What does the new “Donatello as Spock” toy mean?

In 1994, the Ninja Turtles engine was starting to lose steam. The original animated series debuted in December of 1987, and the original Playmates toy line had been running since 1988. The third live-action TMNT movie, released in 1993, was a box office bomb, failing to make its production money back. By this time, we’d seen the original Turtles figures released a couple of times, and toys of the Turtles as rock stars, Movie Star versions of the TMNT, sports athletes to tie in with the 1992 Olympic Games, “Mutant Military” turtles to tie in(?) with Operation: Desert Storm, and even versions of the Turtles and their pals that transformed into vehicles!

But Playmates Toys also had the license to produce toys another popular speculative fiction franchise: Star Trek.

So at some point, it was decided to make four crossover toys: Chief Medical Officer Raph, First Officer Don, Captain Leo, and Chief Engineer Mike. The Star Trek Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:

The Raph has some sort of paint chip on his lower lip. That’s not a goatee! (image from tmnttoys.com)

When I saw these back in 1994, I thought it was a fun idea, but not for me. Leo as Kirk is cool, Don as Spock makes sense, and Mikey as Scotty and Raph as McCoy are fine choices, but I was a Star Trek: The Next Generation kid, so I passed on these and decided to wait. I was hoping to get something like the four Turtles as Riker, Geordi, Word, and Data, with Splinter as Picard and April as Dr. Crusher. That set never happened, so I just went on with my life, and never thought about these, outside of when I’d see them for sale at used toy stores or comic conventions.

Until this year.

In the lead-up for the 2023 movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Playmates Toys released this set of four figures, the “Turtles in Disguise Party Pack.”

These are updates of old Playmates toys done in the style of the Mutant Mayhem animated movie. We’ve got Space Cadet Raph from the Turtles in Disguise wave, (links to TMNTToys.com in a new window/tab), Beachcombin’ Mike from the Sewer Spittin’ wave, Leo as Crazy Cowboy Don (the least-offensive of the Wacky Wild West Turtles), and Donatello as… Spock? Huh! Well that’s unexpected.

Of course, Playmates once again has the license to produce new Star Trek toys (links to Target.com), so that’s at least one level of red tape avoided. But what an odd choice, right? Of the dozens of TMNT-as-other-things toys to choose from, they chose Don in the Star Trek costume? I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I wonder if this relates to a scene in the film?

The other thing that’s been happening for the last couple of years is Playmates Toys has dug out a bunch of the old molds from the 1988-1997 toy line and has been re-releasing some of the old Turtles figures. Just in 2023, we’ve gotten two waves of reissues, the first of which includes all four Storage Shell turtles and a bunch of villains (links to TMNTtoys), the second of which has other characters who are probably going to appear in the Mutant Mayhem film, three of the four Pizza Tossin’ Turtles from 1994 (the mold of Donatello was apparently too damaged to produce more of him), and reissues of the 12-inch Giant Turtles line. And apparently a new reissue of the Movie Star Turtles wave is just hitting shelves now!

1992 was a different time… Wacky Wild West Turtles image from TMNTtoys.com)

So, could we see reissues of the TMNT/Star Trek wave?

So, let me begin this part up by saying that I don’t know the details of the current contracts between Playmates and Viacom/Nick/Paramount, and I am not a legal expert. Those kinds of contracts are confidential, and the only people who know what is detailed are the licensors and licensees and any relevant employees. I have a general idea about how these kinds of deals work, based on past professional experiences, but there’s some conjecture here on my part.

Star Trek is owned by Paramount, TMNT is owned by Nickelodeon, and Paramount and Nick are, as far as I know, both owned by Viacom.

I don’t know the specifics of Playmates’ contracts, but I assume that Playmates has a deal with Nick for Turtles and a separate deal with Paramount for Trek. Playmates would still need to get the OK from both licensors in order to release any sort of crossover product like that, even though both Nick and Paramount are owned by the same parent company. That would make the deal easier, but depending on how the contracts are written, it could still be tricky.

I presume that Playmates would have needed to get the OK from Viacom to cross-over TMNT and Star Trek for the Turtles in Disguise Party Pack. That may have been an agreement for that one figure, or it’s possible that a deal could have included re-releasing the old Star Trek TMNT figures, with the 4-pack as either a teaser or a test run.

Pizza Tossin’ Don was too damaged to reissue (image from TMNTtoys.com)

But here’s another thing to consider:

We don’t know if the old Star Trek/TMNT molds have been damaged or destroyed or lost, like the Pizza Tossin’ Don mold. I would think that there exists a near-zero chance that Playmates is going to pay to re-create those molds, especially since they didn’t do so for Pizza Tossin’ Don. From what I understand, that’s the most expensive part of toy production. And is it really worth it for Playmates to re-cast those molds to satisfy what is, let’s face it, a relatively small percentage of the TMNT and Star Trek crossover fandoms?

And if they CAN re-release the Star Trek Turtles, then maybe some of the other crossover toys are next? NECA Toys is making incredibly-detailed TMNT x Universal Monsters (links to TMNTtoys.com) crossover toys, but Playmates also released a set of those back in 1994, and a second wave in 1995! And as cool as the new NECA Toys ones are, the older ones definitely fit my personal taste better. I’d love to get those if they were re-released.

Don as Dracula, Mike as Frankenstein, Leo as the Wolfman, Raph as the Mummy (image from TMNTtoys.com)

We’re actually living in an unprecedented age of mass toy reproduction like Playmates Toys is doing for TMNT, and Hasbro is doing for brands like GI Joe and Transformers, and like Mattel did a few years back with Masters of the Universe. The last decade or so is the first time in history that toys have been re-released at this level after THIRTY YEARS. And that’s awesome!

But it’s important to remember that at the time all these old toys were originally produced, nobody thought that they’d be able to sell the same toys again, decades later. So who knows what kind of care they took with all those old production assets? Unfortunately, until we get official word from Playmates about whether or not specific toys can happen, and/or until those figures are announced, we just can’t know. But, I hope that I’m wrong!

I hope that a deal has already been struck, and the molds are okay, and it’s just a matter of time before Playmates is eventually able to re-release nearly every old TMNT toy they’ve ever produced. Sure, purists will want all of the original releases. But for a lot of us, the ability to re-purchase toys from our childhood, or the ability to buy Turtles we missed out on as kids is good enough!

Screencap from Target.com of the Storage Shell Turtle reissues. Store their weapons right in their shells!

Special thanks to the Virtual Ninja Turtles Museum at TMNTtoys.com, whose images I used without permission. If you want to look up just about anything about past Ninja Turtles toys, they are a wonderful resource!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all related characters are owned by Nickelodeon, a division of Viacom. Star Trek and all related characters and generations are owned by Paramount, a division of Viacom.

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