I used to tag along with my best friend, and his brother, and their mother, whenever they went grocery shopping. This was for no amazing reason; we'd be playing at their house, their mother would need chicken, and that's how it went. Always armed with enough money to buy something -- but not a big something -- we'd carefully scour every aisle their mother wasn't shopping in on the hunt for candy and toys. Or we'd just play tag, because playing tag in a supermarket was unbelievably awesome. On one such occasion, I picked up a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spiralbound notebook. I'd never watched the show, and the toys were barely in stores by that point. I just got it because it was there and because it was cheap enough, and because throughout my own personal history, I've always been a sucker for a shiny new notebook.
Later that afternoon, back at their house, it was by sheer coincidence that I watched my very first episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was floored. There wasn't a great many number of cartoons that an upper elementary school boy could obsess over by the time the Ninja Turtles hit their stride, and as much as I loved the Disney Afternoon, these green guys were saying much hipper things. By the time I began comprehending the complex dual leadership of the Foot Clan shared between Shredder and Krang, I knew what was going to happen. This Ninja Turtles stuff was going to own me.
And so it did. Not long after that, it was Christmas, and my brother bought me my very first TMNT toys, consisting of a "Wacky Action" Raphael, a "normal" Michelangelo and a Sewer Cycle. From that point until another point much further in the future, everything took a back-seat to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I embraced those fuckers like they were going to cure some disease I didn't know I had. My only regret is that the franchise began too late; it was fantastic to have something to share with everyone at school during 4th and 5th grade, but by junior high, I had to hide the love. It just wasn't acceptable to be excited that you finally found a Rat King action figure in intermediate school.
The merchandising scope of the Ninja Turtles was something to behold, and that stamp was something I held dear. If it had a TMNT logo, it was worth having. No matter what it was. Soap, shoelaces, cereal...it didn't matter. The range of products bearing some kind of Turtle emblem was far too broad to even consider in a single article, but if I had to pick one thing that really exemplified a child's ability to lose themselves in a sea of green, it'd be the grub. People could eat Turtle-branded food exclusively and still eat very well, and if this article doesn't prove it, at least it gave me the opportunity to MS Paint the fuck out of Krang. Proudly presenting: A look back at some of the best Ninja Turtle edibles I ever done did eat.
Ellio's Ninja Turtles Microwave Pizza
I've always loved pizza, because there isn't a person alive who doesn't love pizza, and if they say they do, it's just because they want to be a rebel. And I will always love pizza, but it'll never feel as good as it did to eat pizza as it was during the initial Ninja Turtles craze. At the time, it wasn't just about eating pizza. It was about emulating our heroes. Every bite, every black bubble, every oily slice of pepperoni was a little piece of Turtledom. It went like this: With Ninja Turtles, half the kids idolized by way of signing up for ninja class. The lazier half just ate more pizza. Beloved children's characters are so often one-dimensional and so rarely fleshed out, and if you can buy this, the fact that the Turtles ate pizza gave them a layer that felt so much more than just plain surface.
At the time, it was very common for kids to have Ninja Turtle-themed birthday parties, and the main course was obvious. Promotions that involved both pizza and Ninja Turtles were thus prevalent, and this one shows just how easy it was to pull it off. It was just a normal, everyday Ellio's pizza. The kind that tasted decent if you went through the trouble of oven-cooking it, but nobody would trade precious minutes for a decent pizza when the microwave was ready to deliver a sucky soppy supper in four minutes flat. To tie this in with Ninja Turtles, all it took was a few pictures on the box. Worked like a charm, too, because I ate enough microwave pizza in 1990 to cause a lesser boy to explode.
The back of the box featured an awesome comic strip detailing the origin of the Ninja Turtles. The very same comic strip was printed on much of the earlier toy packaging, but if you look close, you'll notice a twist in the final blurb: "The Turtles love Truth, Justice and a SLICE OF ELLIO'S PIZZA!" That's verbatim, folks -- even the capslocked part. The pizza itself was completely pedestrian, but it did come in a neat Turtle-themed wrapper.
