Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutagen Man Unleashed, Review

TMNT introduces a certain rebellious hockey player as Donnie deals with the later part of his own (500) Days of April.

Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience a television event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage.  1987 – there’s a Teenange Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. 2003 – there’s a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon… again. Then, for a long time, nothing happened. Until now. Behold, the future of TMNT: Casey Jones! The show has finally reached the Fireworks Factory, so let’s get biz-zay! Consistently and thoroughly.

There’s been a lot of anticipation (and fear) around the introduction of Casey Jones (voiced by Josh Peck) and writers Kevin Burke & Chris Wyatt wisely kept his introduction simple. Throughout the episode, Casey interacts solely with April. In April and his’ fight with Mutagen Man, he uses a pipe from the trash instead of his classic hockey stick. He’s not super cool or strong; he’s a scrawny outcast that’s not as skilled as April is at fighting. He isn’t even the main focus of the episode; which centers on Donnie and his feelings for April and the title is named after the villain. Whenever Casey’s not onscreen, no one asks “Where’s Casey?” There will eventually be more Casey, but for now the show is taking it’s time with his origin.

But even with the limited time, Casey is quickly developed. His budding relationship with April is reminiscent of a screwball comedy; he’s Cary Grant with missing teeth, slowly charming Rosalind Russell away from the boring Ralph Bellamy. Throw in the slapstick humor from Splinter’s brilliant lesson about learning to love falling and this is almost a Howard Hawks film. April’s resistant to Casey at first, but agrees to tutor him for extra credit and because she has nothing else to do. Casey jokes that all she does is study to be a “Science Olympian,” which is true, but only because schoolwork and training is all she has left. Her dad’s batty, she doesn’t connect with humans her own age, the only four friends she had betrayed her, and her sensei is unreachable because it involves her having to interact with the turtles again. Casey and April are both loners that are realizing that they need each other’s friendship.

As for the turtles, their lesson this week was “don’t eat abandoned pizza you found on a roof” (even if “roof pizza” is one of your ten favorite kinds of pizza). Or maybe it was the importance of giving people the time and space they need. Something that this show nails perfectly that other versions weren’t as interested in is the teenage aspect; everyone gets the mutant, ninja, and turtle parts (even Michael Bay), but the teenage part is usually forgotten. Donnie’s unrequited love over April has been one of the most painful and truthful aspects of the show and this episode centers on why it’s unhealthy. Donnie struggled with her leaving and constantly complained about it to Timothy’s floating organs (I’m honestly surprised he didn’t call himself a “Nice turtle”). Timothy, who dressed up as a turtle last season, once again tried to be like them, this time by trying to make April his. Mutagen Man is the worst side of Donnie; when it comes to the final fight, the pain Donnie faces over battling his id is apparent.

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Defeating his id should be a triumph, but the victory is hollow. He can’t make April love him (or even come back), he can’t bring back her father, and he can’t save Timothy. All he can do is accept the things he cannot change and move on from his obsession. It’s tough material, but it’s a lesson both children and adults need to learn.

I LOVE THE 80s: Mutagen Man’s soundbox was produced by Laird, and there was an antique shop named “Second Time Around.”

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4.5 out of 5