Donatello is the smartest turtle in the room, and everyone knows it. From the moment he was mutated, Donatello has been building devices, whether they were his brothers’ toys, or the weapons that aid their ninja endeavors. As he grew, so did his fascination and ability with technology, and before long he was creating weapons, vehicles, and devices that human science couldn’t even imagine possible. However, being a brainiac means he’s predisposed to being soft spoken and studious, so he’d rather thinker than engage in ninja training. That doesn’t mean he should be underestimated, though. Having mastered the bo staff and naginata means he can certainly hold his own against any opponent.
In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic book, Donatello sported a red bandana and always kept his cool. Early on, he was perceived as the second-in-command for the ninja team, and always had his skill with technology. Unlike the rest of his brothers, Donnie detested violence, and if he was forced to be exceptionally cruel in battle, he found himself in a deep well of depression. However, like his brothers, the 1987 animated series took one aspect of his personality and made it his only defining characteristic. Donatello was an intelligence like no other, developing vehicles, communicators, and crazy contraptions on a near-weekly basis. He collected college degrees by the handful, and was the ultimate problem solver when ninja skills just wouldn’t cut it.
TMNT: The Next Mutationsaw Donatello face-to-face with a brand new problem to solve (at least, he believed it was a problem): How to rectify the contrary forces of magic and science that he could see existed in the natural world around him. That series never came to an answer, but the concept was brought up again in the 2003 series, where Donatello was constantly faced with magic, and had to learn to master the spiritual side of ninjutsu quite often. Nowhere was this more true than when he joined the Ninja Tribunal, and became a legendary dragon alongside his brothers. (Amazingly enough, being the most scientific, he was also the first to master his ki training, and successfully harness the spirituality of ninjutsu.) He was much more of a pacifist in that series, too, choosing to exercise his 637 IQ instead of fighting the Foot. Throughout his existence, Donnie has always had a special connection with Master Splinter, and 2003 played on that, making him the one who mourned most whenever their father was injured or in trouble.
In 2012, Donatello is still the brains of the team, but the results of that role as a teenager are played up considerably. He’s constantly being teased by his brothers (especially Raphael), his social skills are less than adequate, and his feelings for April are unnoticed by the girl because he just can’t find the words to express his feelings. However, his ninja skills gain a boost as well. His bo staff now transforms into a naginata, giving him mastery over yet another skill of ninjutsu.
In all four films, Donatello was just the brain needed at the exact right moment. His intellectual abilities weren’t played up too often, but came in handy for analyzing the ooze in the second film. However, in the live-action films, that was the only time his brain came in particularly handy (though that’s not surprising, when the purpose of the films was to showcase the ninja aspect of the turtles, and not much else).
One of the greatest parts of the comic series when it came to Donatello’s intelligence was that it was revealed subtly, over time. He wasn’t just labeled as a genius from the get-go, and instead his abilities were allowed to develop throughout the story. This stands in stark contrast to other series, like 1987, when his brains were explicated in the opening theme. Of course, that series also treated him like all the turtles, and made that one characteristic his only defining aspect. It was always brought up, and always played a role in the episodic dilemmas. While great as a teaching tool, it was pretty poor for character development. Donatello is perhaps the most under-developed in the universe’s history, never doing much outside of science. He did have a soft spot for Michelangelo, helping to protect him from Raphael when needed, and his sensitivity came through in other incarnations. But they never had a chance in that first cartoon.
Size and body type have always been important with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Raphael was short and stocky, Michelangelo (the youngest) was the smallest, and Donatello was the tallest. 1987 saw an elimination of these particular traits, going for a standard animation for all the turtles. This was unfortunate, because those size distinctions helped to give the turtles yet another bit of individuality lost to sell toys. However, like the rest of the turtles, 2003 saw some redemption for Donatello, and every known character trait was incorporated into a very well-developed character. His sensitivity, intelligence, and ninja skills were on display, and exercised regularly over the show’s seven years.
That development was taken to a new level in 2012, though, and Donatello finally got what he’d long been missing: A personality. Finally using the teenager aspect of the turtles in this series worked well for every character, but it was especially good for Donnie. Teenage angst and an IQ off the charts can give any adolescent personality like no one has ever seen. Fortunately, his is directed into constructive projects, like developing retro-mutagen – and trying to hit on April. The relationship aspect being used so overtly is an excellent addition to this series, and it was doubtful that anyone would have foreseen Donnie being at the center of it. Better yet, as a character who had no real interaction with Casey Jones in the past, he’s now at the center of a love triangle, adding a very interesting element to the show as it’s still developing.
Donatello has always been a crucial member of the turtle team. While every one of the brothers is vital, to exist in modern day NYC, Donatello is perhaps the most important, and the others couldn’t function effectively without him (as proven by recent developments in current series). He is the epitome of brains over brawn, and he proves that even warriors can be smart and sensitive. Above all of his brothers, he is now the most well-rounded turtle, and stands poised to do great things for his brothers and friends as his story continues.