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First Look – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classic Collection Donatello

T-U-R-T-L-E POWER! Aaaaand the last of the “really big” toy lines of my childhood has finally joined the nostalgia train and after all the waiting, slow and steady just might win the race. Yep, for me it went Super Powers and Masters of the Universe, then Thundercats, then the Real Ghostbusters, then WWF wrestling and, finally, TMNT. So, in fitting fashion, the Turtles fit my personal timeline and are last group to jump on the bring-them-back-better-than-ever craze, but being fashionably late to the party often has its advantages. There is a lot of excitement brewing over the relaunch of the cartoon and the modern toy line to accompany it, but for most collectors, the Classics Collection will be where it’s at. Due out next month, the only revealed figures thus far are the Turtle brothers, but Playmates mentioned back at New York Toy Fair that if they are successful, they are interested in bringing other characters into the line. In my unwavering ability to not be able to wait for anything, I snagged my favorite of the group, Donatello, and I have taken lots and lots of pictures so you can see just what we are getting into with this line. If you are a Turtle fan like me, the future is looking very bright thanks in part to remembering the past. Yeah, words like “Cowabunga!” “Bodacious!”  “Totally tubular!” and “Radical!” will be calling out from the toy aisles very soon.

 

Of all of the lines I mentioned above, I probably had more figures and vehicles from TMNT than any of the rest. And why not? It was a great line with tons and tons of crazy characters and fun play sets and vehicles to support it. While MOTU was always my number one favorite, TMNT play kind of had another level to it. I think it was the combination of me being a little older (seven or so when I first got into them), and the concept of the Turtles being really cool, especially for the times. I remember when I got my very first TMNT figure: my dad had taken my brother and me to K-Mart on a Saturday so that we could get some toys to have at his new house. We had walked the aisles and gotten a few things when my younger brother freaked out with excitement over the Krang figure he had spotted on the shelf. Now, at the time, we did not know anything about TMNT, but Krang’s look won him over right away. Well, I figured I needed to get a figure too so we could have some kind of cohesive play going on, and in our true fashion of one of us getting the bad guys and one of us getting the good guys (I had the baddies for MOTU so this made sense to us), the only Turtle left hanging on the pegs was a lonely Michelangelo. So, somewhat by default, he became my first Turtle. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.

Within a few weeks we were well-versed in the totally awesome cartoon, and we had each added more than a few new characters to our respective sides to help bolster the ranks. The Turtle Van was kicking shell with the four turtles, Splinter, Casey, and Ace Duck right away (April actually eluded me for some time, unfortunately), while Krang, Shredder, Bebop, Rocksteady, and Baxter were more than enough to provide some opposition for some early epic battles. Donatello pretty much instantly became my favorite character and set the tone for a lot of things for me for the next few years. Yeah, yeah, it is easy to have called him the nerdy Turtle, but smarts have always been important to me, but he could still kick shell and had the longest range weapon (awesome for when you played as him in the video games) of the brothers. Plus, he was AWESOME in the first TMNT movie. I must admit that I bought more than my fair share of things in purple during my TMNT years (even though blue was my favorite color), and I got into my love of punk rock as a teenager from the this-actually-exists file: Punk Rocker Don (with badass keytar), which  remained a stalwart of my bedroom. Yeah, Donny and I have a little history, so when I had to make a quick decision over which of the Turtles I was going to overpay for to get early, there was no doubt in my mind it would be him.

Bring it!

So what has Playmates done with this line being tagged as the “Classic Collection”? Well, they have (thus far) taken the four Turtles and designed a bit of a hybrid style using cues from the vintage figures and original cartoon looks, added a ton of articulation, included trademark weaponry, added a figure stand, and packaged them up in a retro-style blister card. I bet you are wanting to know a little bit more than that though, right? Okay, okay, I know there are a few choice burning questions out there, so I will try to cover as much as I can, but if you are not one to do much reading in these articles, I will just say this, the potential for a complete line done in this style judging by Donatello alone has got me salivating for plastic in a way I have not done since the announcement of Masters of the Universe Classics. I know Playmates has never been known as being the most collector-friendly of toy manufacturers, so there has been a lot of speculating as to whether or not this line is going to deliver. Well, if Leo, Raph, and Mike are all as good as Donny here, I think this line will be a success in the eyes of collectors.

