Monday, June 20, 2011

The Mighty Mutanimals cartoon that almost happened

Let us flash backward, my friends, to that fateful year of 1993. I was but 8 years old at the time, as were many of you, I’m sure, and if you were reading Archie’s TMNT Adventures spin-off comic, Mighty Mutanimals, then you probably read the news that a cartoon series based on the book was in the works, mentioned in the letters column of two separate issues.

And then… Nothing.

So, whatever happened to that cartoon? Well, that’s what I’m here to figure out. Mirage staffers and co-creators of the Mighty Mutanimals, Ryan Brown and Steve Lavigne, gradually revealed tidbits about the doomed Mighty Mutanimals animated project between 2007 and 2009 over at their (seemingly now defunct) blog, Cowabunga Cartoon Classics. The blog posts were scattered across the span of nearly three years and the bits and pieces of info weren’t presented chronologically. So hopefully I can take the scant facts gleaned from their blog, in addition to what was mentioned in the letters columns, and organize it all into one coherent article.

For the source material as provided by Brown and Lavigne, as well as tons of cool behind-the-scenes images and stories about the Golden Age of TMNT, again, check out Cowabunga Cartoon Classics.

In 1992, after the success of the initial Mighty Mutanimals miniseries from Archie Comics and its subsequent ongoing series, Mirage took an interest in bringing the Mutanimals to Saturday morning animation. The February, 1993 letters column announcement from Steve Murphy (under the pseudonym “Dean Clarrain”) mentioned a target date of the Fall ’93 season. Murphy encouraged readers to contact the offices of Fred Wolf of Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, producers of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, to show their support for a Mutanimals animated series.

Fred Wolf opted not to do the show and the concept was shopped around until Ruby-Spears showed an interest in the brand. An unnamed “Hollywood animator” then created a production bible featuring summaries for the first 13-episode season and model sheets for all the characters, vehicles and locations.

Exactly what universe this series would have taken place in is something of a mystery. Most of the Mutanimals were presented as unrepentant and often one-shot villains in the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon, making a spin-off of that series highly unlikely (to say nothing of the legal issues, considering Fred Wolf owned that cartoon and Ruby-Spears would be producing this one). In the June, 1993 letters page of Mighty Mutanimals, Murphy said that the cartoon would “revolve around the return of Maligna”, with “return” being the key word here. The blog posts from Brown and Lavigne confirmed that plot synopsis, leaving me with the impression that the Mutanimals cartoon might be a spin-off from the Mutanimals comic.

At any rate, the Turtles were slated to guest star in the first four episodes of the series (no clue if they’d have retained their Fred Wolf-employed voice actors) and Krang would have migrated over to the series as “a source of moral support” for Queen Maligna. Though a model sheet for Krang was created for the production bible, no images of the Turtles have been released, making one wonder if they’d have been redesigned from their Fred Wolf designs (Krang boasts a “less lumpy” character model than his Fred Wolf counterpart).

Every member of the Mutanimals would have made it into the series, albeit with streamlined designs to make them easier to animate. In another notch against this being connected to the Fred Wolf cartoon, none of the characters who appeared in the TMNT cartoon look even remotely similar (comparison shots included where applicable).

You’ve got Jamaican wolf-man, Dreadmon:

Brazilian feline, Jagwar:

Man-Ray, under the name of his Playmates toy, Ray Fillet (incidentally, while “Ray Fillet” never appeared in the TMNT cartoon, he was slated to appear as a villain in “Rebel Without a Fin” until creator Ryan Brown denied approval, requiring “Ray Fillet” to be hastily substituted with the copycat character “Ray”):

Mondo Gecko, looking much friendlier than his Fred Wolf incarnation:

Wingnut and Screwloose looking drastically different from their Fred Wolf designs:

Cajun-style Leatherhead (my favorite!):

Though a main character from Archie’s TMNT Adventures series, not their Mighty Mutanimals series, fox-woman Ninjara would have joined the ranks of the team, now garbed entirely in pink because, you know, she’s a girl and all:

New heroes were, of course, slated to appear. There’s the time traveling raptor Deinotor, who came from an alternate future where humans had died out in nuclear fire and mutated dinosaurs rule the Earth (and who also seems redundant with Playmates toy character Shogun Shoate, who in turn was based on Mirage Comics character Chote):

Soakorr, heroic friend of Ray Fillet and one hyphen away from being a Master of the Universe:

Skate, Ray Fillet’s cousin (don't think too hard on that one):

Villains from the Mighty Mutanimals and TMNT Adventures comics made the cut, too.

