Just how popular were the Ninja Turtles just a year after their television debut? Popular enough to be cookies.

Made by Delicious, "Ninja Turtles Cookies" shocked fans with an appearance of their beloved green heroes; not on television or in Toys 'R' Us, but at supermarkets.

It was one of the first signs that the franchise had really made it. The cartoon and toys were very successful, but the real telling sign of a kiddy fad's longevity is whether fans were willing to eat it. Between the cookies, "Ninja Turtles Cereal" and a special brand of Hostess "Sewer Pies" with frosted green shells and disturbing vanilla goo inside, the crimefighting amphibians were poised for a legendary run on top.

What kept sales alive had very little to do with that the cookies tasted like, but rather how they were presented. Kids who persuaded their parents into buying this stuff felt like they were getting a free toy out of the deal, even if those "toys" were really just cookie boxes.

I was able to procure a sealed box of the beasts, and holy Christ, the cookies were absolutely rancid. I've been spoiled by the amount of times I've opened up ten-year-old cereal boxes for a site review without dying. With ties to dairy and less preservatives, the box of Ninja Turtles Cookies has quietly transformed into a box of Hell. It's one of those faint odors, too. You won't smell much from afar, but if you're unable to fight the temptation to stick your snout in the box for a closer inspection, prepare for a nasal invasion on par with having a recently fed vulture sit on your face and crap.

Fortunately, this is what Lysol invented itself for.

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Well, there they are. Ninja Turtles Cookies. The chocolate chip kind. Amazingly, they didn't use a single mold, but rather one for each of the four Turtles. Now you could play with your cookies without having to conjure up a storyline explaining why they were all twins first. That plus mark is offset by the sinister amount of cookie breakage found in each box. It's like the few intact cookies remaining are the survivors of a great Ninja Turtles civil war, where the entire species came close to extinction all because they couldn't agree on whether the decision to replace two Designing Women with two other Designing Women was right or wrong.

As you can see, the detail is phenomenally vague. I'm not sure if I've labeled them correctly. Neither are you, so don't start. As I recall, the texture of the cookies was very unique. In eating them, one had the strong sense that they'd been tricked into chewing particle board. The chocolate chips helped mask an underground movement to make society eat wood. Strange thing is, I'm almost positive Shredder tried the same thing in one of the cartoons.

How we caught wind of the cookies' arrival is no surprise: a commercial, featuring the Ninja Turtles karate-kicking the bland out of a black-and-white school lunchroom. Actually, I bet you were surprised.

The campaign was otherworldly. It starts off with some bald guy slowly drumming as captive students woefully enter their terminally boring school lunchroom. A narrator describes the tormenting lack of creative freedom leading to a widespread case of -- I swear -- "cookie boredom." Pretty dark and gritty considering that they were plugging cookies shaped like mutant turtles with big white smiles and big round pizzas. Everything is black and white, except a box of SOMETHING NEW AND EXCITING held by the one child brave enough to damn the man.

Ninja Turtles Cookies: brought to you by Mirage Studios and Oliver Stone.

Of course, the Turtles blast off the cookie box, spreading color and good cheer across the lunchroom. With a magical wave, each of the kids not only regains their skin tone, but they end up donning much hipper clothes. By "hip" I mean self-painted hats with suns and stars on them, or conversely, pants with self-painted hand-shaped ass-stamps. Lots of hyphens, lots of fun.

The Turtles never once speak in the ad, and I didn't get the impression that the usual animation team brought 'em to life. They're all a bit misshapen, none of their weapons look exactly as they should, and for a brief moment, Leonardo's head morphed into a perfect square. Compensating for all that shit was a narrator who wasn't Mean Gene Okerlund, but sounded so much like him that I still feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The Turtles win another one, and the kids in the lunchroom couldn't be more thankful. The preliminary narrator -- with the scary Vincent Price voice -- returns to warn that kids should buy Ninja Turtles Cookies before they're "gone forever." Not since it was exposed that Nabisco's "Quackers" were made from real ducks had the world seen junk food with such an ominous aura. It was the Devil's Apple of the lunchroom's bring-your-own section.

Click here to download the Ninja Turtles Cookies commercial!

One thing that never made sense to me was just how many varieties of Ninja Turtles Cookies existed. There were four different flavors, in at least as many box sizes. You had peanut butter graham, apple cinnamon graham, natural vanilla and chocolate chip -- for an upstart cookie, parent company Delicious was taking some major risks.

Then came the boxes. Aside from the typical size and shape seen above, there were three other kinds. Two small "animal cracker" containers were shaped either like the Turtle Van or the infamous Turtle Blimp, while the final container had each of the four Turtles being immortalized as oversized plastic coin banks. Yes, cookie boxes than doubled as coin banks. Each of the banks bore a sticker where the particular Turtle reaffirmed his position: "I'm a Coin Bank!" It was insane. If a supermarket chose to offer every variety, they had to devote as much shelf space to Ninja Turtles Cookies as they did their November turkeys. Obviously, most chains only picked the flavors they considered the most viable. Somehow I doubt "Apple Cinnamon Graham" made the cut.

The fun didn't stop there. A reader once told me he'd been present for the Ninja Turtles Cookies' grand unveiling at his local grocer, complete with guys dressed in terribly bootleg costumes taking pictures with all the babies. Evidently, a similar event was huge enough for a mall in Omaha to air local TV ads promoting it...

At any of Nebraska's "Mall of the Bluffs," kids could enter to win a boatload of Ninja Turtles merchandise. Examples are given, complete with quick cutaways to four adult hands wildly shaking four action figures in the worst imitation of "kids playing with toys" ever put on film. Players could pick up sweepstakes entries wherever Ninja Turtles cookies were sold, while the winners were announced during the cartoon's commercial breaks. Soooo much cross-promotion packed into a thirty-second spot. Don't think this is worth mentioning? Just take a look at who they hired to tell you about this grand competition...

Yup, Michaelangelo. It's the worst TMNT costume I've ever seen. The head is roughly the size of a Buick, while the rest of the garb is so lanky and folded that our hero might as well have carried a "I'm made of polyester" sign around while frequently taking off his mask to make lewd gestures with his tongue. Even worse is the guy they had narrating it -- it was supposed to be Michaelangelo as he sounded on the cartoon, but it came off more like Michaelangelo after a three-year trip to Britain where he had chunks of metal permanently affixed to his tongue. Tying this whole thing together, Mikey's belt buckle featured Delicious' company logo. For reasons I'm still trying to figure out, the end of the spot showed Michaelangelo -- all 600 lumpy pounds of him -- jogging in an Omaha park looking about as mobile and fluid as a collection of dead monkeys would when ordered to jog.

Click here to download the TMNT Contest commercial!

That's about it for the Ninja Turtles Cookies tribute. Thanks to DK for donating the ad spots, and to Delicious Inc. for showing a picture of Donatello holding up a half-eaten cookie on the side panel of the box. I should also thank Splinter, for not minding his total exclusion from an article he was indirectly responsible for. That radical rat.

Rocksteady: Okay guys here is what we do now. We make Seuss rhymes about Ninja Cookie taste. I go first. "One fish, two fish, cookies are, dee lish." Okay now it is your turn.

Muckman: "I cannot taste them, is what I said. I cannot taste them, through my head."

Mutagen Man: I don't want a turn.

More Ninja Turtle Fun: TMNT Music Tour - TMNT Fan Club Kit - TMNT Sewer Playset - Krang's Body - You're A Turkey - TMNT Cereal

-- Matt (3/05/04)