Michelangelo is the wisecracking, lovable goof of the ninja turtle team. He’s immature and underdeveloped, but he loves to have fun and has boundless potential for someone so young. His hobbies include video games and comic books, and he enjoys pizza more than any other living individual, human or mutant. Despite that, he’s already mastered the nunchaku, and he’s well on his way to becoming a Grand Master much sooner than any of his brothers. Mikey is often teamed up with Donatello, and he finds himself as the butt of Raphael’s teasing. But, he’s certainly not one to let life get him down. Even if he’s in trouble, he keeps his easy-going attitude intact. But that certainly doesn’t mean he can’t focus when needed. Mikey has the skills to back up his attitude, and his spirit and energy make him an invaluable member of the turtle team.
When first introduced, Michelangelo had no silliness or joking as part of his personality. He was still full of energy as the youngest on the team, but he was as dedicated to his training as any of his brothers, and treated life with the seriousness of a ninja warrior. He always enjoyed superhero stories, and tries to mimic their best qualities whenever he can. There was also never any tension with any of his brothers. He quickly grew close to Donatello, and, most surprisingly, he was the voice of reason that calmed the constant arguments between Leonardo and Raphael. Unfortunately, he also suffered the most change when the 1987 series came on the air.
While he didn’t lose his individuality, Michelangelo did lose a lot of his more likable characteristics. Sure, he was a fan favorite, and was given a fair share of storylines, but he was nothing more than a comic relief character. His love of pizza and his jokes became his defining traits, and they were played up at least a handful of times in every single episode. But, they got laughs with the kids, so they continued throughout the show’s run. He still loved comics and heroes, had a special relationship with Raphael, and was always light-hearted. This was also the version that came up with the turtles’ signature catchphrase of 15 years, “cowabunga”. Unlike his previous version, he would also flirt with April from time-to-time, giving the young lady an odd, but appreciated, confidence boost.
Like all the turtles, Mikey was given a brand new trait in TMNT: The Next Mutation, becoming host of a pirate radio show. But that of course was abandoned in the 2003 series, and the live-action show was lost to television history. The new animated series took him back to who he was as a fun-loving jokester who still had a fair amount of ninja skill. He was constantly learning what it meant to be part of a team, and was the focus of many decent episodes geared toward his development as a hero. By the end, he was much more of a ninja than anyone would have ever expected.
The 2012 animated series played on Michelangelo’s role as comic relief yet again, although it was the first version to do so in a way that never got annoying. Mikey was being a real teenager, and his one-liners were interspersed with major ninjutsu skill involving his nunchaku and a brand new kusarigama (chained sickles). Being the youngest brother made sense here, too, because the joking would be expected from a little guy trying to fit in with his big brothers. He is shown to have the most potential as a ninja, as well, being quite useful in battle, but also quickly mastering shinobi-iri techniques and smoke bombs as soon as Donatello makes them. He even managed to come up with a new catchphrase, one just as good as “cowabunga”: booyakasha.
In the movies, Michelangelo served only as comic relief at moments in between action. He did his fair share of cool fighting, but the jokes were played up whenever there was a lull to advance the story. By the third and fourth films, though, he was given a little depth, exploring his first love and his attempt to hold down a job as a party clown. Of course, even when he was making jokes and working as “Cowabunga Carl”, Mikey still managed to kick interdimensional butt, showing that even as the youngest and most lighthearted he could still be responsible and well trained for anything.
Michelangelo was perfect for the intended audience of the TMNT television show. His jokes and youthful demeanor made him exactly the kind of turtle that kids could relate to, and his popularity soared because of it. Because of that, he was given the majority of the lines and episodes, and found himself at the center of all the action. This alone gave him more character development than any other turtle in the 1987 series. It also offered him the chance for exploration from several different angles. How would his personality affect his judgment in battle? Could he handle loss? Would running out of pizza cause him to go into a fit of rage? There was so much to work with … even if it was just wasted potential in that version.
Of all the turtles, Michelangelo has been the one with the most fluid relationships involving others. Initially, he was a mediator. Later, he was a punching bag. Sometimes he’s close to Donatello, other times he’s just another brother. In stark contrast, Raphael and Leonardo have always had the same rivalry in every single incarnation, and it’s helped drive their character development. Donatello has always been soft and easy to talk to for all the turtles. But Mikey has never really been the same in any two series. In 1987, for instance, he was exceptionally close to Raph, versus Donnie in the comic. Granted, that one instance had more to do with Mikey and Raph’s popularities than anything else, and they would often be given scenes together for comic effect. But most of the time, Raph has taken care of his little brother, but really just picked on him whenever possible. The relationships just continued to change again and again.
The relationship between Mikey and April has always been an odd one. Mikey is constantly flirting with her (except in the 2012 series), and she seems to flirt back more often than not. Despite that, though, no idea of a crush has ever been developed, and all romantic undertones are quashed when a focus on action is needed. Also interesting is the fact that no other turtle could be Michelangelo (or have that personality). Whereas the others could be interchanged, with Donatello as the leader, or Leonardo as the angry one, Mikey is distinctly himself in every possible way; no one else has quite the right look and attitude to be the comic relief in the way Michelangelo is, and that’s yet another reason why he’s indispensable to the team.
Michelangelo is unique, even among the turtles. He’s so original, in fact, that no other show in 30 years of TV history has had quite the same grouping of characteristics, let alone the ability to pull them off flawlessly. He’s an integral part of the turtle team; he can make any audience laugh, can fight with the best of them, and will always pull his brothers out of jams (that he likely caused to begin with).