Ninja Turtles Popsicles With Bubble Gum Eyes
I tend to associate the Ninja Turtles with summertime, or at least, I associate the Ninja Turtles with a summertime that actually meant something. This is thanks in no small part to the lack of real responsibilities that allowed me to fully devote my efforts to being a lean green fighting machine, but I think Ninja Turtle popsicles had something to do with it, too. It's the same water ice wonder we've seen countless times: Take a cartoon character, turn it into ice cream and give it little bubble gum eyes. We've seen it countless times, but it works every time. The Turtles enjoyed a remarkable run in this format. They were sold long after the initial hot years faded, only to return many times since in correlation with every attempted Ninja Turtle bring-back. The proof is in this X-E blog post from 2004, covering the happy day where I found the exactly-the-same Ninja Turtles popsicles still being sold from an ice cream truck. Half the fun was in guessing how poorly placed the eyes would be. Sometimes, Donatello could see out of his chin.
So popular were Ninja Turtles popsicles that in addition to being sold off the cold trucks, they were sold by the box in grocery stores. The thought of eating something cherry-flavored and freezing and shaped like Leonardo's head was clearly enough to inspire much purchasing, but they took things a step further by giving each popsicle stick an absolutely authentic Ninja Turtle autograph. Perhaps overestimating the appeal of such a thing, the back of the popsicle box featured a cutout doorknob hanger that declared your bedroom an "autographed sticks trading zone." Copy editors for cutout doorknob hangers are a lazy bunch.
Farley's Ninja Turtle Fruit Snacks
What amazes me most about these is that the Farley company went through all the trouble of obtaining the white hot Ninja Turtle license only to spend half a buck on the package art -- the Ninja Turtles depicted on the box look like something I would've drawn out of toothpaste when I was supposed to be showering. In this regard it would seem that Mr. Farley and his Farley Soldiers wanted us to believe that they'd bootlegged the concept rather than paid the big bucks, but that wouldn't really make sense, so I'm left theorizing that whatever apathetic suit ran the place decided to let their retarded nephew sketch the box art. I don't know why this is bugging me so much.
The actual fruit snacks were less appalling, and reflected a great range of characters, from each individual Turtle to four different villains: Shredder, Bebop, Rocksteady and Leatherhead. Only, on the box, two of them are listed as "Be Bop" and "Rock Steady," and I swear, if I look at that box again I'm going to have to burn it.
Hostess Ninja Turtles Pudding Pies
I'll keep this brief because I've already written a whole article on these, but it seemed criminal to do a big TMNT food post and not sneak in what very well be the most remembered, most infamous slice of edible Turtlemania of all: The Hostess Pudding Pie. Now, full disclosure: I hated the things. I hate every kind of Hostess/Drake's/whatever pie, whether they're filled with fruit or pudding or some other kind of bug guts. If I had to change one thing about myself, it'd be that. I wish I liked candy pies more, because then the fact that I bought so many of these (incorrectly but acceptably referred to as "Turtle Pies" by fans) would make sense. For those who did enjoy the taste, this was pure heaven. There was nothing else like them, and there really hasn't been anything else like 'em since. An extremely generous amount of slimy vanilla pudding hid beneath each pie's flaky, green frosting-drenched crust. Essentially, the pie was three desserts rolled into one and packaged in the *cutest* little yellow wrappers I've ever spent 20 bucks for on eBay.
If we can surmise that desirability inflicts in direct response to decadence, it's no surprise that the pies were a home run. You couldn't eat two in a sitting. You couldn't eat one and a half. You couldn't eat one and eat anything else at all that day. Hell, you could barely eat one at all. Knowing the kind of audience they were playing to, Hostess was smart to employ different wrappers for each of the four Turtles, as we were certainly lame enough to buy more pies because of it. Around the time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 hit theaters, Hostess began including paper-thin trading cards to the packs. While I wouldn't eat the pies because vanilla pudding makes me die, I used to really enjoy slipping the trading cards up and down my tongue to clean off the green frosting residue. Don't act like you didn't do this.
Ninja Turtles Crunchabungas
"Pizza Crunchabungas" were the driving force behind this article getting written, as I feel somehow incomplete not having really paid tribute to them before. I don't know how many of you remember them; maybe not as many as I think, because Google matches for "crunchabungas" are about as high as Google matches for "ietrophysics," which is a word I swore I heard on a sitcom show's spelling bee once and will forever keep checking to see if it's begun existing. I look at that bag and feel capable of performing butterfly effect tricks. That right there is a view into a lousy past checkered with stay-at-home Saturdays with nothing better to do than watch T.G.I.F. and get drunk on pizza-flavored corn wheels. I remember being kind of grossed out by the taste -- artificial pizza flavoring is yucky -- but nevertheless absorbed by the texture, the crunch and the idea that Raphael wore a chef's cap and stomped around an assembly line liberally sprinkling vaguely pizza-shaped chips with vaguely pizza-flavored pixie dust. And the bag. The bag had a "Pizza Shooter!" I owned that toy! I knew what it was! I understood how strange it was for the Pizza Shooter vehicle to be chosen for mass-produced junk food package art. It made me proud.
