27 August 2014 | cloudsurfer
The Best Telling of the Turtles Thus Far
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles probably didn't gain any new fans at the news that Nickelodeon had acquired the franchise -- at least, not from the generation to which the Turtles were born. No doubt there would be a new generation of kids (the 80s children's children) to love the half-shell foursome. But would those who first grew up with the Turtles be able to appreciate the modernization of their beloved ninja heroes?
I'm here to say: YES.
I am a huge fan of the TMNT franchise. How big a fan? Well, in addition to absorbing the cartoons, movies, comic books, and action figures, I have three brothers of my own, and the four of us exemplify the Turtles' personalities (I'm Leonardo). It's almost ingrained in us to love the Ninja Turtles. Now I have children of my own, and I want them to love the Turtles, too!
However, when word came out that Nick had bought the rights to Eastman and Laird's creation, I rolled my eyes with the best of them. Nickelodeon? Really? The idea to me was worse than having heard Disney had acquired Star Wars. But the fantastic creative team behind this computer animated series has established what is, in my opinion, the best rendering of the Turtles to date.
We start the series exactly the way it should be started -- with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (This is where most, if not all, comic book films epically fail. Seriously, our culture knows the origin stories of Spider-Man and Superman better than the story of Moses. Give us the heroes first, back-story later!) April O'Neil, Shredder, and the rest of the supporting cast come into the story as we go, but the Turtles are who we care about, and we're in with the brotherhood from the very start.
The first, real nemesis becomes the Kraang -- not a single brain in a Frankensteinian ogre's stomach like in the 80s cartoon, but a whole alien race from Dimension X who inhabit android bodies. The Kraang are on earth attempting to perfect their own retromutagen, the same ooze that created the Turtles. In the short-term, the ooze is responsible for many of the baddies the Turtles face from one episode to the next, and in the long-term is a major plot-point for the series as a whole.
It's through their battle with the Kraang that the Turtles encounter April O'Neil. She's a teenager in this series, as opposed to the yellow jumpsuit-wearing reporter we're used to, but no one should be put off by that. Whether or not you're aware of it, the first appearance of April in the comics was as a computer programmer for Baxter Stockman. The fact that this series makes her a teenager works quite well, a much better element in her interaction with her teenage turtle friends.
Those who are long-time Turtles fans will appreciate subtle nods throughout the series to the Turtles of old. For example, Michelangelo caught humming the old TMNT theme, Casey Jones encountering Raphael in a scene reminiscent of the 1990 film, or Corey Feldman showing up to voice a character. Sometimes the humor is spot-on hilarious, but other times it gets campy, and the mutagenic aspects of the ooze a little over-the-top, if not downright creepy for a kids show. But if you go back to the 80s cartoon (which hasn't aged well), I think you would agree that the humor there is worse, and plot elements much more MacGuffin-like than seamless.
The fight scenes are fantastic, what you'd expect to find in a show with "ninja" in the title. The cinematography is expertly well-done, especially for a cartoon. You don't have to get fancy with the direction, but the creators have cut no corners. The animation has a feel of the darkness that made "Batman: The Animated Series" so iconic in style, but still lighthearted and fun. There's a touch of anime which you'll just have to see to understand how well it works. The cast is awesome. Sean Astin makes a great Raphael. And Splinter is the most masterful (pun intended) than any version of him thus far.
Some things, I will admit, have taken some getting used to: Rob Paulsen playing the voice of Donatello instead of Raphael, for example. But stuff like that actually indicates that the creators of this series love TMNT, and are respectful of the fans that made it popular. The same cannot be said for the 2014 film, which is a New York sewer style of crap. (That movie, which is also a Nickelodeon production, is exactly why I had my reservations about Viacom taking over the franchise. I've already written a review of that one, so I won't elaborate further.)
When my kids first started watching this show, I sat off to the side and huffed that this was not the Turtles I first loved. But once they got me into it, I found myself enjoying the Turtles more than ever before. In this computer animated television series for a new generation, the creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have shown themselves to be excellent story-tellers, and I can't wait to see what's next. Er... I mean, my kids can't wait. But I'll be sitting on the couch with them as they watch.