But does the final product deliver on all of the excitement? Well, I am sure that is going to vary from collector to collector, but taken as a stand-alone figure, it is pretty hard to deny this Donatello figure. There are a lot of things going just right for him, and I believe that TMNT fans and general action figure fans alike will appreciate the care given to this figure. As I hope you will be able to tell from the pictures, he is really hard to put down because he is a blast to pose and play with. Never in the history of the universe, no turtle, neither living nor plastic, has ever been this poseable and he looks pretty damned killer doing it.

From an aesthetic point of view, I think there were many different routes Playmates could have taken while developing these figures. I think the original vintage figure looks are just as popular as those from the cartoon, so both of those avenues would have been viable options. The packaging boasts that they are modeled after the cartoon looks, but I don’t think that is entirely true. However, in a decision that will surely divide some collectors in the community, I think that they actually went with a bit of a hybrid look for these figures, combining qualities from both toy and ‘toon. So you can tell right away that things like the individual facial expressions and colors of each of the toy Turtles are carried over, but the figures also have pupils and cartoon-styled belts as well. The same hybridization is carried over in the package art as well; while the sewer brick theme is preserved from the vintage packaging, the Turtle art on the blister looks much more like promotional images used for the cartoon. On top of all of that, there are some new elements that are included to keep things fresh, but I think it is important to realize all of this prior to getting into these. If you are looking for straight copies of your old toys with more articulation, these are not going to meet that expectation. However, if you are like me and the toys and the cartoon held equal influence over your own ideas of how an iconic representation of the Turtles should look, you might find that Playmates is on to something here.

I personally really like that these Turtles now have pupils painted into their eyes. I have my Four Horsemen-sculpted NECA comic Turtles and I love them as much as any action figure I own (they are nothing short of amazing) because they are perfect representations of the source, so the fact that they do not have painted-in pupils is 100% correct. However, since these Turtles are based on the later incarnation, I think the pupils are completely appropriate. Yes, I say that as a fan of the original toys, completely white-eyed and all. However, I personally knew tons of kids that took Sharpies to their figures to make them more like the cartoon, so I am good with the choice to include them here; however, I can completely understand the other side of the argument and can realize that some fans will not agree with this move. My *one* forehead slap in all of this is that I got a bad luck draw and one of the pupils on this particular figure is painted off-center. Arg! Well, once I find them in stores, I will find a Donny with perfect eyes. This does set the tone for my buying though, I will wait until I see the rest in person so I can pick and choose.

Conversely, even though I like a lot of the cues from the cartoon, there was a certain edginess to the toy version of the original Turtles. I mean, let’s face it, just because these guys were fun-loving pizza enthusiasts, that did not mean that they were not also frikkin’ ninjas. So, the expression range of focus from Leonardo all the way to rage in Raphael of the original toys translates to these figures rather well. I mean, it is cool to pose them in a relaxed and partying mode, but I am going for shell-kicking ninja-ing with these figures because, well, I can. I would be completely fine with getting a refresher of these figures down the line with more casual expressions, but as it stands, I am glad we are getting the fierce ninjas with this release. The good part is that the serious expression and included pupils can and do work together, so if you’re good with getting a cartoon feel with the vintage toy attitude, you will dig this Donny.

Another thing that you probably noticed right away is that, for the most part, these new figures keep the color variety in the skin tone of the Turtles from the original figures. In the cartoon, all of the Turtles were the same light green as the Raphael figure (they are even portrayed this way on the package art for this figure). However, these guys match their vintage counterparts pretty closely in term of green hues, at least from what I can tell that is the case for Leo, Raph, and Mikey. The exception to this is actually the Donatello featured here. Sure, he is a different color of green from the rest of them, but Don’s old figure was such a dark color that he was almost brown. You can see in the comparison pictures that the color used for this new figure is a lighter tint of the original. I would not say that it bothers me that he does not match completely with the original color, but it seems like the other three were matched so closely that the choice to change Donny makes it feel all the more outstanding. I don’t know, what do you think about it? He certainly seems like he is a more natural “turtle green” now, but it does feel different from the original.

