Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

35 Years Of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been one of the most enduring and entertaining forces in pop culture over the past 35 years. Since the release of the original comic book in 1984, the Ninja Turtles have made a lasting impact on generations of fans around the world. Animated series, live-action movies, video games, toys, concerts—the Ninja Turtles (also known as TMNT) brand has dominated nearly every medium imaginable. Being born just a year after TMNT, I’ve been a devoted fan for as long as I can remember. To cap off my celebration of 35 years of TMNT, I’m going to take a look back at the totality of its existence, including my favorite films, shows, video games, and more bearing the TMNT name. Also included is part of an interview I conducted with Pat Fraley, the iconic voice of Krang from the original 1987 animated series. I hope you enjoy this turtle-powered retrospective. Cowabunga, dude!

COMIC BOOKS

TMNT started with the original issue of the self-published comic book. Released in 1984, it was created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Since then, there have been hundreds of comic books devoted to TMNT, including crossover issues with Ghostbusters, Batman, and Usagi Yojimbo, just to name a few. Speaking of which, Dark Horse released a book entitled Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Collection As the name suggests, it’s a complete collection of the iconic team-ups for fans of all ages, collecting every existing Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover comic in existence. This book contains ”Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew,” ”The Crossing,” ”The Treaty,” ”Shades of Green,” and the recent full-color tale ”Namazu.” This volume also includes tons of extra material from Stan Sakai’s studio. If you’re a fan of Ninja Turtles comic books and are looking for something out of the ordinary, this book is a great option.

I haven’t read a ton of TMNT comic books, but I plan on making up for lost time. If I had to pick my favorite series based on what I’ve read so far, I’d have to go with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures because these comics so closely resembled the look and tone of the 1987 animated series.ANIMATED SERIES

There have been numerous Ninja Turtles animated TV series over the years. However, the one that many fans consider their favorite is the original, which debuted in 1987. This one is my favorite as well. Running for 10 seasons and nearly 200 episodes, it helped launch the Ninja Turtles into the pop culture stratosphere, along with the toy line associated with this TV show. If you want a great overview of this time period, watch the Ninja Turtles episode in Season 3 of The Toys That Made Us. It is both enlightening and entertaining. Subsequent animated series in the TMNT universe brought new elements to the table, and they did so with their own unique style and storytelling approach. The most recent iteration, Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, airs on Nickelodeon and it is loved by some and hated by others. I haven’t watched enough episodes to have an opinion. All I can say is I’m happy that the Ninja Turtles are still going strong.PAT FRALEY INTERVIEW

One of the most iconic voices from the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series is Pat Fraley. He is best known for being the voice behind Krang. I recently interviewed Pat about his diverse and lengthy career, and we spoke in great detail about his time as Krang. What follows is an excerpt from that interview. I hope you enjoy it.

Many people know you as Krang from the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show, which debuted in 1987. How did that opportunity come about?

Krang, which I did for nine years and for over 200 shows and, probably, was the most culturally popular show I did in my life, came about as I was called in to recast a character. Stu Rosin, who we lost this year, was the director. He had cast himself in four major roles and recorded the pilot on the weekend, which cost more in those days. The producer, Fred Wolf, balked at this, fired Stu, and called me in to audition. Here’s where we go back to my gift of committing. I didn’t have anything like Krang in my repertoire of characters, so I threw it all against the wall and went in and did this odd, strange voice character, really, and got the role. One of the things that Fred Wolf didn’t know about and neither did the director, who was Susan Blu, was that underneath this burbling, chortling, talking backwards, weird character, I needed to be funny. At the last minute, I decided to be a Jewish mother. If you scrape off all of the different layers of the character’s voice, you can hear that I’m just a Jewish mother, and I have that lilt. I never said anything about it, of course, because then they’d probably tell me not to do it. 

What was the audition like, and how did you develop Krang’s voice?

