THIS year marks the 30th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and whatever misgivings people might have about the new Michael Bay-produced movie it’ll be massive. We might find ourselves entering another golden age of Teenage Mutant Giant Ripoffs, like when the original cartoon (1987-1996) inspired a whole load of other shows that took the formula of a group of merchandise-friendly anthropomorphized animals with a tendency towards violence and ran with it. Some of the ripoffs were alright, some of the ripoffs were terrible, but none of them are being made into a giant-ass Michael Bay film, and none of them had nunchuks, so the Turtles win. Here are ten of our “favourite” TMNT clones.
BUCKY O’HARE AND THE TOAD WARS (1991)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: A multi-species spaceship crew
Despite being based on a comic created before TMNT (although published after it), there’s no way anyone would have funded a Bucky O’Hare cartoon without the huge success of the Turtles. As well as the eponymous green pilot hare there was Jenny the cat pilot, Deadeye Duck the one-eyed gunner, Bruiser the baboon, Blinky the one-eyed android and human tagalong Willy. The action figures were amazing, but if you own them and are ashamed of your nerdiness, get in touch and we’ll take them off your hands…
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Teenage space-toads
Battletoads started life as a NES game capitalizing on the Turtles’ success but was popular enough to spawn a one-off TV show co-written by TMNT writer David Wise. The three space-toads, named Rash, Zitz and Pimple, were originally computer technicians who were transformed into oversized, kneepad-wearing toads and transported into deep space by their old boss, but the cartoon changed them to teenagers who gained the ability to transform. The game was great and led to several sequels. The cartoon was less well received, and that was the only episode ever made.
WILD WEST C.O.W.-BOYS OF MOO MESA (1992-1993)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Gunslinging anthropomorphic cows
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles veteran Ryan Brown, who had worked on both the comics and the action figures, created this cartoon set on a plateau where a radioactive meteor had led to a community of humanoid Wild West cow-people. How would Marshal Moo Montana, the Dakota Dude and the Cowlorado Kid’s attempts to uphold the law survive the efforts of corrupt mayor Oscar Bulloney and evil Sheriff Terrorbull? Christ. The C.O.W.-Boys actually teamed up with the Turtles once, in a comic book nobody ever needs to read.
STONE PROTECTORS (1993)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Rock star trolls
If the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the biggest children’s phenomenon of the early 90s, troll dolls were arguably the second. This attempt to capitalize on both crazes made pretty much no sense – it featured a failing rock band who found five of the six pieces of a magical crystal, transforming into trolls who are better at their instruments and battle an evil villain who holds the sixth piece and really hates music. What a BASTARD.
BIKER MICE FROM MARS (1993-1996, 2006)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Martian mouse motorcyclists.
One of the better TMNT-alikes, Biker Mice From Mars followed the adventures of Modo, Vinnie and Throttle, three survivors of a Martian holocaust brought about by the evil Plutarkians. Between them they had a missing arm, a missing eye, a bionic face and severely damaged vision, which makes it a blessing it was a cartoon – if you’ve ever seen a real mouse with half its face burned off, it’ll haunt you forever.
AVENGER PENGUINS (1993-1994)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Motorcycling penguins
Made by British animation greats Cosgrove Hall (makers of Danger Mouse, Bananaman, Count Duckula and more), Avenger Penguins came out at the same time as Biker Mice From Mars but was a much jokier, spoofier take on the mutant-biker idea. Marion, Rocky and Bluey were clumsy incompetent knuckleheads, and the lead characters were voiced by Mike McShane of Whose Line Is It Anyway? fame. Episode titles included The President Is A Fish, Cat Pig Cat Of Iron, Fish Finger, and impressively, The Labyrinth Of Doom, The Revenge Of Doom and The Computer Of Doom.
STREET SHARKS (1995-1996)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Genetically modified man-shark hybrids
Specifically created by Mattel to sell toys, the Street Sharks were four brothers who were “gene-slammed” into humanoid sharks by a crazed scientist. The crazed scientist in question, Dr Paradigm, later gets gene-slammed with a piranha, transforming into Dr Piranoid (which is sort of a less evil-sounding name, really). The four sharks – Slammu, Ripster, Streex and Jab – are completely different from the Turtles, because they like burgers and specifically state in one episode that they don’t like pizza. See, different.
ROAD ROVERS (1996-1997)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Crime-fighting humanoid dogs
To battle an evil general, a scientist rounds up an international group of dogs and uses a “transdogmafier” to turn them into upright, speaking dog-people (with tails), who can swap between humanoid and dog form at will. When not fighting crime, they return to dog form and live as pets in politician’s houses (for instance, the lone female of the group, Colleen, is a collie who lives with the Prime Minister). The evil general is later revealed to be a transformed cat, because of course he is.
EXTREME DINOSAURS (1997)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Dinosaur warriors
Arguably the laziest-titled cartoon ever, Extreme Dinosaurs was a spin-off from Street Sharks featuring five dinosaurs (four of whom wear shoes) battling to save the planet from a bunch of nastier dinosaurs, the Raptors, who wanted to use global warning to make Earth more reptile-friendly. The Extreme Dinosaurs (T-Bone, Stegz, Bullseye, Spike and Hard Rock) are occasionally helped out by some friendly paleontologists and for some reason “Prince H, the Prince of England”.
NOTABLE MENTION: PUNK FROGS (1987)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: Surfing mutant frogs
The makers of the TMNT cartoon weren’t above doing their own spins on the formula. The Punk Frogs were friends of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hawaiian-shirted surfing frogs from Florida created after an ooze spillage. Shredder initially trained them up to fight the Turtles, following Splinter’s example by naming them after his heroes – Attila The Frog, Genghis Frog, Napoleon Bonafrog and, er, Rasputin The Mad Frog. They’re also inaccurately named – no punk would be seen dead in a Hawaiian shirt. They’re rubbish.