awaited Splinter vs Shredder confrontation takes place as well.  There’s a big reveal in the season finale that I think anyone familiar with the franchise saw from a mile away, but it was still done well and, despite being predictable, is actually a new direction for an old character.

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I'm actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I’m actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

From an artistic standpoint, the show animates quite well and is far superior to the DC CG cartoons currently airing on Cartoon Network.  The city streets of New York remained pretty barren for the whole of season one with some signs of life in the finale, but otherwise the show looks good.  I like the fact that each turtle has his own shape and anatomy instead of basically looking exactly like the others with the exception of the mask.

All in all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a good show that strikes the perfect balance between action and comedy.  The story-telling was also better than could be expected and the writing staff will have a hard time topping season one.  Its start reminds me quite a bit of the 2003 cartoon which, for me anyway, fell off quite a bit in the second season and seasons to follow.  Hopefully this show doesn’t meet the same fate.  Because season one was spread out over so many months, the wait for season two to begin is actually a fairly brief one as its set to kick off in late September.  This version of the Turtles may not be violent like the originals, or say “Cowabunga!” like the old toons, but they have a chance to go down as the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles yet!


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.