Teenage Mutant Censored Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of my all-time favourite franchises and it was a huge part of my childhood. For what at first seems like such a simple concept, each incarnation has featured such a rich yet varied backstory and a host of brilliant characters. There have been multiple cartoons, movies, toys and video games, all based off of the original Mirage comic book series created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
I will eventually get around to talking about all of them, but for today I'm going to be focusing on something which has confused the majority of my North American friends; we in the UK had a slightly different version of the 1987 cartoon that aired in the US and Canada. And we called it 'Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles'.
The reason for this was mainly the result of British censorship policies whereby the word "ninja" was deemed to have excessively violent connotations for a children's program. Everything that got released on our side of the pond carried the "Hero" name; toys, shirts, games, videos - everything!
But it doesn't end there.
You see, it wasn't just the title that was changed. Elements of the show were changed too. For a start, if the show is called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles then they couldn't have the word "Ninja" in the lyrics, so the theme tune had to be changed. As a result, our Splinter taught them to be "fighting teens" as opposed to "ninja teens".
If you watch both intros side-by-side, you'll also notice that a lot of Mikey's shots have been cut out. At that point in time, it was illegal to show nunchucks in use on-screen, even in an 18-rated movie (which was bad news for Bruce Lee fans). It was absolutely impossible for them to show Mikey swinging them around, resulting in them freezing the logo in front of Mikey to hide them, or cutting them out altogether.
This obviously extended into the show itself, with less use of the Turtle's weapons being shown, most of all Mikey's.
I mean sure, you'd see Michelangelo holding his nunchucks from time to time, and the action figures came with them as accessories too, but that was about it. Even the VHS covers reflected the less-violent nature of the show that we grew up with in the UK.
What? You think we're done here? Absolutely not! You see, season one of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a five episode mini-series, with each episode lasting 20 minutes. We weren't so fortunate in the UK. Because of the heavy use of Michelangelo's weaponry, the entire season was edited down and spliced together into one 50 minute movie called 'How It All Began'.
As you can imagine, editing down 100 minutes worth of footage down into 50 minutes meant that there was a lot missing. The entire episode starts off as a flashback and is narrated by Leo trying to inform Splinter about everything that's happened, leaving very quick, very short bursts of clips that feel very disjointed. Upon reflection of it as an adult, there's even things that just don't make sense because it's almost obvious that there are giant holes missing in the story.
If you're interested in seeing 'How It All Began' for yourself, then you're in luck because the entire bastardization is available on YouTube:
But that wasn't all that got edited. When the episodes were aired on the BBC, phrases like "Let's kick some shell!" and "Bummer!" were removed from the episodes too.
The worst part of it all though, was that we didn't know. WE JUST DIDN'T KNOW!
As kids, we had absolutely no idea that there was ever anything other than Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. To us, they were awesome and cool and fun and we were completely and utterly hooked and obsessed with them. It was one of the best cartoons that we had growing up - we just didn't know that it was supposed to have been so much better! Thankfully, by the time the movies rolled around, it was deemed okay for them to retain the "Ninja" name in the title, but the rules regarding the censorship of nunchucks still continued for many years until the DVD release. You can see a side-by-side comparison of the differences here: http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=3927
This did give us one benefit though; for many years, we grew up being able to easily differentiate between the two properties, with "Hero Turtles" being used as the name representing the cartoon series and "Ninja Turtles" being used as the name for the movies.
Years later when I discovered the original unedited series I was in utter shock. I had almost worn out my Hero Turtles VHS tapes when I was younger, so I was very familiar with 'How It All Began'. And yet here I was watching the pilot episode opening on a violent scene of Bebop & Rocksteady and their fellow goons destroying a car. There were a multitude of scenes I hadn't seen before, and a coherent story, and far more entertaining cartoon violence, and Michelangelo actually kicking ass. It was incredible, and I was in shock. I didn't know whether to be happy that I'd just discovered an even better version of the series I grew up with, or to cry that we'd been handed an edited piece of crap in comparison. I scoured the internet trying to find out what it was that I was watching and what on earth went wrong in the UK all those years ago.
As for the US and Canada, they eventually felt the effects of the UK censorship too and were far from left unscathed. Because of the amount of editing required for seasons one and two, the show-runners decided to remove Mikey's nunchucks entirely, replacing them with the 'Turtle Line' - a grappling hook which Mikey used throughout the whole of season three.
So that was kind of our fault. Sorry about that.
Now that the censorship laws have been relaxed in the UK somewhat, the show has now been re-released under the name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in its complete unedited form. Whilst we will always refer to that series as the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, my fellow Brits now have the ability to watch the Turtles in the way that they were originally intended to be seen; as ninjas.