Donnie, like I’ve said before, was my favorite Turtle- he wears purple and has the coolest weapon! I mean, if he wasn’t the best, then why would he be wearing purple? PLUS he’s the best guy to play in the video games!
-In every continuity, Donatello is the “Smart Guy”, meaning his brilliance can shift depending on the basic nature of that universe. The more cartoony that universe, the more esoteric and “Super-Sciency” Don can be- in the 1980s cartoon he could build pretty well EVERYTHING as a Deus Ex Machina, whereas in the Mirage Comics he was more stuck as “realistically brilliant”- this can make his INT level and final points cost vary widely. His baseline personality can shift quite a bit, however- he is pensive and quiet in the Mirage Comics, a standard jokester in the 1987 Toon, Archie Comics & ’90s Movies, and a nerdy spazz in the CGI Nick series. Often, he fits in as “everyone’s best friend” on the Turtles, arguing the least with his brothers and having just a little bit of the personality traits (Leo’s responsibility, Mikey’s goofiness and Raph’s sarcasm/stand-offishness).
He is the brother most likely to gain some kind of “extra” personality trait depending on the continuity. Voiced by Corey Feldman in the 1990s Movies, he was the biggest joker next to Mikey, and got along best with Casey Jones. In the ’80s Toon, he was a “Film Noir” buff, constantly imagining himself as a trenchcoat-clad detective. In the CGI Nick Toon, he was a weirdo dork obsessed with April for a while. In the IDW & Mirage Comics, he was often stodgy and unable to accept spirituality the way the others could. This actually makes Don arguably the biggest wild card and most versatile character in each new continuity- the most “free” to come up with new traits.
Donnie always wears purple, is often depicted as the most “brown”-colored of the gang, and always uses a Bo Staff- the simplest weapon of the group and the only one impossible to truly ban from schoolyards (I mean, it’s a STICK). Like Leo, he has a bandolier over his chest (typically just one). His staff gives him a lot of options in combat, and the most easily-replaceable weapon- it’s also easy for viewers to accept him just laying waste to Mooks with it, bludgeoning them to unconsciousness, which in movies & cartoons is just a benign calamity. Don can be highly-broken in poorly-balanced video games, as the incredible reach of his weapon makes him adversely good at hitting enemies from a safe distance- in the first NES game, he & Leo are so overpowered that you might as well turn it off if both of them die.
-The original version of Donnie is in red bandanas like the others, and is the second-in-command to Leonardo. In the very first issue, he is the one who kills the Shredder, knocking him and his grenade off the roof of a building. As the series develops, they establish him as a tech-guy, soldering circuits and working on computer systems alongside April- this turns him into the “Smart Guy” in all subsequent versions of the show. It is Donnie who encounters an artist named “Kirby” (an obvious homage to Jack) in a one-shot, going on an adventure into the man’s imagination. This version of Donnie is the quietest and most pensive- he is disgusted by horrible violence, at one point throwing a gun away in disgust after being forced to use it to save Karai from the Foot Elite.
The Archie version of Donnie is slightly less goofy than the cartoon version. The IDW version was quiet and clever, and now wears an artificial shell after having his shattered during a brutal beatdown by Rocksteady & Bebop, who used a giant sledgehammer to smash it to pieces. This Donnie is the least spiritual of the four, being troubled by the notion that Splinter and the boys are reincarnated from Hamato Yoshi’s original family, and often falls into depression.
-With his nasal voice and flair for the scientific, he probably stood out the most of the four- after all, since they were ALL party-animal Deadpan Snarkers, the SMART GUY was the only one with major character traits outside of the norm! Donnie was also an amateur detective of sorts, getting some mileage out of putting on his Humphrey Bogart-ish trenchcoat and acting like a gumshoe (the show is where I learned that term, actually). Like, this was the focus of TONS of episodes. Donnie’s bad-ass “Detective” toy was also one of my favorites as a kid, though later in the line they would come out with CLOTH trenchcoat figures (as usual, because they came out late, and are easily-lost or damaged, these figures are worth a FORTUNE today).
He honestly got more focus episodes than anyone else, at least from what I remember- there was an episode where he had to send Irma in his place to a scientist convention because they mistook his invitation for a “Donna Tello”, episodes where he fought Evil Mafiosi who inspired shitloads of DeviantArt people to get into foot fetishes (his trademark interrogation technique was to tie people up and tickle their feet with a feather), and more.
