Review by VF5SS
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) really hit its stride in the early 90's as it steam rolled all the pretenders (the police never found The Cheetahmen...) and even gave the titanic Transformers a real kick in the rear thruster. Around 1992, TMNT started doing what any good American made franchise does and ripped off the competition with their "Mutations" sub-line. Many of the popular TMNT characters were reinvented as transforming action figures. The line began in logical manner with things like a normal turtles "mutating" into a Ninja Turtle or an 80's street punk becoming the rhino man Rocksteady. Later on things started to get a little more blatant with the Ninja Turtles transforming into things like cars, jets, and firetrucks. The line later expanded to several action figure scaled vehicles which culminated into the subject of this review: the Muta-Carrier.
This particular toy is in fact one from my childhood. I managed to hang onto the box all these years. Sadly it wasn't kept in the most ideal location with the single eerie window in the garage shinning just enough light to fade one side of the box. The illustration on the box is beautiful in just how bizarre it is. Somehow exposure to the mysterious mutagen transformed a half-track sized turtle into a half-turtle half-track. This is the kind of science that only existed in 80's toy-based properties and bizarre artsy shoujo movies.
The main part of the illustration is a wonderful blend of reality, false advertising, and a child's imagination. Our four fearsome turtles man (or turtle?) the Muta-Carrier as it trudges through the titanic sewer system blasting anything off camera. As we'll see later, the reality of the toy isn't quite as fantastic, but to a child all of this was possible.
The image of this tubular turtle tubing down the sewers is easily my favorite part of the box. His expression is inscrutable. I'm not sure if this turtle is excited or frightened of his impending metamorphosis into a mutant machine forged of flesh, gears, and crazy chemicals.
I must admit I feel genuinely nostalgic for the Bradlees price tag still left on the box. Bradlees was a chain of discount department stores that used to exist all over Massachusetts. They were very similar to another chain that disappeared around the same time called Caldor. These stores were something like a humbler versions of Walmart or like a slightly less upscale Kohl's as they sold a little bit of everything at great prices.
On the side of the box the buyer gets a better view of the actual product. Although one must beware the ever present rule of promotional photographs: actual product may vary.
The box proudly proclaims that this toy is a Terrifying Turtle Troop Transport that Mutates into a Jumbo Turtle and a Foot-Crushing Carrier! equipped with Four Frightening Turtlehead Bruise Missiles! My favorite feature is Four Fancy Feet Mutate into Real Rollin' Wheels!
The back of the box is pretty packed with detailed descriptions of how the toys works.
It warms my heart to know that someone got paid (probably very little) to write this overview of the toy. I imagine the request to some advertising intern was to simple "make it sound rad." These blurbs were usually read aloud by parents so they could try to convince themselves spending the cash on another plastic plaything that would eventually get broken or lost was worth it to quiet a rowdy kid.
The bottom gives an eerie warning that kids need to collect all of the other Mutating vehicles...or else they won't win the love and admiration of have-nots. Sadly the other vehicles just don't look that enticing or are even as overtly turtle related as the magnificent Muta-Carrier.
One handy thing about the back of the box is a set of instructions on how to transform the toy. Everything part of the process is written with some awesome alliteration.
Like many toys, the box of the Muta-Carrier is adorned with photos of the prototype rather than the final product. All of the paint on the prototype is done with a thick gloss finish while the foot-foolin' head and four fancy feet feature different sculpts than the production piece.
Details include Mutant Machine Guns and a Mutagen reserve tank on the front. Unfortunately the reserve tank has been misplaced over time.
Small accessories like the Sideswipe Shovel (take that Hasbro) and the Grandiose Gas Tank have to be attached to the toy.
The terrifying turtle totin' Muta-Carrier is pretty tricked out.
The Turtlehead Bruise Missiles look appropriately brutal as they sit poised to pop out and bop something although there is no apparent trigger mechanism on the launcher.
The Turtle Troop Container photo has another difference from the final toy. The prototype has a pair of pegs jutting out horizontally on each side of the container while the final toy has them sticking up vertically. They have no apparent use in either case.
This humble jumbo turtle is quite large. Not only does the cool camouflaged shell resemble an army helmet but it could easily fit on an adult's head if detached. Don't be fooled by the red face mask into thinking this is supposed to be Raphael. For the longest time I had no clue as to the identity of this mysterious turtle until I start digging into the TMNT canon. It turns out this is Raphael's cousin Rutherford.
Rutherford is based on the much less glamorous box turtle yet manages to one-up his cousin by keeping his adorable little tail.
The undersides of the jumbo turtle betrays most of the mutagen magic as the wheels and tracks of the vehicle mode are clearly visible. The wheels themselves don't plug in anywhere and simply rely on friction to stay in place for turtle mode.
One thing I really enjoy about the figure is Rutherford's expression. It's just so...
Alright it's time to start mutating! Using a handy canister of Mutagen I have set into motion a mysterious metamorphosis!
Uh. Anytime now, Rutherford.
Ok there he goes.
Flipping down the rear flap reveals some interesting piston detailing.
