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Anatomy of a Blockbuster toy: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures - ToyNews

Anatomy of a Blockbuster toy: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the number two action figure brand for the year-to-date. But how have they stood the test of time and what makes the figures a classic? Dominic Sacco asks supplier Flair and manufacturer Playmates.
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Push the clock back 25 years and reminisce over some of the top boys’ brands on offer: He-Man, Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Transformers, Duck Tales…

You’d be forgiven for thinking it wouldn’t be possible to introduce another to fill children’s play time, but that’s exactly what happened in late 1987, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles emerged from the sewers to capture kids’ imaginations.

Unlike most other TV shows and toy ranges around at that time, however, those lovable mutants went on to stick around for the long haul, making several comebacks. The most recent has seen the toys (still produced by original manufacturer Playmates) become the UK’s number two action figure brand for the year-to-date (NPD April 2013).

So what makes a bunch of sewer-dwelling swashbuckling turtles such a success this time around? First of all, the excitement. Turtles was re-launched as a property in the UK at London’s Comic Con in May 2012. A new Michael Bay movie was announced, a refreshed TV show premiered on Nickelodeon in October, plus licensed products and toys were revealed including LEGO and the hit figures supplied by Flair. A consumer and trade PR and marketing campaign kicked off, and the buzz soon hit toy retail. 

Flair and Nickelodeon worked together closely with retailers for pre-sale activity ahead of the toys’ December 2012 launch. 

“Retail placement and custom programs were a big driver of the initial success, especially in the toy specialists who got behind the brand,” Flair’s product manager for boys toys Andrew Brown tells ToyNews.

“We always knew that there was major leverage to bring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back into this new era, however the success of the comeback has surpassed all expectations. 

“Initially, while nostalgia was a major element, through the success of the new series and the unprecedented demand for the modern new toys, Turtles is recruiting a whole generation of avid new fans which continues to grow. 

Brown adds: “From the background story of how the Turtles derived from Mutagen ooze and came to be ninja heroes, through to their endless encounters with arch enemies, the brand concept opens up a world of imagination and play possibilities so aligned to the toy category. A big attraction is the distinguishable personalities and characteristics of the four brothers.”

Pat Linden, Playmates VP of marketing, says:?“From the offset, employing the best sculptors in the business, our aim was to create cool, modern new toys which capture the true likeness and details of the Turtles just as they appear in the TV show. 

“The consensus all round is that all targets have been exceeded.”

See below for a look at how the Turtles action figures have changed over time, before we discover the science behind the new toys.

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THE TOYS: TURTLE POWER

At entry level, Flair’s latest popular Turtles action figure collection comprises all the most popular characters, complete with their own trademark weapon. This will be extended with a total of 17 new additions introduced throughout the course of the year.

The core 4.5-inch figures are individually sculpted to recreate how the Turtles appear in the show (see ‘Design: From TV show to toy’ for more information).

“Here it is all about the collectability factor as children seek to have as many toys as possible and create their own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle world,” Flair’s product manager for boys toys Andrew Brown tells ToyNews.

Most recently, Flair has launched the Flingers Deluxe Figures, each of which feature a unique way to launch projectiles at the enemy. Leonardo (pictured below) and Michelangelo each come with ten pizza discs and sewer lids, which can be flung out from from their chests. 

Meanwhile, Donatello and Raphael launch their own signature weapons from behind their backs. In addition to these, there are new Mutagen Ooze Turtles which come with their own ooze pack.

“Our view is that the new Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys are the best we’ve ever produced and our retail customers and consumers agree,” adds Linden.

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COLOURS AND CHARACTERS

Colours play a huge part in identifying and capturing the personality of each new Turtle, with each having his own skin shade. 

But one thing that’s stayed consistent since the original ‘80s TV show is the colour of the signature bandanas – including the toys.

“Every child instantly identifies the leader Leonardo wearing his signature royal blue bandana, hot head Raphael wearing his red bandana, the jokester and talkative Michelangelo wearing his bright orange bandana and the brains behind the Turtles operation, Donatello, wearing his purple bandana,” says Pat Linden, Playmates VP of marketing.

“It is this defining character differentiation that is central to the brand’s success.”

POSEABILITY: NIMBLE NINJAS

How significant was it to ensure the figures move just like the animated Turtles do?

“Poseability is very important to the play pattern of our Turtles action figures and helps to effectively bring them to life,” comments Linden.

“Children love to recreate the moves and motions of their favourite heroes as seen in the TV show, and the only way they can recreate their favourite scene is with action figures that have a full range of motion in the various body parts. As such, we’ve incorporated more articulation points in our latest Turtles action figures than ever before. They have articulation points in the neck, shoulders, forearms, hips, knees and lower legs.

“Also, even when children are not playing with the figures, they look a lot cooler and heroic standing on the toy shelf in an extreme action pose, adding further appeal.”

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DESIGN: FROM TV SHOW TO TOY

In the new TV series, there is a difference in height, build and shade of green between each Teenage Turtle. 

These physical attributes mark the differences between the brothers, making each more individual and relatable to the audience. 

“Working in close collaboration with Nickelodeon, we have gone to great lengths to reflect these physical differences and ensure the action figures stay as true to the show as possible,” says Linden.

“Initially, Nickelodeon provides us with turnaround drawings and a scale reference for each character which are translated by our designers into fully dimensional control drawings, calling out the height of the figure, number, types of articulation points and other finer details. The drawings are then turned over to the sculptor to start making the 3D models.

“Subsequently, the models are reviewed by design and marketing, followed by Nickelodeon, to ensure all models capture the characters correctly with any required adjustments made. Upon approval, the manufacturing process begins.”

The show’s gadgets and vehicles have also been transformed into toys, like The Shell Raiser Van, which features as part of the opening credits. This has become a top seller for the range, behind the figures, says Playmates.

Nickelodeon is hoping to build on this success with retail promotions featuring the Shell Raiser this summer.

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