Recently, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 animated cartoon released a set of toys based off the 15th episode of the second season, the LARPing Ninja Turtles. The cartoon episode was one large nerdy reference after another. The toys are 5” replicas of what the turtles’ specific classes were in the episode titled “Mazes and Mutants”, which is a clear re-imagining of the Tom Hanks 1982 made for TV movie “Mazes and Monsters”. This movie was based off Rona Jaffe’s novel of the same name that was a story about an urban myth of university students disappearing while they acted out their fantasy role playing game, governed by the rules set out in the original red box Dungeons and Dragons. So as a recap, a toy modeled after a cartoon based off a TV movie that was an adaptation of a novel that was plotted around urban myths about a pen and paper game.
The action figures look exactly like they did in the show (for the most part); Leo is a Knight encased in (plastic) metal wielding a sword, Donnie is the wise wizard with a staff, Mikey portrays the elven ranger sporting a bow and Raph is the ax slashing barbarian. The turtles each took up a player class that is very representative of their personalities and weapon skill sets, which all just seems to fit perfectly; the knight being the natural born leader, the wizard being the warrior that uses his mind, the barbarian is synonymous with an angry, fight first think later character and the elven ranger being the most dexterous and creative. Their adventuring gear are all items found from trash making this LARP seeming low quality but dedicated to the idea. Of course there is a good comparison of the turtles to their player classes in any fantasy game, but let us not forget that the Ninja Turtles had their own rule set for pen and paper adventuring published by Palladium back in 1985, which came with the option to use 25mm miniature models released by Dark Horse. The Palladium game also included little creatures called Terror Bears, which were also the subject of a TMNT 2012 episode, “Dream Beavers”, but that is another topic in itself. That particular adventure game lasted until around 2000, which it never was able to gain traction as the Ninja Turtle market blew up with the cartoon series and movies that took a different and more popular approach to the properties personality (though depends on who you ask).
The resemblance to the namesake of Mazes and Monsters goes much deeper than the dangerous caverns that Tom Hanks and his college fantasy role playing group explore. With the average game of a RPG becoming something that people can really immerse themselves in (trust me, you can get lost in almost any aspect of it) the college gang soon wants to up the realism of their game and role play in the caverns, adding a sense of danger and realism to their pen and paper adventure. The cartoon role players soon take it upon themselves to likewise don some found trash as their equipment and blur the lines of reality and fantasy (though their quest isn’t meant as a warning to the “dangers” of D&D). In a light adoption of the TV movie to the ninja turtles version, the Myna bird named Merlin (after the iconic mage) from the movie whome repeats “Birds Can’t Talk” mocking its own learned behavior becomes the dungeon master/villain of the week in the ninja turtles episode this time as a mutated sparrow named Sir Malachi.
Aside from the amazing references to the TV movie, there are dozens of head nods and Easter eggs to other various fantasy realm properties such as Lord of the Rings with Mikey’s +1 ring of awesomeness that he covets like the One Ring, and Donnie proclaiming “You Shall Not Pass!” Another happy acknowledgment is with the final showdown in which the wingless dragon (Dragon Lair) Leatherhead’s lair resembles Smaug’s gold filled home from The Hobbit. It doesn’t matter if April’s role in this cartoon was as simple as Dragon Lair’s Daphne and her bubble like prison (though not as sultry or provocative), the toys that were a quest in themselves are worth the almost $10 ppt (Price Per Turtle).
Just like every RPG boils down to the quest, the search for these toys was a yearlong endeavor filled with many side missions that left me with many trophies (toys). I had first glimpsed the proto types a while back and ever since then, I had spent lunches running to various toy stores and department stores just browsing through the aisles, only to be saddened that there was no action figures yet. One week, I happened across a Barbarian Raphael, and had to make a double take to make sure I was seeing the toy and not some fowl illusion (get it?). After tossing aside toy after toy on the rack, I came away with only one out of four turtles. Thus the quest was renewed. Yes, I could have easily just bought the toy online, or had it shipped to the store, but like every adventurer, half the fun is in the hunt.
Eventually I would piece together my Mazes and Mutants party, which gave me time to rewatch the cartoon as well as the subsidiary reference material (“Mazes and Monsters”, “LOTR” and others). The toys, though they are fun and great looking, their level of detail is slacking the finer details such as Leo’s shoulder pads actually being red stop signs instead of blue all over, or the white buckle missing on Raph as well as the white star outline for Don. But I can look over the slight “false advertising” (since on the back of the packaging there is picture of the toy in full detail), as this is a toy for kids as well as a turtle fan’s collection piece. I had no idea how hard it would be to find these four turtles, but there was a great sense of completion once I had all of them lined up on my work desk. One other small part that had me wishing for more, was just that, I want more! Give me Sir Malachi and Princess April along with Leatherhead the dragon or even the foot soldier training dummy confused for an ogre. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures by Playmates had countless variations of their heroes and villains, so I say why not let the LARPing run wild and dress all of these 2012 cartoon characters as fantasy heroes and monsters.