Next the turtle shell flips back to reveal the entire front of the half-track mode. Unlike its main competitor, Hasbro, Playmates had to create transforming toys without the support of Japanese designers and engineers. As a result the whole conversion process is charmingly crude.
The whole upper half of the vehicle from the cab to the container all slide forward. The cab covers up Rutherford's head while the Mutant Machine Guns flips from underneath. I always enjoyed how the gun barrels have some dangerously cheesy blast effect stickers. The stickers have all the colors and fine textures of pizza sauce.
The wheels flip out and under the cab via their articulated struts and plug in under the front fenders. Those are some sweet sewer themed rims.
The tracks extend down while the fancy feet get loosely tucked away. The bottom edge of the shell flips up to form some fierce side fenders. The prototype showed a pair of pegs on each fender that were presumably for mounting figures but the final toy does not have them. Like the front wheels, the spools on the tracks also have some sewer styling.
The edges of the windshield frame fold up and lock together while the launcher for the Turtlehead Bruise Missiles is flips out the driver's seat.
One annoying part is how the chunky engine is deployed. There is no way to push it out from underneath so you just have to grab it somewhere and yank it up. The detailing is very basic with stickers doing most of the work for things like gears and the drive belt. Note that the exterior of the cab is molded with a turtle shell style pattern.
The Muta-Carrier in its half-track mode is a large mass of hefty plastic that would feel right at home with some of the best GI Joke vehicles. I feel like America pop culture had lost its love affair with half-tracks somewhere around the mid-90's when Hummers started being the default cool military vehicle. As such, the Muta-Carrier feels like even more a quaint throwback to a different era in toys. The bare plastic surface features some simple spray apps that simulate a child's idea of camouflage. I've seen pictures of a strange color variation but I'm not sure when or where it was released. Also note that the Grandiose Gas Tank is green on the final toy where it was brown on the prototype.
As I noted before, the production toy has a different arrangement of pegs within the container than the prototype. I don't recall if the toy came with benches that plugged into the pegs or if the pegs were supposed to fit into holes typically found under a figure's feet. I do appreciate the wooden plank patterns inside the container.
The look of the cab is finished off with a pair of plug in headlights. Only one remains in my possession. Without the reserve tank in the front you can still see Rutherford's face staring out from underneath the cab.
You also got an Amazing Ax for mounting on the side of the cab. While the ax does fit in TMNT figure's hand, it is completely flat on the side facing the cab so it looks best when kept on there.
No TMNT vehicle is complete without a smattering of action figures to use it. As a child I somehow managed to amass the motliest crew of Ninja Turtle action figures. Well I suppose you can only go to the playground with the army you have so this will just have to suffice.
Like a true child's toy, the Muta-Carrier looks its best with an eclectic mix of action figures hastily crammed into it.
Unfortunately the Real Rollin' Wheels do not do their job properly. While the front wheels spin pretty well, the tiny ones underneath the half-tracks have no kind of tread so they barely spin even on carpet. The result is a vehicle that just sort of grinds along the ground. I find the best kind of toy vehicles are the ones you can propel across the floor at unsafe velocities.
The odd upside down "BEWARE OF DUMP" sticker seen on the front of turtle's shell makes more sense when it ends up on the back of the carrier mode. I don't want to speculate what kind of byproduct is emitted from the rear of a mutant turtle half-track. It probably smells like pizza and deadly radiation.
The launcher for the Turtlehead Bruise Missiles can spin freely around but lacks any kind handles for a figure to grab onto or even a way to secure the missiles inside the launcher. In fact the missiles don't launch at all! What kind of self-respecting vehicle toy doesn't have some kind of shooting gimmick? Apparently this one.
Unlike the prototype, the missiles have no paint on their little masks. Only two missiles survived my childhood. I find it somewhat vain on the part of the Ninja Turtles to always stick their mugs somewhere on their vehicles. I guess a sneering turtle-faced missile is like a bullet with your enemy's name on it.
Leading Leader Leonardo shows us that there isn't much to these terrifying missiles. Given the launcher's lack of any vestigial trigger mechanism and the way the missile fills an entire launch tube, it looks like Playmates actually intended kids to just throw them at things. Granted they are made of tough plastic and could dent someone's forehead with if thrown with enough force. Even as a kid I thought the lack of a proper launching mechanism was totally lame.
Overall the Muta-Carrier is still a magnificent mutant. It is almost a pastiche of different 80's/90's toylines as it combines the size and presence of a GI Joe Vehicle with a transformation feature more akin to M.A.S.K. or Transformers. The sheer size of the thing makes it an impressive display piece in either mode and that makes up for some of its flaws. As a license to print money, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was home to some of the most ambitious and grandiose of children's toys like the Technodrome and the Turtle Blimp. The Muta-Carrier is almost in the same class with the best of TMNT merchandise but falls short in some ways. Still, I think having a giant rendition of the lesser known Rutherford for your collection is indeed worth your time.
|Posted 9 September, 2012 - 11:43 by VF5SS|