How Your Favorite Animated Characters Growing Up Mark Your Own Character Development

When I was a kid, I used to be Donatello. But now, as a grown man, I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe I’m Leonardo. Just maybe. Or maybe not. Let me elaborate.  For starters, I don’t have a split personality disorder. I’m referring to one of my favorite classic animated series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT).

Kids, and boys in particular, from the late 80s and 90s got to grow up in a wonderland of cartoon badassery: TMNT, Biker Mice from Mars, Swat Kats, Street Sharks, Power Puff Girls, Power Rangers, etc. There were so many good series, each with a premise more captivating than the next. But underneath their unique settings, costumes, and skills, these kick-ass squads actually had quite a lot in common, especially looking back at them now. This doesn’t go to say they weren’t original in their own right, but there were certainly some patterns and even formulas behind their formations, and no wonder – the formula was certainly a winning one. In fact, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that TMNT and the likes were our first role-models growing up, before we even knew what a role model really is.

For starters, the kick-ass animated squads by default tap into an inherently romantic idea – the one of family, a dream team with no expendable members, because no member was simply a better version of another, each one had a unique role, a unique set of signature traits, and united, the team amassed to more than the sum of its parts. These squads were basically rock bands for kids, and like the most iconic rock bands, it felt as if they were brought together by fate itself. On their own, perhaps those extravagant characters would be lost, their powers and idiosyncrasies would fall flat, like a guitar solo with no backing track and bass behind it, but together, they formed the perfect storm.

But beyond the idea of the world’s coolest family, these series were so universal because they boiled classic personality types down to unique and hyperbolized, yet relatable characters with a somewhat predictable and even superficial set of signature traits. 

There’s always the extroverted, goofy, playful jokester who sees the world as one giant playground, a jester if you will; there’s the introverted, strong, silent type, who just sits there, looking all cool and mysterious; there’s the leader, who is the happy medium between the others and their extravagances, as a leader should generally be; and perhaps another one who doesn’t necessarily stand out with anything unique on the surface, but might be the one with the most promise, or simply a filler. And while few kids would fight over him, as you grow up, you realize that being impossibly cool doesn’t have to be your superpower – maybe it’s loyalty, maybe it’s being laid-back or reliable, maybe it’s wisdom, or even simply kindness. 

And herein lies the mark of growing up – your idols change, just like your personality type, at least to an extent.  From the leader, which is most kids’ first choice by default, to the jokester, to the strong silent type, you go through stages, until there comes a time when these formulaic animated avatars, as cool as they may be, and their rigid sets of traits no longer cut it. You make up your own, unique character, or perhaps you finally come to realize the one you’ve been all along.  

Which is why I’m not Donatelo anymore – being a science-loving nerd no longer exhausts my personality. Now, I’m simply Mayfair.

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