Years before, when I was teaching at the university in Australia, I broke the character voice down to its elements, and I believe, although I’m not historical for much, I was the first to deconstruct the character voice. I broke it down to six elements: pitch, pitch characteristic, tempo, rhythm, placement, and mouthwork. I got there at D&D studios for the audition, and I had only two minutes to prepare. It was the first time I had seen the character. It was the first time I had seen the text or the title. By the way, Michael, I looked at the title, which was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I thought to myself, “Well, this will never go.” So, I sat in a chair and I decided to give a choice in each of the six elements, plus the Jewish mother. And I went in and threw it against the wall. Somehow I was able to commit to a character, even though I created it, technically.

People love the bickering couple dynamic that Krang had with Shredder. What was it like working with James Avery?

Most often, the entire cast was together. We had very few guests. It was a delight to work with James Avery. He was a very well known and very good Shakespearean actor. I had worked with him on Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, and I believe that his second show was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was a johnny one note. He was always angry, and he was always low. That’s what he brought to the party. Hearing that, I realized I could go up and down and be feminine and cry and do all sorts of stuff. And I never bumped into his performance. We were referred to as the odd couple of outer space. It just seemed to work so well for us.

How did you keep Krang fresh over the course of 10 seasons?

Well, one thing is that you’re getting paid, which is so helpful. The other thing is I sat next to Rob Paulsen, and we rarely had any scenes together. But we delighted in trading ad libs with each other. In other words, I’d see a line of his and give him an ad lib, and he would do the same for me. So, my job was to delight Rob and vice versa. That kept things very fresh because we wanted to use the ad libs. For example, I had a Krang line once that was “How would you like to be boiled in oil?” Rob handed me an ad lib that said “How would you like to be sauteed in oil with just a touch of cilantro?,” which is very Rob and very funny. If you talk about pride, I had a lot of pride that I got away with that ad lib.

What are your favorite memories of working on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Being with a cast member or an entire cast for nine years. When you think about it, it’s unique. We sat next to each other every week for nine years. That was shockingly interesting.

What was it like reprising the role of Krang in 2016 and 2017?

Well, it was easy peasy to do the role. After all, I had done it for so long. It was like getting into clothes you have in the closet. I was like Mr. Rogers. I put that sweater on and bam! What hit me as funny was that I had the opportunity, that day, to work with an actor named Seth Green. I’m a big fan of his. I come up and I go “Oh, Seth Green!” And he says, “Are you kidding me? Pat Fraley!” He’s a big nerd and knows all my shows. He’s a comic book guy, just like Scott Brick was. There’s nothing more flattering than reprising a role. It’s a unique voice, and I’ve heard it done by several people. It always fills me with glee that other people have done that voice or based their characterization on what I created years ago.

Technologically speaking, how did that recording experience differ from the original Ninja Turtles TV show?

There were three turtles in the booth with me. It was very quick. The director was the fastest I ever worked with. Basically, it was just a delight.

Have you ever turned down any opportunities to voice Krang or any other characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles over the years?

Not that I’m aware of, because it was all very PG or G rated. I knew that Krang wouldn’t have any swearing or saying anything that’s inappropriate. I didn’t have to worry about reading through the script ahead of time to make sure I was OK with all of the content, which I do now. I’m a very PG rated guy. I don’t do mature video games. I never auditioned for Adult Swim or shows that I didn’t want to participate in. One reason for this, besides my religious beliefs, is that when I was doing a lot of work my boys were little. And children are like heat-seeking hypocrisy missiles. If they heard me say “damn” or “hell” or whatever, oh my goodness, would I have paid for it.

What are your thoughts on other actor’s portrayal of Krang, including your friend Brad Garrett?

They’re delightful. As the show progressed, Krang got more evil and scarier and appropriately so. Our culture has changed and shows have changed and gotten darker and tougher, generally. But, believe me, styles are all over the place. That show, particularly, got darker in the way it was written, in the way it was animated, and in the performances. I used to be recorded in Hawaii while on vacation. It’s called being recorded wild and they put it in. Well, Fred Wolf got tired of this and he recast. He asked the cast, “Who does Krang?” So, Townsend Coleman raises his hand and does four or five shows doing Krang’s voice. So, I tease him to death to this day. I’ll say things like, “You volunteered to replace me?!” It’s a good laugh.

Did Brad Garrett contact you at all before doing his version of Krang or did he just make it his own?