Donatello is probably the most USEFUL Turtle in the show- without his random-ass inventions like the Party Wagon, Turtle Blimp (given a MAJOR “Buy Me!” push in the fight against Krang’s Android Body) and even INTERDIMENSIONAL PORTAL GENERATORS, the team would have died an early and painful death. In one episode, he’s annoyed by his brothers’ constant requests to fix things, so he just decides to MAKE A CLONE OF HIMSELF to do the work for him- and that’s not even the crux of the episode! The clone turns out evil and ten times more skilled and intelligent than Donnie, so the episode is actually about the clone nearly taking over the world! Like, Donnie CASUALLY made this clone! Only an “algebraic miscalculation” makes him extra-smart and evil (Don defeats him by daring him to create a reversal to the Cloning Ray, which of course immediately kills all the clones). Scientifically, the guy is a straight-up SUPER-GENIUS, with powers bordering on the superhuman (in Turtles Forever, the genius 2000s-Donnie is frequently shocked that ANY of ’80s-Donnie’s stuff actually works. Sometimes he just KICKS THINGS into working!).
-In the 2003 series, Donatello is redesigned into being a different shade than his brothers- more of the “green/brown” color of the toy, but not as pronounced. As is usual, he was the least-conflicted with the others, typically getting along with all of them. He was arguably the main character of the Fast Forward and Back To The Sewer seasons, as he was responsible for getting them back to their own time, saving Splinter from cyberspace, and beating Cyber Shredder, blasting him with the same wave the villain Viral used to kill Splinter.
2003 Donatello is given a bit of a reworking, but is largely the same character. His love of detective work is gone, as is the more cartoonish aspect of his super-science- he’s brilliant, but not like Reed Richards-esque or silly about it. He was seemingly the worst fighter in a much more explicit way- I remember him getting knocked out way early in a big Fighting Tournament arc, going “Oh SHELL!” as the opponent disarmed and beat him.
-The Nickelodeon version of Donnie is hilariously voiced by Rob Paulsen- the voice for Raphael in the 1980s version. This took me a LONG time to get used to, as Rob’s voice has hardly changed. Naturally, when the two groups of Turtles met in a cross-dimensional caper, one made note of how odd and silly the voice of the other’s was. In this version, Donnie is nerdier than ever, given a gap-toothed design and a “Weirdo Loser” attitude, as he moons over April in a way that’s typically reserved for the creepy dorks in John Hughes teen movies- in most media drawn towards males, the “Nerd has a crush on a cute girl” is typically treated more benignly, and like a GOOD THING, as if the girl needs to let go of appearances and see the shy dork for who he really is. Here, Donnie is like… STARING at April and noticeably making her uncomfortable at points. This, um, may be more true to life than many hopeful nerds’ ideals would indicate.
This Donnie is brilliant like the others (able to very quickly create technology, build Metalhead and other intelligent, complex robots, and more), but much more socially-awkward than them, losing various traits like that. He is the best shot of the gang, though, able to calculate deflection-angles for a shuriken at one point.
RISE OF THE TMNT DON:
-In the newest cartoon, Don is a Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle- a tall, slender guy. He is the most like his older versions of the four TMNT, being a neurotic inventor, but is stated to be an “adrenaline junkie”, cocky and often sarcastic to his bros. He built a high-tech staff before shifting to a basic wooden one, and uses artificial “Battle Shells” to compensate for his softer one. He is the only one not to develop any magical powers.
-Initially spelled “Michaelangelo” due to a spelling error by Eastman & Laird, Mikey is almost always a practical joker and “party dude”- the Turtle most prone to their now-trademark “AWESOME!” “RADICAL!” “BODACIOUS!” teen-speak. However, this has been exaggerated over time as cartoons have gotten more and more weird- he was initially just pretty snarky in the older works, and the guy most prone to teasing the enemies and screwing around in the ’80s Toon, ’90s Movies and even the 2003 Toon (where he was a “Brilliant But Lazy” kind of naturally-gifted savant, but rarely took things seriously). But nowadays he’s more and more likely just to be a nutjob man-child unable to function in the real world. Cartoons have really raised the game on what a “Goof-Off” character is like, so Mikey can be a full-on space-case these days.
Michelangelo is now set in stone as wearing bright orange bandanas- a pretty stand-out color as the rest are pretty dark, but his color can saturate a bit to look like Raph’s if poor coloring techniques are used. In the original toys he was the darkest green of the gang.
Michelangelo is infamous for his use of the “nunchucks” (Americanization of “nunchaku”). A singular weapon in real life, Mikey uses them as paired weapons, often doing outlandish stunts with them. The most esoteric and off-kilter of the TMNT’s gear, they are notable for being heavily-banned on school playgrounds, as even homemade nunchucks can hurt like hell (the string between the blocks effectively creates an “extra elbow”, turning them into miniature flails). This eventually got so bad (thanks in part to an obsessive anti-chucker in England) as Turtlemania ran wild in the 1990s that Michaelangelo infamous got a GRAPPLING HOOK as his official weapon by the end of the ’80s Toon. In Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, he instead wields tonfas. This makes him the only Turtle to have to trade in his gear like that, thought it was thankfully back for every other version.