The snacks were virtually the same as "Pizza Spins," a Bugles-esque beast that arrived in the late '60s. I know this because I am over sixty years old. Crunchabungas were intended to look like pizza pies, but they looked far more like wheels, or pieces of Honeycomb cereal, or sand dollars. They pretty much looked like everything else on the planet more than they looked like pizza pies.
It has become almost a lifestyle for me to try to appreciate things that won't be around forever, and Crunchabungas were the first time I was cognizant of something like that. Glancing down at the pizza-shaped yum nuggets, reaching into a Ninja Turtle-adorned bag, I stuffed my face with something I knew very well would not last forever. This wasn't like Ellio's microwave pizza. When the Turtles were gone, they'd still make Ellio's microwave pizzas. The same couldn't be said for Crunchabungas, and by the time I made my way through the cellophane folds into the lair of crumbs and salt, I wondered silently: "Will I ever lick this shit off my fingers again?"
All I have left is this one lonesome empty bag, totally suitable for framing -- it's a period piece, and it reminds me of getting stabbed with a big heavy pool tube's metal dick, of watching What A Dummy and Harry & The Hendersons and marveling at the stroke of chance that was having the two worst sitcoms on television air back to back on the same channel, of comic books and of tying a milkcrate to my handlebars.
Crunchabungas debuted in a big way, aided by a television commercial starring the Ninja Turtles as Will Vinton-created claymations. The snacks weren't long-lived, because they treaded far too close to "high concept" and the general population was too stupid to understand them. The bags featured an offer for various cheapo TMNT products on the backs, reminding me that my standup comedy career must kick off with a routine about how painter's caps don't look good on just anybody.
Ninja Turtles Cereal
I respect that a lot of you loved this, but for me, mixing Chex and character-shaped marshmallows is like mixing a first date with my homemade collection of 90210 DVDs. It's something like that. Each bite provided a double-punch of tastes that should've never been allowed to double-punch, and to this day, I always protest new cereal brands that get the crazy idea that sugary marshmallows go well with Chex ripoffs. Since a lot of you loved the cereal, I'm willing to chalk this paragraph up to me being crazy.
Because the Ralston company focused 95% of their efforts on their dog food brands and 5% on cartoon-themed cereals, the marshmallows were poorly defined: They're supposed to represent the Turtles and their various weapons, but the Turtles look more like green stars while the various weapons look like broken off bits of other marshmallows. On the other hand, if half of decision to eat a certain cereal was based on box art and television advertising, this was one for the books. The box featured the Turtles holding gigantic spoons and bottles of milk, while the commercial totally sold 'em out with all-new animation that helped established the pieces of Chex as "ninja nets," a tool with which the Turtles captured Rocksteady and Bebop 55,000 times in a row. For more info on this bodacious breakfast, check my full tribute from 2003.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Cheese Pasta Dinner
Working on a handshake deal with Splinter, Chef Boyardee once offered a bevy of Ninja Turtles-themed pasta dishes, generally sold in cans right alongside Spaghettios. It was one of the more major TMNT food promotions, including another all-new animated commercial and enough print ads to keep the comic book industry in business through troubled times. The Boyardee stuff was grand, but he didn't make this stuff. No, TMNT Mac & Cheese was slapped together by Primera Foods, who desperately tried to represent each of the four Turtles as pasta shapes by way of letter codes. Click that link. Now try to find the letters on the actual pieces of pasta. I see Turtles, but I see no letters. How am I supposed to eat this if I can't do in-my-head counts of how many Leonardos I'm digesting versus how many Donatellos I'm digesting? The box also features a great big burst playing up its "100% enriched durum semolina" ingredients, as if this meant anything to a single person living or dead.
Delicious Ninja Turtles Cookies
As seen in my 2004 tribute to TMNT Cookies, the Delicious company made a huge production out of the line's launch, combining a very strange ad campaign (mixing cartoon Turtles over live action footage of kids eating their cookies) with an incredible range of flavors. With food promotions that tie in with kiddy icons, usually the company understands the destined brief-but-profitable life of the product, thereby not bothering to put a terrible amount of thought into what the food actually tastes like or offers. The fact that there were four different flavors of TMNT Cookies only proves their popularity, which is good, because the Turtles were notorious self-doubters who needed reassurance wherever they could find it.
