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Celebrating 25 Years of Shell-tastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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Has it really been 25 years since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kicked their way into our hearts? Indeed, May marks a quarter century since creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird released a black and white homage to kung-fu and Frank Miller comics featuring four wisecracking reptiles named after Renaissance painters. Today the empire is going strong with toys, comic books and a new live-action movie set for 2010. In honor of this shell-raising anniversary, here are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles moments that’ll have you screaming “Cowabunga!” like it’s 1990.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990)
Casey_Jones-125.jpgPrior to 1990, New Line Cinema was primarily known as the house that Freddy (Krueger) built. But with the release of the first Turtles movie the studio scored the highest grossing independent movie of all time. Combining elements of the cartoon (the turtles had their colorful headbands, April was a reporter) and the early issues of Eastman and Laird’s gritty comic, Turtles was a hit with fans both young and old. Though certain elements haven’t aged well — Shredder’s plan to recruit tough ’90s kids for his Foot Clan army got him on my dumbest supervillains list — director Steve Barron and the screenwriters should be applauded for zeroing in on the original comic’s tone. Note Elias Koteas, who makes a strong appearance as hockey-stick wielding Casey Jones.

The “Coming Out of Their Shells” Tour Rocks Radio City, 1990
coots-125.jpgTurtles was so popular, kids actually convinced their parents to take them to see the foursome singing an ode to the joys of pizza live. Indeed, “Pizza Power” was just one of the many ditties the Turtles belted on their sold-out concert tour. The live stage extravaganza offered a continuation of the movie (of sorts) wherein the Turtles use the power of rock to stop a rapping Shredder and mad scientist Baxter Stockman from stealing all the world’s music. Though they were supposed to be rock gods, the bedazzled Turtles looked more like mutant versions of The New Kids on the Block.

“Ninja Rap,” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
ice-125.jpgOne of the greatest moments of the ’90s, the Turtles encounter a brash young performer by the name of Rob Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice). While battling Shredder’s mutated minions, the Turtles crash into a club where Ice is doing his thing onstage, and bust some dance moves upon hearing the highly repetitive “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!” Truly this was the greatest pop icon combination pop since Styx and Night Ranger united to form Damn Yankees. Unfortunately, it led to “Go Ninja” being stuck in my head for the past 18 years.

Barbara Walters Meets the Turtles, 1991
walters-125.jpgIn what has to be one of the best journalistic “gets” of all time, Barbara Walters sat down with the Turtles in the sewer during one of her Oscar night specials. The brief interview — wherein Babwa treats a bunch of guys in rubbery costumes just as she would the Shah of Iran — finds the Turtles sharing hip-hop lingo, discussing the Academy’s bias against green people and breaking down in tears when asked about their parents. It wouldn’t be a Barbara Walters special if someone didn’t end up bawling.

Turtle Power Fights Drugs
CartoonAllStarsTTR-125.jpgWhile parents frowned upon the Turtles and their Nunchaku-twirling ways, the shell-ions were often recruited to teach kids valuable lessons in the ’90s “Just Say No!” era. In one memorable PSA, the Turtles teach kids that drug dealers are dorks who should always be referred to as “turkeys.” And who could forget Michelangelo’s appearance alongside the Muppet Babies, Alvin and the Chipmunks, ALF, and pretty much every other ’80s animated icon in the Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue TV special? Ironic as Mickey, with his beach bum lingo and pizza obsession, was clearly the biggest stoner since Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.

Michaelangelo Works the Birthday Party Circuit, TMNT (2007)
carl-125.jpgAfter the third Shredder-less movie (which featured the gang traveling back to feudal Japan for some reason), the Turtles disappeared from the big screen. But in 2007 they returned to their roots in a dark CGI movie that picked up where previous outings left off. Ripping off, er, borrowing from Ghostbusters II, the story finds the Turtles having gone their separate ways after the defeat of Shredder. Tech geek Donatello works in IT, hotheaded Raph moonlights as a masked superhero and party-boy Mickey entertains kids as “Cowabunga Carl.” It’s an amusing jab at the Turtles merchandising fad, and a bright spot in an otherwise unmemorable film.

Got any favorite “shell-acious” moments? Share your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles memories in the comments.

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