The Mighty Mutanimals' first foe, space-conquerer Queen Maligna:

Her foot soldiers, the Malignoids:

Scul and Bean, the lieutenants of Queen Maligna and recurring villains from TMNT Adventures:

Scumbug, with that stupid antennae-ponytail I can’t stand (now A. C. Farley, that guy draws a kickass Scumbug):

Wyrm, colored blue like his Playmates toy instead of yellow like his TMNT Adventures appearance (Wyrm, by the way, never appeared in the Fred Wolf cartoon but did have a brief animated segment in a single toy commercial):

Vid Vicious:

Captain Mossback:

Lots of new villains were included in the production bible, most of which were slowly being introduced to the TMNT Adventures title at the time. They include Executor (called Waster in TMNT Adventures):

Gunskull (called Lynch in TMNT Adventures):

Guzzler (called Dead-Eye in TMNT Adventures):


Angleron, who is described as being pals with Armaggon (who does not have any released art from the production bible, though apparently was intended for the series):

Luna-Wing, a mercenary from the Mothro Galaxy of Dimension X who can incase enemies in a supernatural-silk cocoon that can bring either life or death if he so chooses:

Limulus, a horseshoe crab mutant:

Nether-Dead the Doppelgator, who was planned for a potential second season of the series as part of a team of evil clones spawned from eggs deep within Maligna’s Hive-World. No art of Nether-Dead was included in the production bible, though a potential appearance was fashioned by altering Leatherhead’s model sheet art:

Plunger, who is best described directly from the production bible, "A plumber, Mr. Bradley Martin, is exposed to a thick and putrid orange slime while working on a new housing development that has been built on an old toxic waste dump. The result is a mutated super crook. Plunger's showerhead swivels to spray polluted toilet water, slime and ooze at his opponents. He drives an attack/assault plumber's van full of a variety of pollution-creating equipment. Plunger is always cackling and giggling and his faucet nose is constantly dripping":

An excess of vehicles, bases and gadgets were included in the production bible, all certainly with the potential of being turned into toys by Playmates.

There’s the team’s flagship, the Arkwind:

The team’s mobile base, The Den, designed by Donatello, disguised as a volcano and capable of traversing the ocean:

Cudley the Cowlick, who was slated to appear in episode 9 of the series (and considered a vehicle):

The Sea Ray:

The Mutanicycle (with detachable sidecar action!):

Maligna’s Hive-World (called the Wyrdwind in TMNT Adventures):

Also, all the Mutanimals were accessorized with wristband communicators (if you hadn’t noticed). They would have made for role-playing toys similar to the Turtle Communicators.

And that’s that. So what ultimately killed Mighty Mutanimals the animated series?

Well, one of the primary executioners was Playmates, who had the option to produce the toyline. According to Brown-himself, “Playmates stand (sic) back then was that most of the characters were already available as toys so why bother developing the property. They wanted something completely new, that way they could get maximum sales potential with new characters that no one had seen before.”

Ruby-Spears seemed very excited to do the show. According to Ryan Brown, memos from the period read, “Ruby Spears is anxious and wants to get going.”

But back in 1993: No Toyline = No Cartoon

The letters page of the ninth and final issue of Mighty Mutanimals assured readers that if the cartoon series got off the ground, the ongoing comic would be resurrected. The cartoon was never produced, the comic never came back and all the Mighty Mutanimals were immediately killed off in a mass execution storyline from TMNT Adventures.



Mighty Mutanimals #7 (February, 1993).

“At this very moment, Ryan Brown and Dean Clarrain are hard at work developing the Mutanimals for animation for the Fall of 1993! Although many things can go wrong between now and then that may prevent the Mutanimals from reaching Saturday morning TV, Mirage Studios (home of the TMNT) is fully behind Ryan and Dean’s project. If you’d like to help see a Mighty Mutanimals cartoon on TV next year, please write a letter to:

Mr. Fred Wolf
MWS Productions
1463 Tamarind Ave
Hollywood, CA 90028

Be sure to tell Mr. Wolf how much you like the Mutanimals!

Given the way the entertainment industry works, there will only be toys made of the Mutanimals if there is a cartoon show as well. (All the more reason to write that letter to Mr. Wolf!)”

Mighty Mutanimals #9 (June, 1993)

(In response to Phillip Prochaska from Victoria, TX in regards to whether “United we Stand…” would be adapted for the cartoon) “We honestly don’t know, dude. It all depends on whether or not the Turtles can guest-star in the Mutanimals cartoon.”

(In response to Leanna Yip from Concord, CA in regards to the cartoon’s storyline) “The storyline for the hoped-for Mutanimals cartoon revolves around the return of Maligna and features a whole bunch of new villains, many of whom will start appearing in various Mirage/Archie comics during the coming year.”