The cookies were shaped like the green heroes, obviously, but Delicious had some seriously gifted dwarves on hand to make these things -- the cookies' resemblance to the Ninja Turtles was unreal, and the detail was such a major effort that I'd always feel a little bit bad mashing 'em up with my lousy teeth. Cookies shaped like cartoon characters are a pretty easy sell for kids, but Delicious didn't stop there. The "big boxes" of TMNT Cookies came with cutout figurines, while the smaller, snack-sized packages were either shaped like the Turtle Blimp or, better yet, elongated Turtle Vans. And that barely scratches the surface of the different kinds of cool packaging offered. I guess it was a popular brand, because Delicious later offered Turtle-shaped cheese crackers and made the same amount of fuss over them.
Royal OOZE Gelatin Desserts
When the Ninja Turtles became a live action movie, things changed. The live action aspect of Turtle lore seemed to run separately from the cartoon in many ways, thus affording us fans two entire buffets worth of TMNT action. Because the first film was in many ways truly edgy and anything but bubble gum, it also lent a wave of cool to the Turtles that they'd never previously experienced -- if you don't count the pre-toon comics, at least. Hearing that Raphael is "cool, but rude" in the cartoon theme song is one thing. Hearing a gangsta rap about how much of a badass he was is something else entirely.
Unless you absolutely hate the Ninja Turtles, it's hard to deny that the first film was fantastic. Or at least, a hundred trillion times better than anyone could've possibly predicted it would be. When you revitalize something that in no way shape or form needs it, you create a monster. After the first film, the TMNT franchise was a monster. And the monster feasted long enough to make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze another major hit, even if it was a much stupider movie. Hell, I was a kid at the time, and even I didn't buy that Shredder's friggin' costume would roid rage after he drank mutagen. I knew that the Vanilla Ice stuff was pushing it, too. Did any of this stop me from practically having a happy-induced seizure when Splinter made another funny? FUCK NO.
Royal Gelatin, from Nabisco, was simply Jell-O under a different name from a different company. When TMNT 2 was a big bullet, they renamed the stuff "Ooze," slapped pictures of the live action Turtles on the boxes and made more money than you or I will ever see. It's amazing how far calling the stuff "Ooze" took it. I loved Jell-O, but it was never something I actively sought out, unless of course I had a fever or something and needed my mother to prove her love for me by preparing a "sick food" that took more than a minute to deliver. When Nabisco started calling their B-team Jell-O "Ooze," I was all over it. I wasn't convinced that it'd mutate me into a human/hamster hybrid, but I wasn't ruling it out.
The amazing thing is, what we've covered today isn't even a tenth of the total amount of TMNT-branded edibles once sold to the millions, and if you count everything sold for future "renditions" of the Ninja Turtles, we're talking about a lot of high fructose corn syrup. I'll always remember the Ninja Turtles fondly for being one of my last excuses to act like a five-year-old, and for teaching me than any stickball bat doubles as a ninja weapon.
Thank you, Michelangelo. Thank you for feeding me.
The backs of the Royal Ooze boxes featured various recipes for disgusting snacks, which was needed, since for its root performance, it was just Jell-O and nobody was going to buy it as "ooze." In theory, the best recipe was for a "Royal Ooze Drink," which promised to turn the ingredients into a perfectly drinkable but-still-oozey concoction that felt much closer to the mutagen we knew and loved from the cartoon and movies. Stick with me on this, because you don't necessarily need to find Royal Ooze from 1991 to make yourself a batch. Any pack of Jell-O will suffice.
Assuming you're only using one package, bring 3/4ths of a cup of water to a boil -- and don't be an asshole with the boil point. Wait until it boils before moving on to the next step, which involves dissolving the gelatin fully in the boiling water. Stir it well, make sure there's no lumps or clumps. Once that's done, turn off the heat and add seven ice cubes to the mixture. The box says that this will create an ooze effect, but I tried it in 1991 and I tried it last night: It really doesn't work. You're basically going to be drinking liquid Jell-O if you do that. While the instructions don't mention it, I've found the secret ingredient necessary to uncover the secret of the ooze. It's nothing big. Just corn starch.
Yeah, so you turn the stove back on and add a bunch of corn starch. Stir until it looks like the mess seen above. Turn it off, let it cool, and pop in a Turtle-related DVD. Make the popcorn. Get the goblets out. Invite your friends. And drink the ooze.