In 1984, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it was an instant commercial success. By the end of the ’80s, the Ninja Turtles transformed from edgy counter-culture parodies of modern comic books into kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon fare. They were also marketed and cross promoted on basically every product imaginable. Name a product, and there is a 9 out of 10 chance that in the ’90s someone slapped a Ninja Turtle on it.
I remember there being Ninja Turtle brand hot dogs for crying out loud. They were twice as expensive and just as appetizing as you’d expect. Since they weren’t even made out of turtle meat, the Turtles had no business even being on the package, but I digress.
With the success of this franchise, it should come as no surprise that it also spawned a bevy of knock off, imitations, and outright rip-offs.
We’re going to take a look at some of the worst of the bunch and shake our heads in collective disdain. Join me will you?
Biker Mice From Mars
One of the first imitators, Biker Mice from Mars, was exactly what the title presented: It was a show about anthropomorphic mice from Mars who drove motorcycles. In the typical ’90s fashion, these mice were EXTREME! They had piercings, eye patches, and cyborg limbs. They spent most of their time driving around Chicago saving it from the various menaces created by Lawrence Limburger.
Limburger was an alien from the planet Plutark who ran his own evil corporation because, in the ’90s, the best kind of villain you could come up with was one focused on corporate greed.
Naturally, given the plot setup, most of the stories centered around saving the environment. This was something that cartoons were huge on, yet never provided much in the way of solutions. You also have to love the supreme irony of a bunch of rodents trying to save the environment while driving around on motorcycles. Clearly, this premise was very thoroughly thought out.
Biker Mice has had the most longevity of all of the series on this list. After it’s initial run from 1993 to 1996, it enjoyed a brief revival in 2006. That revival scrapped the environmental message and had the Biker Mice stopping the evil Catatonians from obtaining a special MacGuffin device. The series didn’t last more than a year.
Cowboys of Moo Mesa
This series was actually the brainchild of someone who worked on Ninja Turtles. Ryan Brown, longtime artist on the kid friendly Ninja Turtles comic book produced by Archie Comics went on to create this steaming pile of cow flop.
Cowboys of Moo Mesa is, as you can guess, about cowboys who are also cows. Brilliant! In this series, a meteor transforms an entire frontier town into anthropomorphic cows. Seeking to maintain their way of life and keep law and order, Marshall Moo Montana formed the C.O.W. Boys. C.O.W. is short for Code of the West. Just because acronyms are a thing doesn’t mean you should use them all the time.
In the show, the C.O.W. Boys constantly butted heads with Mayor Oscar Bulloney. Bulloney, as his name suggests, was corrupt as hell. Moo Mesa followed that time-honored ’90s tradition of fostering mistrusting authority to an entire generation. Each episode was a horrible pun of Western tropes and popular films about the American Frontier.
This is the biggest offender on the list because not only did it try to cash in on the popularity of the Ninja Turtles, but also of Troll Dolls. This was all the originality that came from the Stone Protectors.
In this show, an evil creature named Zok tries to obtain a crystal of power, but it shatters, and all the pieces get sent to Earth. At that moment, a horrible rock group named the Rock Detectors come across the crystal shards. Each member is transformed by a shard into a Troll-like superhero. Also, they play rock and roll, which just so happens to be the one thing Zok hates the most.
This show kind of dumbs down the whole “fight against authority” by giving the Stone Protectors a foe who doesn’t like loud music.
Those who read one of my previous articles will know that the Toxic Crusaders were based on the not-even-remotely-kid-friendly Toxic Avenger films. In the 1990s, Troma Entertainment made their iconic creation a kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon.
In this show, Melvin Junko is turned into the Toxic Crusader after stumbling into a barrel of toxic waste. He teams up with a bunch of other similarly mutated characters to clean up the environment. Is there an anti-establishment message in there as well? You betcha! Doctor Killemoff is the lead villain, an evil polluter from the planet Smogula. Subtle.
As with anything that has come out of Troma Entertainment, the show was heavy on the social commentary. You know what makes this show hypocritical? All the merchandising they made for this show. Lloyd Kaufman talks about how commercially successful this show was. You have to wonder how much of this merchandise polluted the environment.
Toxic Crusaders even got screwed over by the Turtles. In his book, All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger, Kaufman claimed that New Line Cinema was optioning a Toxic Crusaders movie. According to Kaufman, the only reason why there was a deal at all was because New Line hadn’t yet secured the rights for a third Ninja Turtles movie. When that third Ninja Turtles movie was going to happen, the Toxic Crusaders were tossed to the curb.
One of the most brazen titles in this list, it made no efforts to hide it was a Ninja Turtles rip-off. The evil Dr. Paradigm uses a gene-smasher to transform the Bolton brothers into human/shark hybrids, and they become the Street Sharks. Yes, this one also uses that tired anti-corporate trope as well. The Street Sharks made a point of saying they don’t like pizza and prefer hamburgers (I told you they were brazen.)
The show even managed to create a spin-off called Extreme Dinosaurs, which as you can guess is about dinosaurs that are the EXTREME.
If the internet is to be believed, there is a live action Street Sharks film coming in 2018. Even rip-offs aren’t safe from the Hollywood reboot.