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From Banned Nunchucks to Sausage Links: Why the UK Hated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


There was a time when even saying the word “Ninja Turtles” was absolutely out of bounds in Great Britain, leading to censorship that went from cutting nunchucks in the original cartoon show… to Michelangelo handling sausages in the movies.

Michelangelo and sausages in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 Ooze
Photo: New Line Cinema / WB

When Ralph Macchio first appeared on the big screen as Daniel LaRusso, decked out in his now trademark white Karate Gi uniform, he effectively ushered in a bold new era of children’s entertainment. 1984’s The Karate Kid wasn’t just director John G. Avildsen applying the uplifting sports movie formula that had worked so well on one of his previous efforts, Rocky, in a new kid friendly context; it was also a film that helped take martial arts into the Western mainstream.

Suddenly American and European kids were joining dojos in hopes of emulating Daniel-san. But The Karate Kid was not solely responsible for this newfound appreciation in martial arts. The years that followed also saw the emergence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in popular culture.

Originally a comic book series created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, much like the heroes in a half shell, it had mutated into something much bigger. There were toys, an animated TV series, and any number of weird and wonderful bits of merchandise. This culminated in 1990 with the release of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. The film was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. However, in the UK it was also a source of some confusion and controversy. In fact, up until then, most British kids had never heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No, to UK audiences, they had been known as the Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles

To understand why, you have to go back to the early 1980s when a proliferation of low budget horror movies on VHS in the U.K.  gave rise to what became known as the “Video Nasty.”  First coined in 1982, the term was championed by religious organizations and pressure groups like the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, led by Mary Whitehouse, which campaigned against the broadcast and publication of content it considered harmful or offensive.

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