-A turtle with nunchucks was actually the first thing drawn (though it was very chubby), mostly as a gag. Michelangelo was always the free-wheeling and laid-back brother as far back as the Mirage days. None of the comics versions were ever quite as goofy as the cartoon ones, but he was still a bit more chill than the others. The Mirage comics took a darker turn when Mikey became a tour guide for aliens visiting Earth, and slept with an alien Styracosaurus-lady and she gave birth. This got him arrested, abducted and tortured, and he grew embittered and intense by the process, deeply contrasting his usual self. In the Archie books, he was just like the ’87 Toon version (once going “Who’da thunk it?” to the Mighty Mutanimals getting their own spinoff title), and once openly lusted after Veronica Lodge in an Archie team-up. In IDW, he was seen as the most open-hearted and idealistic turtle. His crush on Kala of the Neutrinos inspires his love for Princess Trib of the Planet Neutrino in this continuity, as well.
-When I was a kid, Michaelangelo was BY FAR the most popular character of the Ninja Turtles. He was most-prominent on many ads and covers, got all the big catchphrases, and was the ONLY TURTLE to show up in the famous Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue Anti-Drug PSA. Every single one of my contemporaries found him to be the most tubular Turtle, and looked down upon my clearly superior choice of Donatello. Like, kids loved the TMNT, but they ADORED Michaelangelo! Deemed the “party dude” of the team, he was the most-jokey member, spoke the most slang (his big one was “COWABUNGAAAAAAAA!!!!”), and engaged in the most slapstick. As a fan of Donatello, and someone who generally didn’t like this kind of character, I of course REALLY HATED the guy, and he’s always been my least-favorite of the four. Interestingly, he’s only a LITTLE more jokey and silly than the others in the 1987 series- each successive version of Mikey has become sillier and sillier, to the point where the modern version is an ADHD-riddled kid who spends all of his time annoying his brothers with childish antics and would probably either be in a separate classroom or have a personal aide in real life. But in the 1987 show, he’s just one jokester out of four, and nobody’s ever really that serious. He just speaks the most slang, mimicking Spicolli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High the hardest.
-Michaelangelo was responsible for a large amount of controversy in certain countries due to his “Nunchucks”), as kids would create imitation versions and beat the hell out of each other with them, thus getting the weapon banned in numerous places. As it was easier to find & make than reproduction Katanas & Sais, yet not practical for OTHER uses like the Staff (which you could find pretty much everywhere), it became the scapegoat, and drew a lot of attention. In some countries in Europe, the weapon was disallowed ON-SCREEN (which is odd, given how much less censorship Europe usually has compared to the litigious American market… same thing caused the UK to call the series Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles), to the point where the American cartoon actually dropped the Nunchucks and gave Mikey a Grappling Hook in later seasons instead (I have zero memory of this, but watching a few old ones shows that yes- Mikey used a Grappling Hook in at least the Dirk Savage episode I saw). I’m reminded of how Power Rangers got booted off the air in Canada after a girl got beaten to death during a schoolyard game. The ultimate lesson is that kids in general are pretty stupid.
-Michaelangelo is probably the least-skilled of the Turtles at most things, and isn’t a noticeably better or more athletic fighter either. His one main advantage (aside from making kids laugh with funny catchphrases) is the fact that he’s probably the most empathetic and charismatic of the Turtles- generally, he’s the best at getting a random hostile Mutant onto his team’s side, often through the sharing of some of their trademark ‘za.
-Now given his proper spelling, Michelangelo stands out a lot more in the 2003 cartoon, since the other three Turtles are now more akin to their Mirage selves. Now, Michelangelo’s slacking, laid-back attitude and slang make him STAND OUT instead of being “the same, but more”- in Turtles Forever, he is the one who likes the 1987 Turtles the most (“I love these guys!”). He pulls pranks on his brothers, mocks Splinter’s lectures and accent, and constantly teases their foes. However, the show also showcases him as the most naturally athletic of the four- someone who is naturally gifted instead of the obsessive trainer the others are.
-He also gains a pet when a stray cat interacts with some mutagen and ice cream, becoming the pink, stretch “Ice Cream Kitty”- Randy Milholland, author of the Something*Positive webcomic, got a SHITLOAD of messages the day this episode premiered, as the character looked just like his creation, Choo-Choo Bear (a hairless, stretchy cat given powers by chemotherapy and used for sight gags). He doesn’t think it was a ripoff, at least (the two are different enough characters anyways)- the Kitty is mainly used as an adored pet of Mikey’s, and for sight gags.