Time for yet another take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This disc is the second volume of the 2012 TV series on Nickelodeon, which rebooted the characters from scratch, with a new, all-CGI look. All your favorites are here: turtles Leonardo (Jason Biggs, American Pie), Raphael (Sean Astin, Rudy), Donatello (Rob Paulsen, Animaniacs), and Michelangelo (Greg Cipes, Teen Titans), along with their human friend April O’Neil (Mae Whitman, Arrested Development) and their mentor Splinter (Hoon Lee, Banshee).
This episode list makes for one strange pizza topping:
• “Monkey Brains”—A mutant monkey leads our heroes to a mind-reading scientist.
• “Never Say Xever”—As the Shredder’s agents are on the move, Leonardo worries that an act of mercy will come back to haunt him.
• “The Gauntlet”—A message from April’s missing father leads our heroes to the Shredder and the Kraang aliens, with a mutagen bomb threatening the city.
• “Panic in the Sewers”—Shredder’s newest mutant ally, Dogpound, launches a direct attack on the turtles’ sewer hideout.
• “Mousers Attack”—The turtles split into two groups to face two dangers, which leads to competitiveness among the four of them.
• “It Came From the Depths”—The turtles discover a mutant alligator, Leatherhead, who has connections to the Kraang.
• “New Girl in Town”—Tensions between Leonardo and Raphael drive the two apart, so female ninja Karai tries to seduce him into a life of crime.
This new series will mostly be familiar to viewers of the TMNT adventures of old. The turtles live in the sewers, they battle evil ninjas and evil mutants, they love pizza and bad puns. Leonardo is the serious one, Donatello is the smart one, Michelangelo is the funny one, and Raphael is the bad attitude one. Splinter dispenses wise advice, the Foot Clan guys are the most disposable of thugs, and so on.
The biggest difference is the show’s treatment of April O’Neil. Instead of an investigative reporter, she’s now a teenager, the same age as the turtles. The mystery of her missing father has her hanging out with them all the time. As episodes progress, April seems to develop some supernatural senses and becomes Splinter’s newest ninja trainee. Also, get ready for some human/mutant lovin’. Donatello’s unrequited romantic feelings for April are an ongoing plot thread. Interspecies couplings have famously been a no-no in TMNT history, but not anymore. The villain Krang also gets a makeover, now spelled Kraang, and now an entire alien race of ugly little brain guys instead of just one ugly little brain guy.
Previous versions of TMNT have often struggled with balancing the comedy scenes with the martial arts action scenes. The core concept of “ninja turtles” is so absurd that there has to be comedy, but sometimes the comedy overshadows the action, as it so often did in the classic 1987-1996 TV series. In this new series, Michelangelo is portrayed not just as a partying wisecracker, but too often as “the dumb one,” and this makes him sometimes unlikable. On the plus side, the action is usually well-staged, with all kinds of cool moves and big set pieces. Notice how the turtles don’t use their weapons against normal human thugs, and only against highly-trained or superhuman enemies, which is another nice touch.
The animation often has that stiff, plastic look that you get from lower-to-mid-budgeted CGI, but it occasionally raises above its TV roots. There are a lot of little details to look for, such as the small scrapes and cuts on the turtles’ chest plates, or how they are all bruised after their first big fight with Shredder. The full frame picture is not the best, but is still clean and clear enough to make out those little details. The 5.1 sound is also clean, with an emphasis on the dialogue over effects and music. The disc also has a short making-of featurette and two interactive comic books you read on screen with your remote.
While not a total reinvention, and certainly not without its flaws, this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nonetheless feels fresh and exciting enough that I want to see what happens next.