Playmates Shells Out Their (Mostly) Great New TMNT Figures

By jason - July 6, 2012

Since their debut at Toy Fair in February, I’ve been highly anticipating the release of Playmates’ new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line.  Based on Nickelodean’s upcoming CGI-animated reboot of the television series, the titular characters sport fresh new sculpts that pull elements from both the original Mirage comic series as well as the classic animated series, but with some creative new twists.  Unfortunately, while all four turtles look and feel incredible, the supporting cast received a rather below-average treatment, hurting the line as a whole.

Let’s start with what I liked which, essentially, were the turtles.  I had a chance to play around with the Michelangelo and Donatello prototypes we had received at Toy Fair and there are some minor differences between those and the retail versions – namely a slight variation in color (Don went from an olive green to a less intense pea green and Mikey is a tad less vibrant), a little less fine detail (Mikey’s freckles are gone), and the weapons are no longer painted.  All the retail figures have solid-colored weapons which really lack character.  It’s unfortunate that Playmates didn’t opt to add a splash of color to these as each turtle’s signature weapon is so important to their identity.

Aside from that minor gripe, the four brothers are fantastic toys.  I’ve literally been playing with them all day – and I haven’t legitimately played with a toy in almost twenty years, instead being content on simply leaving my collection posed, displayed, and relatively untouched.  But these figures absolutely made me feel like a little kid again, bringing back fond memories of collecting and playing with the original toy line in the late ‘80’s.  Playmates did an excellent job bringing the charm of each turtle to life, with Mike, Don, Raph, and Leo all featuring different color palettes, body types, and facial expressions. 

The line’s smaller scale really works here, with the figures ranging from about 4.25” to 4.75”, and each turtle comes with throwing stars, their standard weapon of choice, as well as a variation on their iconic weapon and a belt made to store them in some fashion.  But what really elevates the turtles into the stratosphere of playability is the articulation – it’s perfect.  Each one features a ball jointed neck and ball joints in the shoulders, hips, elbows, and knees, along with swivel-joints in the wrists.  Even without a joint at the waist (which would be silly as they have a shell) or ankles, the range of motion they present is staggering and makes these toys a blast to play around with.  One other thing worth mentioning is that, while all the turtles still have their familiar looking hands with three fingers on each, they now have three forward-facing toes as well.  Jarring as it initially appeared, I actually love the feet as they provide a wide base for the figures and give the brothers a stouter, more formidable appearance.

So let’s check out what makes each turtle unique.  First, we have Michelangelo, the most youthful and fun-loving of the TMNT crew, who wears a cocky grin on his face here, perfectly capturing his exuberance.  He is the shortest turtle of the bunch and has a bright chartreuse skin tone.  His belt goes around his midsection only and has two loops to house both pairs of nunchaku.  In addition, and in following the new animated series, he comes with a kusarigama.  While purists probably don’t want to outfit Mikey with a bladed weapon, it’s there if you want it.  Similar to Mike, Raphael also has a simple belt with two loops for his sais and he comes packaged with two sai variations as well.  Raph is by far the darkest colored turtle in a deep forest green hue with an almost brown shell.  Keeping with Raph’s angsty, rebellious nature, his teeth are clenched in a ferocious grimace and his brow is furrowed.  He also has the only sculpt in which the tied off mask tails are lifted dramatically into the air and one of the more textured, scaley skin details.  I also dig the large crack present in his breastplate.

Donatello stands out as the tallest turtle and has a slightly elongated neck that gives him a leaner look.  His belt features a shoulder strap attachment that also houses his bo.  Again, keeping with the new cartoon’s design choice of eliminating blunt weapons from their arsenal, Don also includes a naginata.  The gold ring and cross-stitching on the belt looks great and, like Raph, his skin has some great intricate texture.  Don is the only brother that’s not showing teeth, instead featuring a reserved, stoic expression that reflects his serious, intellectual personality.  Last but not least, we have Leonardo.  This one may be my favorite figure in the line.  His vibrant lime skin tone really pops, his confident smile looks incredible, and his shoulder strap with sheaths for his dual katanas is awesome.  A medium build, medium height figure, Leo also sports the best contrast between the different colors used on him.  The marigold breastplate and avocado shell just compliment both his skin tone and blue mask so well.