“Big Announcement: These are difficult words to write… but for the time being this will be the final issue of Mighty Mutanimals. Sales of MM have never been as good as the other Mirage/Archie titles and it’s just hard for Archie to justify printing MM any longer. So we’ve decided to do two things:
1) As soon as (or if) we get a TV animation deal we’ll bring back MM in its own title (having a cartoon always helps the sales of a comic).
2) Starting in issue #48 the Mutanimals will have their own back-up series in every issue of TMNT Adventures. Hopefully this will turn on TMNT to the Mutanimals.
Thanks for buying MM for these past 9 issues. It’s been fun. –Dean Clarrain”

Cowabunga Cartoon Classics posts:


Nah said...

Cool article! The Wyrm toy was blue:,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1440&bih=697&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi

Mark Pellegrini said...

Whoops! I forgot all about his toy being blue! *fixed*

E. Wilson said...

It makes you wonder why Ruby Spears didn't just scrap the pre-existing characters, when half the cast seems to have been completely new.

Adam said...

Gotta love it how a failed TV show together with a canceled comic series that led to the death of the whole cast within less than a year!

Poor Mutanimals.

I was never particularly fond of Ruby-Spears shows back in the day (yeah, I know, 80s cartoon-nut blasphemy), so I am a little skeptical on just how good a TMNT/MM show in their style would have looked. I never saw the 2nd season of COWboys of Moo-Mesa, though apparently they did animation for those episodes (I thought the first season looked pretty good). Still, I'm sure more TMNT-related cartoons would have made me a faithful viewer anyway. Too bad it all fell apart.

One more thing, Mark. Did you mean to write "concept art" as opposed to "control art"? I'm not familiar with that term.

Mark Pellegrini said...

@Adam Winters

Control Art is a term used in the animation industry basically meaning the standard character design the animators and merchandise artists are required to use.

And Ruby-Spears as a company produced mostly terrible stuff, particularly through the 70s and 80s (they were almost indistinguishable from Hanna Barbara), but by the 90s they'd gotten into the habit of outsourcing their animation so it didn't always look so awful. They did the Mega Man cartoon, which was about 60% watchable, after all.

E. Wilson said...

"Gotta love it how a failed TV show together with a canceled comic series that led to the death of the whole cast within less than a year!"

The Lone Gunmen totally sympathize.

Hero Turtle said...

You sir, are a credit to the TMNT fandom. Yet another great article with bits and bobs that I had seen, but never put together. Thanks man, it is well appreciated!

Chad said...

Personally, I kinda saw the fall of the Mutanimals comic near the end of the Four Winds arc. Without the focused and interesting storyline to drive the book, the following issues just kinda felt like desperate reaching.

I was never really interested in the Mutanimals show, I kinda figured it would be lukewarm garbage that the show constantly featured save for a standout episode or two. Also, while I think the decision to kill off the characters is neither here or there, killing them all off as a group felt lame, contrived, and spiteful. I would have prefered seeing them go out one by one in a crossover story, or throughout various adventures in the TMNT monthly. Or even in an actual miniseries. They way they went out just made them feel like chumps.

Chris Sobieniak said...

@Adam Winters
Control Art is a term used in the animation industry basically meaning the standard character design the animators and merchandise artists are required to use.

Seeing these designs, I sort wish they went with Mike Kazaleh's take on the characters myself (having been an animator himself). The only issue of the Mighty Mutanimals I ever saw in my life was #5 and his cover alone sold the darn story to me, though I never did buy past that issue (looking back, I see they rotated the artists on that too). It was at least an interesting contrast to the look Fred Wolf used for his show if the Mutanimals had it's own look to separate things out (and this was already at a time when Ren & Stimpy was becoming big with it's bold, new direction for 90's cartoons to follow).

At least he got to have the final say when a little gag drawing he did got published!

And Ruby-Spears as a company produced mostly terrible stuff, particularly through the 70s and 80s (they were almost indistinguishable from Hanna Barbara),

Well it was founded by former H-B guys to begin with, and later their studio was owned by the same owners as H-B (Taft Broadcasting).

but by the 90s they'd gotten into the habit of outsourcing their animation so it didn't always look so awful. They did the Mega Man cartoon, which was about 60% watchable, after all.

As long as you can accept a teenage version of the title character.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing about Ray Fillet in the 1987 cartoon is he wasn't even that into being a villain; frequently pointing out the absurdity of Dr. Polidorius's plan, sarcastically carrying out orders, being unenthused about April being turned into his "bride", and at one point questions the morality of planting explosives.

The Episode ends with Ray swimming in the ocean, and saying he can finally relax.

I wonder if that was an attempt to please Ryan Brown?

I'm also thinking the change might've been so not to conflict with the Mighty Mutanimals TV series. The FredWolf Ray talked like a laid back surfer, far cry from the Clint Eastwood voice suggested for Ray Fillet in the Mighty Mutanimals TV Pitch.

Eric Kelly said...

The funny thing about playmates not being interested in wanting to remake toys is they did that all the time! From wacky action, sports stars, movie stars, head-popping, mutations, and on and on. You think they'd be all over this recycling dudes opportunity!