In the late 1980s, a small California toy company by the name of Playmates was looking to break into the action figure industry when they happened to have a meeting with two guys from Massachusetts named Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The two had come up with a comic book series a few years earlier about a bunch of crime-fighting turtles in New York City and were looking for someone to produce a figure line for their series. Though hesitant at first, Playmates eventually signed on when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles received a television deal. It turned out to be the best decision Playmates had ever made, as the Turtles’ popularity rocketed them up from obscurity and placed them among the likes of Mattel and Hasbro as a major player in the industry during the 1990s.
The figures themselves were actually rather distinct from other figures of the day like the G.I. Joe and Star Wars lines of figures, mostly because of their larger size that made them more durable, which in the hands of a 10-year-old, is pretty important. They were also much more poseable and able to hold poses than other figures out there, especially with the figures that came out in the early 1990s. Sure, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe figures may have had more points of articulation, but they were also much more susceptible to falling apart because of that same point. The figures and their many accessories also had a pretty good amount of detail for their time and era and pretty accurately reflected the appearance of many characters from the TV series.
If you were lucky enough and had awesome parents like I did, though, then you didn’t just get the figures one Christmas morning: you also got the Turtle Party Wagon. Easily the most popular and probably well-known of all Playmates’ playsets, the Party Wagon was the one thing everyone seemed to have, but that still didn't make it any less cool. And yes, without those stickers that came in the box, it was pretty much just a plastic yellow and green box on wheels, but the fact that the top opened up so you could actually fit your figures inside the way you wanted to was a pretty cool idea at the time. Plus, it made a good carrying case for all your figures and the accessories that came with them.
But if you were even luckier, and I never was, you ended up getting the totally awesome Turtle Blimp or the Technodrome. I mean, look at the size of those two compared to the kids next to them. Those things were absolute beasts of playsets. The Technodrome was my personal favorite of the two, mostly because it had more to do and I had a friend who had it. You can still find both playsets on eBay in great condition, albeit with a few small pieces missing here and there that generally got lost over the years.
During the later years of the Turtles' popularity, Playmates began to realize they would have to find ways to keep the Turtles fresh because everyone already had the same basic set of characters. Thus, they went the tried and true route of creating a bunch of different themes. From this experimentation came the likes of Lieutenant Leo, Rappin' Mike, Grand Slammin' Ralph and Powerliftin' Don, among many, many others, each with their own ridiculous assortment of accessories. Had I been older, I probably would have questioned some of the choices they made (A crossover with the Universal Monsters? Really?), but I was too young and too carefree to really notice.
Sadly, several years ago, my parents gave them all away to Goodwill with my blessing. It is a decision that, today, I totally, totally regret ever making. No, not because of the fact that I practically gave up hundreds of dollars in figures, but because I kind of gave up part of my childhood and the memories I had with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures. Thankfully, Playmates is bringing them all back for the 25th anniversary, so I'll get a second chance at reliving part of my childhood.
[pictures via ToyRewind]
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Brian Szabelski is Tomopop's Editor-in-Chief, stuck with an ever-growing collection of figures and toys. When he's not posting on Tomopop, he can usually be found working on any number of project... more | staff directory
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