The Ninja Turtles Come Out of Their Shells

Popularity is very tricky.  It can mean greatness for the smallest aspect of a culture or individual, leading to more opportunities.  But once popularity is achieved, there’s an overwhelming urge to sustain it for as long as possible.  That’s why certain TV shows get renewed long after they should simply end, or rebooted decades after they left the airwaves.  Sometimes, there are even attempts to add a piece to the franchise that is best left for the drawing board.  The longer a franchise exists, the more chances for missteps.

For Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the price of popularity came in 1990.  Sponsored by Pizza Hut (the official partner for many turtle-related gimmicks), the Ninja Turtles started traveling the country to sing and dance and make their fans happy with the “Coming Out of Their Shells” musical tour.  The premise was simple: The turtles wanted to share the songs they wrote with fans, but Shredder had different ideas.  He and Baxter Stockman created the De-Harmonic Convergence Converter to steal all the music and weaken the turtles.  As fans endured Shredders horrible jokes and off-key singing, the heroes returned to the stage to stop him and save the day.

The cast performed twelve original songs, both individually and as a group, including four by tough guy Raphael.  Together, the turtles played as a band, with Donatello on keyboard, Leonardo on bass, Michelangelo on guitar, and Raphael on drums.  April O’Neil and Master Splinter joined for backup vocals on several songs (and lead in a couple of their own), and Shredder had his own song, titled “I Hate Music” – which was ironic because his entire role in the show was to destroy the music.  An entire new cast was brought in, except for the speaking voice of Leonardo, which was performed by Cam Clarke from the 1987 animated series.

There is little debate over the quality and likability of this stage show.  The turtle suits were dreadful, and made worse by the addition of bedazzled belts and denim vests.  The masks were some odd plastic, and the kneepads had different sparkling designs on them for each turtle.  Even those fans that found the costumes from the third film hard to like would probably take those over the ones used in the concert tour (although the black spots on the turtles in that particular film may have been inspired by the musical).  The quality of the outfits only went downhill from there, too, with Shredder’s featuring a cartoonish helmet that appeared to just be a metal trash can with a giant hole cut out.  Keeping up the quality of the first film or the 1987 animated series in terms of appearance was not at the forefront of the producers’ minds.

The story itself offered no redemption, either.  The plot was barely existent, and the premise didn’t match up with the established parameters of the turtles’ universe.  The only success for this idea was in promotion.  The producers were able to get a lot of airtime to work up the fan base and drive attendance.  The turtles (as the band from the stage show) appeared on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, Larry King Live, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.  So there was no small effort to make the show into a big deal for fans.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t know what it was really like until they actually attended.  Ultimately, the stage show was a big bust.  It was an attempt at perpetuating popularity simply for the sake of making more money through these characters.  There was no thought to quality, and that will likely leave this musical (along with its VHS and soundtrack releases) in obscurity.

Popularity is tough to properly grasp.  If it’s not done carefully, with some discretion, then something great can be broken before its time, sending it to the annals of history without fully exploring its capabilities.  That is what “Coming Out of Their Shells” could have been for the Ninja Turtles.  This franchise was lucky enough to bounce back, though, and continue to be a pop culture juggernaut.

The Author

Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung is a film researcher/writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has written for such print publications as Shock Cinema, Fangoria, Paracinema, Whoa, Bijou and Phantom Of The Movies' Videoscope.

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