Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I feel positive that, when they first thought of the idea of young turtles that were mutated into human form and became skilled in the ways of ninjas, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creators Eastman and Laird could not have conceived the level of popularity which their oddball creation would reach.
Over the last few decades, the turtles have appeared in a few different incarnations of cartoons. The "heroes in a half shell" just keep coming back, time and again, and stay as popular as ever. While it’s hard to beat the original show, I believe the 2012 series is the best version to date.
However, regardless which series is your favorite, the bond and personalities of the four brothers and their rat “father” is always at the forefront. The creative concept brings in new viewers with each show, and that common link of nostalgia often brings back longtime viewers. Mikey, the silly, skater dude goofball. Donnie, the intelligent, scientific-minded gadget guy. Raph, the tough as nails bruiser. Leo, the serious and disciplined leader.
The 80’s version (1987-1996) brought the comic book to life and reached unheard of fame with kids in the afternoons once school let out. It was action packed and silly, in a good way. The turtles “cowabunga’d” their way into the hearts of a generation. That series ran 10 seasons with a total of 193 episodes. As a kid at the time that watched the show, I was surprised seeing in my research that the show ran till 1996. Looking deeper into it, many of those later seasons were only 8 or so episodes per season. That’s odd considering the daily aspect of cartoons generally means their yearly run is much higher. I guess, though, that these seasons were in their waning years of popularity. That popularity would, of course, skyrocket again later.
One cool aspect I remember noticing about TMNT versus other shows of the time, such as GI Joe or He-Man, is that there were multiple legitimate villains. While GI Joe or He-Man would throw in some one-off villain from time to time, they were almost always up against Cobra or Skeletor, respectively. The turtles, though, had Shredder and the Foot as well as Kang, the Rat King, Baxter Stockman, and more. That variety kept the show exciting and fresh.
Many purists may say the original is, by default, the best of the TMNT series. Not me. The Saturday morning Nickelodeon (2012-2017) version, running 124 episodes and five seasons, is my personal favorite. Staying true to the original, all the characters are back and retain their core personalities and features. What makes the show even better, though, is the storytelling drastically improved. Ever since the 90’s gave us Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series, cartoon show runners seem to understand that kids and adults alike appreciate and tune in to see complex, well-written stories that don’t necessarily end in one 30 minute story arc.
This show took the TMNT characters we all loved and delved deeper into each, making them more three-dimensional and less caricature-like. The improved characterization didn’t just stop at the show’s main protagonists either, villains were improved as well. Aside from additional new villains such as Tiger Claw and Cockroach Terminator, old villains were given more personality, more motives, and more backstory.
One change that I wasn’t sure I liked at first, but truly makes a lot of sense, is they changed April to a teenage character. Being a fan of the movies, this threw me initially. April is the intrepid reporter after all. However, for the show and ongoing plot lines, I imagine it would be difficult to constantly give April an excuse to hang out with teenagers. So, de-aging her helped that. Plus, she got to train under Splinter as well!
The story lines of the new show were more complex and interesting. Shredder and Splinter had a past, training together, and had a falling out over a woman. Shredder burned Splinter’s house down, killing the wife and their daughter. However, when Shredder finds out that Splinter is back and in New York, he comes calling along with his own “daughter” Karai, who turns out to be Splinter’s daughter as she didn’t die after all! Whew! That’s some soap opera stuff right there, and it was amazing to watch it all unfold. I watched with my sons, and 2 generations eagerly waited each week for the next episode. Honestly, at that time during the first couple of seasons, it was one of my favorite shows on TV, period.
As for the animation, I’ll admit, having watched the original, the art style took some initial time to get used to, but once I was used to it, I preferred it to the original. Each turtle was identifiable by more than just the color of their face mask bandana.
The humor on the show was flat out hilarious. Greg Cipes, who voices Mikey, also voices Beast Boy on Teen Titans Go! and Iron Fist on Ultimate Spider-Man. This guy’s voice was made for animation, especially as a comic relief character. The already funny writing just proves even funnier with his voice. Once again sticking true to the original, some voices were reused. Rob Paulsen, who voiced Raph in the original, voices Donnie in this one. While Corey Feldman voiced Raph in the movie, he gets Spike, a sometimes hero-sometimes villain. Also, bringing two Goonies together again, Sean Astin voices Raph. Leo, meanwhile, was a mix of Jason Biggs (first couple of seasons) and Seth Green (last few). April was voiced by Mae Whitman.
Using these well-known actors proves something else about the show for those who have yet to see it, the production value is high. It’s written well, and the acting and the animation are amazing.
As much as the 2012 version stuck to the true essence of the original, the newest show, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that began in 2018, does not. The brothers are still ninjas, but now they have mystic powers to boot. Also, Leo, the serious guy who perseveres no matter what, is now a jokester. That’s Mikey’s role, not Leo. Sorry, but this one is a pass for me.
With multiple shows, toylines, and six big budget movies in their canon in addition to the comic book series, TMNT has captured the imagination of decades of children (and adults) who love their action to come with a side of fun and humor. As odd as the premise initially seems, TMNT's turtle power shines through with its concepts of humanity, acceptance, perseverance, and family. Good storytelling is good storytelling, it doesn’t matter if that story stars teenagers who happen to be mutants, ninjas, turtles, or all the above.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: An Odd But Enduring Concept
- Writing - 9.2/109.2/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Music - 9.4/109.4/10
- Production - 9.5/109.5/10
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