The GeeksverseREVIEW | Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Two-Part Pilot Episode (“Rise of the Turtles”)

REVIEW | Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Two-Part Pilot Episode (“Rise of the Turtles”)
Published on Thursday, October 4, 2012 by
Nickelodeon gets the art of the remake right in the pilot episode of its new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.

The remaking of a prior work—whether it be a film, a television show, a song, a comic book, or a video game, or even an adaptation of a work from one medium to another—doesn’t have an absolute artistic valuation in and of itself: The question of a remake’s merit depends on context and more importantly, execution. While the tepid reception of the recent Total Recall remake and the fan furor over the character re-designs seen in leaked images of the upcoming Robocop “re-imagining” paint a bad picture for the contemporary practice of remaking media, there exist many examples of film, television, video game, and comic book remakes and cross-media adaptations of works that can stand side-by-side with, or even exceed, the originals.

It was with the above notions in mind that that I sat down to watch YTV’s Saturday morning broadcast of the hour-long pilot episode (“Rise of the Turtles”) of Nickelodeon’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. The show is starting from a clean slate continuity-wise—thankfully, there are no advance indications that the show’s version of Shredder is an alien—and the CGI nature of the animation and some minor but noticeable character design changes will ensure that old fans of the property won’t be mistaking Nickelodeon’s offering for any of the Ninja Turtles’ prior television incarnations. The timing of the series launch is no coincidence: It was 25 years ago that the eponymous reptiles debuted on television. At the time, the Ninja Turtles were the leads in a small press black-and-white comic book that started out in part as a parody of Frank Miller-era Daredevil. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book was a surprise hit in North America, but was largely unknown to comics readers elsewhere in the world. The 1987 mini-series and the weekly cartoon it spawned quickly changed that, and few observers—then and now—would argue against the claim that it is the initial cartoon incarnation of the Ninja Turtles, more so than the comics version, that turned the property into an international pop culture phenomenon.

Watching “Rise of the Turtles”, it occurred to me just how evergreen (sorry) the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are. The original Murakami-Wolf-Swenson cartoon series lasted for ten seasons on broadcast network television, a virtually unprecedented run for an action-oriented animated show. The second animated series produced by 4Kids Entertainment was a mainstay of the FoxBox Saturday morning block for six seasons before switching to CWKids’ Saturday morning programming for its final season. From one point of view, the sheer absurdity of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s concept for the property—four anthropomorphic terrapins mentored in weapons-based martial arts by a giant talking rat—allowed it to exist outside of the curve, so to speak, and defy the rapid and fickle changes in tastes and design trends in popular entertainment. At the same time, the core cast interactions in any successful Ninja Turtle show draws on types and relations that should be familiar to American and international audiences young and old. The primary character traits of the Ninja Turtles can be couched in terms of family: Leonardo is the conscientious and loyal eldest son, Raphael is the acerbic underachiever, Donatello is the thoughtful and intelligent sibling, and Michelangelo (originally spelled “Michealangelo” in the old comics and cartoons) is the jokey youngest child, with Splinter their wise and kindly father.

For all the superficial changes that is sure to have inspired some ranting and raving in some corner of the Internet—Nickelodeon’s Turtles have three toes instead of the classic two, for instance—the show stays true to the familiar, familial dynamic. “Rise of the Turtles” captures the good-natured camaraderie and all-ages spirit of the original cartoon mini-series while offering up more involved characterization articulated quite well by a high-profile voice actor cast that includes The Lord of the Rings‘ Sean Astin and American Pie‘s Jason Biggs as well as veteran voice talents Rob Paulsen and Greg Cipes. The fight choreography, while still extremely stylized, hits harder:  These Turtles are actually shown using their weapons to directly stab, slash, and bash their cybernetic and mutant opponents instead of using them as props for needlessly elaborate tripping tactics.

And yet, despite the new (and welcome) emphasis on more visceral combat action, the show doesn’t come off as trying to be darker and edgier than its predecessors. The show’s environments look a tad too spare (nobody walks on the sidewalks of New York at night, apparently) but otherwise, the overall animation and character design work is technically solid, and the animators even manage to blend in brief, traditionally animated sequences with the computer animation in interesting ways. The show is definitely geared towards the tween set, but those adults who grew up thrilling to the fighting foursome’s Saturday morning exploits will be sure to find simple pleasure in watching Nickelodeon’s newest animated series.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles airs on Saturday mornings, 11/10 Central on Nickelodeon in the US, 11 on YTV in Canada.
6 Responses
    • I was pretty impressed with the debut. I love the individual characteristics to the looks of the turtles: Donatello having a gap in his teeth, Raph’s shell being cracked, etc..
      The Krangs talk was a little annoying and an adult April would have been nice, but I’ll watch the show.

    • The teasers for this show don’t do much for me but I’m willing to give it a try. I was such a fan of the 200x Turtle series that I’m not sure I want to return to a more jokey 80s style Turtles. I’ll try.

      I’ve recently been rewatching Ninja Turtle: Next Mutation. It had the 87 jokes with the live action and Power Ranger stylings. I do like how the Turtles look and move in that series. The dialogue could be a bit better overall but some of the one liners have that 80s Stallone feel.

      If I can enjoy Next Mutation in small doses then perhaps the new 2012 will be even more fun. I’m surprised to read rave reviews but overall this new show seems to be getting good reviews. I’ll have to catch it sometime.

      Ofcourse I also need to catch up on season 2 Young Justice and the newer Thundercats.

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