Okay, okay, so he looks good, but what about the construction, articulation, and scale? Well, here is the skinny on all of that, and I think you will find some wins, a few losses, and a few in between. Starting with the articulation, and I am sure you have gotten a pretty good idea in terms of count from the promotional pictures, here is my attempted run-down:

  • ball-jointed head
  • ball shoulders
  • swivel biceps
  • double elbows
  • hinge/twist wrists
  • finger hinges
  • floating mid-torso (the back shell is only attached at the top piece)
  • partial ball hips
  • thigh cuts
  • double knees
  • pin and rocker ankles
  • toe hinges

If you count each of those individually, that clocks in at 34 points of articulation; personally, I would certainly consider that to be super-poseable. The engineering in the joints was my big question, though, because I have seen plenty of super-articulated figures that cannot even support their own weight. The strength of the finger articulation has been of particular concern because what good is it if the Turtles can’t hold their weapons? Well, I can tell you that as long as you have all the fingers positioned correctly, Donatello can hold his bo without any issue. The hand articulation looks a little weird, but the joints are tight enough for the weaponry. The engineering on the rest of the joints (especially the elbow and knees) is quite good and you can get your Turtle to hold a lot of different poses but the joints stay pretty solid.

The other burning question regarding these figures that has been on the minds of collectors is the actual scale in which they have been designed. In fact, I have seen it thrown around on multiple occasions that incorrect scale could be a deal-breaker for people. How the Turtles will match up with other six-inch scale figures is really important to a lot of people. See, the line has been touted as “six-inch” from day one, but it has been unclear as to whether that means the LINE is scaled at that size or if the Turtles themselves are six inches tall. The Turtles should be shorter than an average human, so it would stand to reason that, in a six-inch line, the Turtles themselves would be about five or five and half inches tall at maximum. A (fingers crossed) Shredder or Casey Jones in this line would be about six inches tall, so the Turtles should be shorter than them. To their credit, Playmates has always been conscientious of proper Turtle-to-human scale, so I have been hopeful.  So what’s the verdict? Well, see for yourself:

I am going to bet that, for a lot of collectors,  they are bigger than expected. In fact, if Marvel Legends or any other strict six-inch line is what you are hoping to integrate, these are going to be too big, most likely. Lines like DCUC, WWE, or MOTUC fare a bit better, and if we ever get any other additional figures in this line, guys like Shredder and Casey will have to be about He-Man height, maybe bigger in order to look properly scaled. I think that would be fine, but I think a lot of people will be a little heartbroken about this. I personally don’t think all is lost, Donny is shorter than most of my six-inch collections so he fits in for me. A standard DCUC figure is still taller than Donatello, but maybe not tall enough for some. This issue will be the hottest topic of debate about these figures, I am sure, but your preferences and tastes will vary.

For accessories, Donny comes with one requisite bo staff and a figure base. I kind of miss the weapons rack tree that was included with the vintage figures (and, from what I hear, the new cartoon TMNT figures) because it’s always fun to get some extra ninja weapons. I guess I have to say that the bo is actually cartoon-based because the taping is actually painted white, unlike the vintage accessory. The other three guys all include their trademark weapons as well, so you will not be hurting for those, but you might have to mine your Street Fighter collection to give your figures a bit more of a “go ninja, go ninja, go” arsenal. The base itself is styled after a manhole cover, of course. It looks nice as a display piece and has the vintage-style TMNT logo on it, but it can also serve as a sewer cap accessory too. At any rate, the figure most certainly does NOT require the base in order to stand.

MAn, I am really excited to have my first TMNT Classics figure. Overall, I think Donatello is a GREAT figure on his own merits and he is a blast to play with. Plus, he looks great. I wish my figure’s eyes were painted a little better, but he moves and looks great. The size issue is going to be divisive, though. I don’t normally mix my lines, so as long as any future figures in this line are scaled accordingly, I will be good. If you want them to blend perfectly with your ML, you are most likely going to be disappointed. However, even if size is an issue for you, it is really hard to deny that this is an awesome figure. I am still hoping with every fiber of my being that it takes off and is a great success for Playmates. I NEED so many characters in this mythos, it makes my head spin. Of course, bring me Splinter and April and Casey and Shredder and Rocksteady and Bebop, but don’t forget about our Ace Ducks, Fugitoids, Ray Fillets, General Traags, Neutrinos and all the rest. I want MOTU Classics-type depth with this line, not Bandai Thundercats (*cry*). I am positive that there will be some collectors out there left with wanting more, there always is. Like I said, I am really enjoying this figure and I am really looking forward to the possibilities.

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