All four are engineered in such a way that no one part impairs any other parts.  Even the rigid-looking breastplates are soft and give way when you move the legs to their extremes.  There is no position that I wanted to put them in that I wasn’t able to and, as such, they succeed brilliantly at being toys.  I couldn’t love them more.

The rest of the line, however, not so much.  Take the Foot Soldier for example.  Forgiving that they could never top the near perfect aesthetics of Playmates’ classic model, the updated build is a disappointing.  The hunched over spinal structure, sunken cheeks, and soulless eyes of the original have been replaced with a bland sculpt, disproportionately small head, and muted palette.  While still retaining some useful articulation, the lack of ball joints in the elbows and any joints whatsoever in the knees really limits the playability of the figure.  A peg hole in the middle of its back holds sword and dagger sheaths, but it’s disappointing that these weren’t incorporated into a belt or shoulder strap like on the turtles.  The rich texture present on the turtles is unfortunately lost here as well, with the foot soldier’s clothing looking smooth and shiny.  Similarly, the Shredder figure suffers from a horrendous sculpt.  His enormous feet and ridiculous leg armor look like Gene Simmons as drawn by Sam Keith. 

Part of the problem is the weak source material from the new animated series but, as a toy, it still falls short of the high bar the four turtles set.  His ball-jointed hips are nearly useless as, without and knee joints, moving his legs around just makes it appear that Shredder is seeking a grant from the Ministry of Silly Walks.  Furthermore, Shredder’s armored plates and painted chestplate lack any fine detail and give the figure a cheap look.

Kraang’s robotic suit looks pretty sweet at first glance, sporting some sweet detail and a unique sculpt, but ultimately just isn’t any fun to play with and a pain to pose.  The figure’s slender frame feels extremely flimsy and the hip & shoulder joints offer barely any movement at all.  There is no articulation worked into the knees, ankles, elbows, or wrists, resulting in a figure that appears to be permanently moonwalking.  Kraang himself is removeable from the suit’s chest cavity and he has a squishy, rubbery feel with tentacles dangling all over the place, which is pretty cool.  It’s just unfortunate that, with next to no paint work aside from some small highlights and dry brush effects, his mechanical housing looks unfinished and just doesn’t justify the price tag.  Although not photographed here, Kim Possible April O’Neil, who is now portrayed as a wide-eyed teenager, suffers a similarly weak sculpt that’s nearly devoid of detail or articulation.  Although the colors used are bright and eye-catching, she (much like the villian assortment) suffers a lack of leg articulation that absolutely kills the playability of the toy.  It’s actually kind of cute that April is packaged with a Bokken and Shinai, swords made of wood and bound bamboo respectively, and traditionally used for training exercises. 

I’ve heard mixed reactions to the new Splinter figure from Toy Fair, but I actually kinda like him despite his useless lower half.  His legs are situated in a walking stance with one leg bent in such a way that you can stand him up only when both legs are posed perfectly.  Seeing as his heavy clothing impairs leg movement, however, the hip articulation is moot.  Although not the most exciting toy to play around with, I like that they worked in a nice texture to Splinter’s attire (which for the first time truly resembles traditional Japanese garb and looks less like a bath robe) and the new color they worked into his facial hair really work.  If possible, I’d recommend throwing a new coat of paint on his walking stick as the translucent green just looks absurd.

It’s hard to judge figures so harshly based on lack of articulation and detail when the classic toys were so simple, but they were consistent.  This line is odd because half of the figures just don’t seem to fit – like they belong to a completely different run of action figures.  Purchasing the four turtles is a no-brainer, but the rest of the line should be avoided by all but the most dedicated collectors.  Be on the lookout for the initial lineup to hit shelves this month with vehicles, a playset, and talking versions on the way soon after.


 Click the images below (and within the article) for high-res versions:


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