“I crave pizza no more.”
It’s difficult to follow any part of pop culture in 2014 and not know who the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are. Even if you don’t know they had humble beginnings as part of a cult comic book, you know they exist. There have been many incarnations of the fab four, with 2014’s movie only the latest. Nickelodeon currently runs a cartoon series but it’s not the first one…far from it.
This review focuses on the first cartoon series, now known as the “classic.” Premiering in 1987, the series ran for ten seasons and features the core cast of characters. To begin there’s Splinter (Peter Renaday, Howl’s Moving Castle), the rat-human hybrid who finds and raises four baby turtles who have been doused with the same mutagen he was, turning them into turtle-human hybrids. Those four adorable babies grow up into the titular characters. The leader of the Turtles is Leonardo (Cam Clarke, Back at the Barnyard). Dressed in blue and carrying a katana, he’s the most serious member. Next up is tech-savvy Donatello (Barry Gordon, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle). Garbed in purple and hefting around a bo staff, he’s the one the gang relies on to come up with a last-minute way to save the day. Then we have Raphael (Rob Paulsen, Pinky and the Brain), whose red accouterments echo the rather aggressive nature of his personality, though this is a kids’ show from the 1980s so he’s more rude than outright hostile. He carries the cool sais as weapons. And rounding out the pack is party-boy Michelangelo (Townsend Coleman, The Tick), whose nunchakus and orange accessories make this Turtle with the penchant for ’80s surfer-speak easy to recognize. They do battle with a bevy of villains over the course of ten seasons, but two stand out as the most oft-battled. First is Shredder (James Avery, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), whose past with Splinter adds a personal vendetta to the show. He often pairs with Krang (Pat Fraley, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs), a disembodied alien creature who resembles a brain and who often goes around in the stomach of a mechanical suit which looks like a cross between a bowling pin and a sumo wrestler. Their machinations frequently rely on two mutants they created: rhino-human Rocksteady (Cam Clarke) and warthog-human Pumbaa, er, Bebop (Barry Gordon). And those same machinations fail because Rocksteady and Bebop are never portrayed as anything other than complete idiots.
So now that we have a bit of backstory let’s hit the subject of the review. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics is a one disc set containing 10 episodes claiming to be the fan-favorites. These episodes were chosen from a poll taken by the website TV.com so don’t worry if your favorite isn’t on there it’s not like this was an official studio investigation. The entire original series has already been released, so why this particular set, you may ask. Good question. From what I can tell it’s one of two things: number one it’s a cynical cash grab designed to part consumer from money. 2014 marks the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ 30th anniversary of their first appearance in their own comic book. Or number two it’s simply a teaser set presenting one with a range of episodes from a range of seasons (there were 10 in all) to help you decide whether you want to commit to the full series. A final option, sort of a piggyback off number two, is that it’s a bit of nostalgia for someone who already knows they’re not willing to buy the entire series yet wouldn’t mind taking a look at a few episodes to remind themselves of how much they once loved the beloved Turtles. Regardless of the official reason, nostalgia plays heavily into it and will be the dominant factor in your purchase decision.
To help you narrow down that decision more here are the ten episodes featured on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics.
* “Planet of the Turtleoids” — Shredder and Krang are experimenting with mutagen and their results cause many problems for the Turtles.
* “Night of the Rogues” — Shredder and Krang promise a pirate’s lost treasure to the villains who can take care of the Turtles, leading to a reunion of some of the famous baddies from before.
* “Cowabunga Shredhead” — Instead of his plan to make a clone of Michaelangelo coming to fruition, Shredder gets hit with a ray making him think he *is* the pizza craver!
* “Superhero for a Day” — Gadgetman (Cam Clarke) teams up with Shredder to take down the Turtles. It will be down to Gadgetman to see which side wins!
* “Turtles at the Earth’s Core” — Dinosaurs invade NYC (echoes of Transformers: Age of Extinction anyone?) but this isn’t a peaceful encounter by any means.
* “Curse of the Evil Eye” — Shredder’s helmet is turned into a powerful weapon which falls into different hands, including Baxter’s (Pat Fraley) at one point. But when the Turtles try to warn Shredder about its danger, he doesn’t believe them.
* “The Turtles and the Hare” — Rocksteady and Bebop are dressed as Easter bunnies as they go around zapping people into timid rabbit-esque humans. The Turtles must travel among fairy tales to find the answer to cure everyone.
* The Big Blow Out” — The Technodrome makes a reappearance and the Turtles must try and defeat Shredder and Krang while protecting the city.
* “My Brother, the Bad Guy” — Shredder has a brother. Who knew?
* “Shredder & Splintered” — Shredder lures Splinter into The Technodrome by promising him a return to his human form. The Turtles fight a giant Krang.
I fall on the side of the fence which doesn’t understand the need for this release. I’ve never been someone who was just okay viewing a few episodes of a series I like, let alone one I harbor a great deal of affection for. I guess if you really just want to look at a few episodes and remember a bit of your childhood, this is as good as any of the releases out there, so long as you are okay with a complete lack of continuity in terms of seasons and episode placement on the disc. I can’t imagine watching this and not wanting to watch the seasons in order.
The 1.33:1 full frame transfers tend to be dark, but that’s due to the palette more than anything else. Most of the action takes place at night, emphasizing the Turtles’ need to skulk around the human world unseen. And when they are seen it’s in ridiculous costumes anyway. They look like they’re either about to board a crab boat or enter an adult theater. There are some scratches, bits of dirt, and the like within the frame, but overall it’s really not as bad as it could be. The colors are well saturated, if, again, a little dark. The audio is an unfortunate Dolby 2.0 Stereo track and doesn’t do the iconic theme song or the now iconic voice actors’ characterizations any favors. There’s definite hollowness and a lack of richness to the sound space no amount of turning up your volume will compensate for.
Special features are trifold and include an exclusive set of artist interviews, a fan retrospective featuring interviews from superfans, and another retrospective looking back at the Turtles’ turtles unlikely success from cult comic book to mainstream pop-culture craze.
If you’re already a fan of the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, you likely purchased the entire series when it was released in 2012. If you’re not a huge fan and just want to see a few episodes, this is a decent choice. However, I still see it as a bit of a cynical cash grab myself and only recommend for those with the most surface interest in the below-the-surface dwellers.