Looking back at Turtles Forever

Matt concludes his celebration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies with Turtles Forever...

As part of the celebration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ 25th anniversary, the animated film, Turtles Forever, was produced. Set in the world of the 2003 TV series, the film wasn’t so much released as it was carelessly knocked off a shelf and into the world. (My suspicions that the release strategy was planned as an act of revenge by a petulant, bitter Biker Mice From Mars fan are yet to be confirmed.)

After theatrical screenings were cancelled, it was trimmed down and shown on American television, with the full-length version made available for free streaming on the Internet. It was given a particularly clumsy US DVD release in 2010, featuring the shortened TV edit of the film, presented in the wrong aspect ratio. It’s just now been given a release in the UK (with the flaws of the US release corrected and considerably better cover art), and it goes a bit like this:

Astounded by a news report that shows them engaged in combat with the criminal Purple Dragon gang (a battle that they hadn’t fought), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles decide to investigate the Dragon’s den. They’re stunned when they find themselves rescuing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from their foe’s headquarters.

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Far from identical doppelgangers, the rescued Turtles are silly, wacky and have a penchant for breaking the fourth wall and quipping to some unseen audience. While bungling about, high-fiving and haphazardly questing for pizza, the alternaturtles explain that they’ve been transported into this reality through a faulty dimensional portal during a battle with their arch-nemeses, Krang and Shredder, in the Technodrome (Krang’s mobile base).

The Technodrome has also been transported, along with Krang, Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady (Shredder’s mutant flunkies) and an army of robot Foot soldiers. Shredder and Krang set about rescuing the Shredder from this universe, Utrom Shredder, with an eye to teaming up to form an unstoppable villainous juggernaut. Utrom Shredder is unwilling to cooperate and soon takes over the Technodrome, with assistance from his daughter, Karai, and Hun, the leader of the Purple Dragons.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Utrom Shredder is quite, quite mad. Using the technology from the Technodrome, he discovers that there are many alternative universes, each with its own set of Turtles. Taking the course of action that any self-respecting villain would, he sets in motion a plan to wipe out the first incarnation of the Turtles, thus causing the multi-verse they spawned to cease to exist.

With their universe collapsing around them, the Turtles (all eight of them) travel to the ‘Turtle prime’ universe and team up with a third set of Turtles in their bid to stop Utrom Shredder.

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While the initial release of Turtles Forever suggests a lack of care, the film proves to be a very respectful and very enjoyable tribute to the franchise.

Basing the story around Shredder’s interest in conquering the multi-verse (and leaning a little on the dimensional portals from the old cartoon) facilitates the different incarnations of Turtles’ interactions. It’s a great idea. So many different versions of the Turtles have existed and, in a 25th anniversary celebration, it’s brilliant to see them all brought in together. How apt that, in this story, there are many different universes, each with their own version of the Turtles, all contributing to one existence.

Of all the Turtles featured, I was most pleased to see the ones from the old cartoon series (let’s call them Hero Turtles). The Hero Turtles are given a fair ribbing here. All of their quirks and annoying tendencies are turned up to eleven. Lame gags and an obsession with pizza seem to be all there is to them. Thankfully, it’s all done lovingly and in good fun. In fact, when Raphael (from the more recent) suggests that they’re “Not Ninja, they’re clowns”, Splinter is quick to correct him. The Hero Turtles may be silly, but they eventually help to save the day.

Seeing the Hero Turtles in the universe of the Ninja Turtles (the more recent cartoon ones) proves a good source of comedy. The world of the Ninja Turtles is a serious place, and so is very much at odds with the home world of the Hero Turtles. Hero Turtle Donatello’s plan to open a dimensional portal with a modified torch sent me into embarrassing guffaws.

Unfortunately, none of the voice actors from the original series are back. It’s a real shame, as it would have been lovely to hear the original cast in these roles again. It certainly would have been appropriate for the occasion.

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The majority of the film takes place in the Ninja Turtles dimension, and the tone of the film is more in line with that series. I hope this won’t put people off, as the recent cartoon was particularly good and Turtles Forever would make an ideal entry point for anyone interested. The film is certainly accessible, whether you’re familiar with that series or not.

In fact, the Ninja Turtles are used more to drive the plot forward than to dominate the story. They keep things moving so we can enjoy the other characters. That’s not to say that they’re boring. Michelangelo’s enthusiasm for the wackiness of the Hero Turtles (which soon turns into annoyance after he gets repeatedly ‘noogied’) is probably the funniest thing about the film and Raphael’s desperate attempts to impress the comic book Turtles (referred to in the film as the Turtle Prime’s, which I’ll use here) is another great gag.

The Turtle Prime’s, then, are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as they first appeared, in the first issue of the first comic. Introduced in a sequence that plays out much like their introduction in that first comic, the Turtle Prime’s are menacing, vicious and, for want of a more appropriate term, pretty badass. It’s really exciting to see them come to life as an animation and they make a wonderful addition to the film.

Turtles Forever

is a pacy affair. The first thirty minutes move along fast, with plot and amusing diversions thrown at you in quick succession. The film slows down in the middle as it sets itself up for the finale, and then it’s back to business for the last twenty-five minutes. Running at a lean eighty minutes, the timing in Turtles Forever feels pretty much bang on.

The animation in this film is very impressive. There’s no element that let’s the film down. As with the character elements, it’s the older Turtles and their worlds that look the most impressive. Nostalgia certainly played a part in my enjoyment of the Hero Turtle’s and their universe, both of which are faithfully recreated and polished up to look the best they ever have. The black and white world of the Turtle Prime’s is also a very true and impressive recreation.

The whole film appears to have been made with a great reverence for all of the source material. There are so many references, whether it’s the bungling of Shredder’s plan by Bebop and Rocksteady, Irma making an appearance in the background of the Hero Turtle universe, the dialogue from the finale of Secret Of The Ooze being repeated in the final battle here, or the quite touching epilogue featuring Turtles creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

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Turtles Forever

is a very sweet love letter to the first twenty-five years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It also marks the end of an era. The franchise has since been sold off by co-creator, Peter Laird. New owner, Nickelodeon, has a new cartoon and film in development, which is cause for excitement. The sneak peeks of the new cartoon look great and I genuinely think Platinum Dunes will do a good job with the new film.

While it’s sad to see my era or Ninja Turtles coming to an end, it’s hard to imagine a better send-off. I suspect very few of you will have seen Turtles Forever and I really hope some of you will give it try. It’s out on DVD in the UK now.

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