Review: These Turtles are Bigger, Badder, and no Michael Bay

BANNER_Opinions2013

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Broadcast on Nickelodeon

There have been many, and I mean tons, of Teenage Ninja Turtles iterations in the past 30 or so years. From their first appearance in comic books to 80’s Saturday morning cartoons and even MC Hammer hip-hop songs, there have even been a couple of terrible live action films both out in the early 90’s and and the new one that came out some time later in 2014. We have to come to a harsh realization that this is a comic series that is difficult to translate from the still and highly stylized art pages of comic books to a fluid realm of animation. It does not convert well at all, and it probably never will. Live action seems to be the worst criminal case of bad translations. However, in pure cut unadulterated spite of this sentiment, the 3D animated series from Nickelodeon is purely fantastic in a giddy carnal nature in the purest form.

"Rise of the Turtles" is a two part season 1 opening that's simply fantastic.
“Rise of the Turtles” is a two part season 1 opening that’s simply fantastic.

It is probably the most accurate portrayal of the Ninja Turtles that I have ever seen. And in a rabid, foaming at the mouth kind of fan that I am (hell, I even have a LEGO rendition of Hamato Yoshi on a key chain), that says a lot! The show keeps the feel of the genre going in a very delightful, and a very youthful, manner. One of the ways they do this is that they carry over a lot of comic book visual elements into the TV show itself. Even though the medium is a CGI 3D landscape, they have incorporated a large amount of sudden flashes of 2D art to make sudden expression changes a stark contrast to the rest of the animated world.

On top of that, to enunciate the comic book feel of the entire show, every episode ends with a comic book style drawn splash page of the last frame the animation ends on. Such as an evil villain getting away secretly or the turtles giving a high five after a job well done. In a way, it’s a little innovative to show a splash page as an ending rather than a beginning in a television cartoon.

The action scenes are carefully drawn out and well choreographed into the animation.
The action scenes are carefully drawn out and well choreographed into the animation.

Some of these design changes take interesting directions that force a rather new and very entertaining art and story directions on what is generally a rather old and over used story line.

For example: a common character duo, April O’Neil, who was previously a rather busty jump-suited red-headed TV news reporter, and Casey Jones, a gruff rock’m’sock’m vigilante, now take on the roles of teenagers at a high school and are the same age as the turtles, instead of 30 year old adults running amok with much younger mutants.

With this, the focus of the show is more on the turtles than it is on the humans involved in their world, which is a change in media perspective that has changed over time. Also, the famous and classic villains “Be-Bop” and “Rock Steady” are missing and have been replaced with “Bradford”, a parody characterchure of karate actor Chuck Norris, and Syven, a new character just for the this iteration.

Some things they kept the same, as the overlying story is unavoidable, include the rivalry between Hamato Yoshi, Master Splinter, and Oroku Saki, The Shredder. They do, however, go in much more depth and details for the reason such a rivalry exists, something that is severely lacking in previous animated and live-action mediums. In the previous telling of the turtles, you never really get the sense of “why” Shredder is after the turtles other than the fact that he just simply “is”.

They did do something very … strange. And it is something that I think has to do with character licensing. There is a separate comic of a spin-off character that is an old friend of Hamato Yoshi, and that is of the ronin “mutant” rabbit, Usagi Yojimbo, who is missing from the cartoon. The production studio Nickelodeon has specifically mentioned that Yojimbo will not be in this iteration of TMNT. And here is the strange part: they merged the back story of Usagi Yojimbo into that of Hamato Yoshi, and by doing so, the grudge between Splinter and Shredder has become that more… gruesome and meaningful. The design of Shredder has always been difficult to produce without it coming out silly. This version of the design makes Master Shredder quite an imposing figure!

Probably one of the best Master Splinter designs to date. Plus the character adds quite a bit of comic relief in many clever ways throughout the series.
Probably one of the best Master Splinter designs to date. Plus the character adds quite a bit of comic relief in many clever ways throughout the series.

Along with Shredder, Splinter has also had a much needed face-lift. He looks both wizened with age and modern. And the best part of the Master Splinter visual character revamp, gone is the strangely placed and awkward partially open bathrobe to make room for a well fitted and wonderfully styled Kimono. Something that is another improvement from previous retelling of Master Splinter, his martial arts prowess is now that of an almost mystic Kung Fu master. In the episodes where he winds up fighting either by himself or along side the turtles, it is always a colossal jaw dropping spectacle … and as a fan of such animated Kung Fu shows such as Kung Fu Panda and One Piece, Master Splinter’s fantastic beat-downs are not something to miss.

When you already have a well made fantastic product, why make something completely separate that tarnishes the image of your brand? Wouldn’t it just be better to fund what you already know is awesome and works? The movie has been out for a little bit, but I just don’t have the heart to actually watch it. These kinds of human focused live action movies have earned their terrible reputations. I just hope that shaky blurry and poorly developed action scenes aren’t used instead of proper action film choreography. I have low expectations for story, so if Bay does his style of bad action film direction … well … I just really have low expectations for the live-action film.

The design of Shredder has always been difficult to produce without it coming out silly. This is version of the design makes Master Shredder quite an imposing figure!
The design of Shredder has always been difficult to produce without it coming out silly. This is version of the design makes Master Shredder quite an imposing figure!

 

The animation combines both 3D characters and world with 2D expressions and surprises that give the allusion of watching an animated comic book.
The animation combines both 3D characters and world with 2D expressions and surprises that give the allusion of watching an animated comic book.

I would highly recommend this Nickelodeon animation to anyone who is a fan of the Ninja Turtles. Even those who haven’t even heard of them, this would probably be a wonderful platform to get to know them. The animation is very fluid and well produced. The voice acting is spot on. From the character design to the fight scenes, the written dialog to over arching story, everything flows together very nicely. The characters fit together and progress nicely in an almost a Joss Whedon style of group story telling. This telling of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just brilliant.

-N00basaurus

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