Every Generation Gets The April O’Neil It Deserves

As the gloriously childless aunt of 6 little boys, I’ve learned a thing or two. First, if little boys did their own grocery shopping it would be an entire cart piled with fruit snacks and Goldfish crackers, and ketchup to dip them in because little boys don’t really care that you’re disgusted by that (also they wouldn’t be able to pay because those children are unemployed as helllll). Second, the more little boys you have in one house, the lower their ability to direct their pee into a toilet. If you have more than four little boys sharing a bathroom, you may as well install a drain in the center of the floor and buy a hose attachment for the shower to spray everything down at night. The entire room is essentially one of those pee troughs I hear they have in men’s rooms at old stadiums. And third, little boys love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was true in the early ’90s, and it’s true today. So while I normally would have left Ninja Turtles behind with Puppy Surprise and Noozles, I actually have a pretty decent working knowledge of those pizza-eating reptiles.

But guys, Ninja Turtles has changed since we all fell in love with those heroes in a half shell three decades ago. Well, not so much the Turtles themselves – they’re still some weird version of the 90s surfer archetype – but April O’Neil. April, a female human, is the Turtles’ keeper, sort of a combination of Wendy Darling and Lois Lane. While the Turtles are basically static, April O’Neil is an ever-changing, bouncy-haired sign of the times. Like hemlines or employment rates, I think that whatever’s going on with April O’Neil tells you what’s going on with America:

1984– Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Comic Book)


Computer Programmer

Age: 27
What It All Means:

April O’Neil, whitewashed character? Well, maybe. It all hinges on one question: Is that a perm or a jheri curl? 80s style aside, early April is ethnically ambiguous. She was in computer programming when there barely was computer programming. She was a talented hacker back when the only thing there was to hack into was black screens with green writing and the top scores in the nearest arcade’s Pac Man game. Basically, April O’Neil was the future. She’s also a rebel and a nonconformist: remember, this is the go-go 80s, when the successful smart ladies looked more like this:

With her Members Only jacket and bigass scarf, April is obviously dressed for practicality, not fashion. Although those blinding earrings say “hey, I can be glam, too.” Or maybe they’re also weapons.

I know it looks like April’s packing heat but that’s just how jeans made people’s crotches look in 1984.


1987 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Animated Series)


TV Reporter

Age: 28
What It All Means

Ah, the Reagan Era. Big hair, big shoulder pads, big business. TV reporter is a bit more in line with the flashy professions you’d expect a late-80s leading lady to have. You’ll notice that as TMNT goes more mainstream, April has become conspicuously busty and Caucasian. I tried to Google “why does April O’Neil wear a jumpsuit” (I forget if there was a reason) but to no avail.

April is a smart, feisty lady who obviously needs, from my vantage point, a minimum of eight pockets to store all of her stuff. Buy a purse, April. Buy a purse. Or a fanny pack. Weren’t those the thing during this time?

Also, considering her outfit is all one piece I’m pretty confused about what the belt does.


1990, 1991, 1993 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Live-Action Movies)

Profession: TV reporter
Age: ?
What It All Means

If the ladies of the 80s were all about glitz and glamour, the Bush I/ Clinton-era gals were into practicality, sensible footwear, jorts, and unisex button-ups. They were what normcore aspires to be. This was April O’Neil’s Elaine Benes moment: just a regular girl who pals around with the guys, except the guys are these giant turtles to whom she plays den mother. Think less “hot jumpsuit” and more “yellow raincoat from the Lands End catalog.” Although no longer a braniac computer programmer, this April is one heck of an investigative reporter and , like her comic book counterpart, she’s not afraid to admit she likes a good chunky knit sweater.

If you’re wondering where you know her from: Judith Hoag now plays Tandy Hampton on Nashville.


2003 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (AnimatedSeries)


Scientist, I guess? And apparently also shop owner?

Age: 27

What It All Means

This is a throwback to April 1.0 – because in a post-9/11 world, all we wanted was a little stability? Maybe. I’ve made it this  far without seeing any episodes of this incarnation, but the hair makes me think there’s sort of an Agent Scully thing happening here. You can tell April’s a scientist because she’s wearing a white coat and, more importantly, she has those two loose tendrils of hair that ladies always sported in the early 2000s in order to show people that they were busy and sort of carefree but could totally let the bun down and have nice hair if they wanted to.



2007 – TMNT (Weird CGI looking movie thing)



Age: adult?

What It All Means

Is this a Bratz doll? This has got to be some sort of Bratz doll. Remember, this was during the heyday of the celebrity gossip cycle about Britney, Lindsay and Paris. Even children’s characters were sort of sassy and weird, with the giant eyes of something that gestated near a nuclear power plant, Michael Jackson noses and Hungry Caterpiller lips. This was also during the era when they started taking all of our beloved 80s and 90s shows and remaking them with cheap computer animation that made it look like it was supposed to be in 3d but wasn’t. You can also see the influence of Lara Croft: Angelina Jolie with the archaeologist job and the big braid.


2012 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Computer Animated Series)



Age: Like 17 or something

What It All Means

If the last one was a Bratz doll, is this one a Lego person? You know what this April says about America? That in 2012 we were in a recession and we made some cheap-ass cartoons. This looks like one of Clarissa Darling’s video games.


2014 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michael Bay situation)


“Lifestyle Reporter”

Age: 20-something



What It All Means

Honestly, though, what DOES it all mean? We started with a be-jheri curled ethnically ambiguous computer programmer, went to a sensible 90s tv reporter with Jerry Seinfeld’s wardrobe, then circled around to … Megan Fox. This is where we are and hope we’re all very happy with this outcome.

On one hand, you have that whole “Olivia Wilde is ‘too hot’ to play a journalist” nonsense, and I mean, why can’t an intelligent, professional woman  — who also hangs out in sewers eating pizza with turtles who are also mutants who are also teenagers — look like Megan Fox? But it’s not that I don’t think smart people look like Megan Fox, it’s that I don’t think human people do. But on the other hand, this is a character who, well, hangs out in sewers eating pizza with turtles who are also mutants who are also teenagers. In a Michael Bay movie. Our disbelief has long been suspended. Still, I miss the hard-hitting journalism (lifestyle reporter, April?), the science, the chunky sweaters, the pockets.

Guys, every generation gets the April O’Neil it deserves. And this is ours now, I guess.


5 thoughts on “Every Generation Gets The April O’Neil It Deserves

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