Brad and I are best friends. We get together and have lunch or see each other or he teaches with me. When we do, we’ve never talked about show business per se. I don’t know if he’s worth a gazillion dollars or if he’s broke. We talk about family. We talk about jokes that appeal to us. We talk about our mentor. Old comedians that still knock us out, like Rodney Dangerfield. We’ve just never talked about work. It’s just not part of our relationship, which is the same with other people I know, like Ed Asner and Rob Paulsen. We just talk about life. That seems to be a center to having a good relationship in show business.MOVIES

In 1990 the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made its feature film debut. Unlike the TV series and comic books that preceded it, this was a live-action film. So, the turtle costumes were developed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, which was a brilliant decision. The script for the film closely resembled the storyline of the first TMNT comic book, and it had a dark, serious tone to it, which was starkly different than the light-hearted animated series. This was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off big time as the film brought in more than $200 million against a budget of $13.5 million. To me, this first Ninja Turtles film was the best. Everything about it was top-notch. A year later an entertaining but watered-down sequel was released, followed by the mediocre Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in 1993. The best part of the third entry was the “Tarzan Boy” remix by Baltimora, which appeared briefly in the film and was included on the accompanying soundtrack. Two Michael Bay live-action Ninja Turtles movies were released in 2014 and 2016 but, similar to Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they were polarizing amongst the fanbase.BOOKS

The sheer amount of books about the Ninja Turtles is staggering. From trade paperbacks compiling comic books to novels, there’s a wealth of Ninja Turtles books for fans to enjoy. 

If you’re looking for the ultimate Ninja Turtles book, I highly recommend picking up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History. It’s both a treat to look at and read, and it’s a lovingly created history lesson on all things TMNT. What makes it especially enjoyable is the various inserts throughout the book. You get press releases, sketches, a poster, and even a replica of the original comic book. It’s a high-quality coffee table book that every Ninja Turtles fan should own.

Published in June 2019, The Art of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a beautifully produced book focused on the popular 2012 animated series. This book is 200 pages in length, and it features behind-the-scenes stories, art, and more from all five seasons of the show. This tome also has a forward by Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you’re a big Ninja Turtles fan like I am, you can’t go wrong with this book, especially if you enjoy the 2012 iteration of these heroes in a half shell. The Art of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is yet another way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Looking to make a Ninja Turtles inspired pizza? Look no further than The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Cookbook. My wife and I decided to try making two pizza recipes from this book. The first was “Mikey’s Meatzza Mayhem,” which turned out great! I opted to buy healthier forms of the meat, such as grass-fed beef, turkey bacon, and turkey pepperoni. However, I’m certain this pizza was far from healthy. Nevertheless, it tasted wonderful. The second time around, we chose a healthier option: “Four-Cheese For Four Bros.” We added broccoli to the mix, since we had some left over, as well as turkey pepperoni for the same reason. This recipe is our favorite, so far, but we look forward to trying out others in the future. This book is replete with recipes for all to enjoy, and it’s a fun take on the Ninja Turtles franchise.VIDEO GAMES

TMNT and video games go together like peanut butter and jelly. There have been more than 50 Ninja Turtles video games, which is insane. Arcades, home consoles, handheld systems, plug-and-play, PC games—you name it. The Ninja Turtles games have spanned generations of video game consoles and trends. My favorites include the original 1989 arcade game and the Nintendo and Super Nintendo entries. To me, these games are classic Ninja Turtles gaming experiences. Of course, there are other wonderful experiences to be had—including Hyperstone Heist on Sega Genesis, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Gameboy Advance, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows for PC, among other games. The depth and breadth of the games available is immense. Not all of them are winners, but there are many classics to enjoy.THE FUTURE

This is just a taste of what the Ninja Turtles franchise has been featured in over the past 35 years. I’m sure the next 35 years will bring new adaptations in the mediums discussed here and much more. I’m thrilled that TMNT is just as relevant and popular today as it was when I was a child. Like any great piece of pop culture, the Ninja Turtles adapt and evolve over time so generation after generation can enjoy what this enduring franchise has to offer. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings for our reptilian friends. I’m certain it will radical.

 

 

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