Ah, the Turtles. A staple of 80s television for those of us fortunate enough to catch it the first time and an animated classic, built around a similar model to The Real Ghostbusters animated series (slightly ropey animation, wooden voice talent and painfully obvious one liners), The Turtles rode atop a world-beating empire of toys and tie-ins. The handful of movies that followed left a lot to be desired, but the animated originals held a special place in a lot of kids’ hearts (mine included).
This DVD reissue, re-mastered and re-packaged by Lionsgate (Really? The house that Saw built doing kid’s TV?), features 16 episodes from what I remember as the ‘original’ run (roughly 1987-1989), and is just as ridiculously fun as I had remembered (or hoped I had). The air of nostalgia surrounding this collection might have rendered me a little biased, and sure, watching cartoons in your mid-20s not seen since before you hit double figures might only add to that.
The selection of episodes offered here makes this collection more of a curio for the uninitiated, but an absolute must for fans. 2D animation might have been shoved aside by Pixar and the like, but the sequences in some of these episodes – in particular Splinter’s re-telling of his and the Turtles mutant origins – would look ridiculous if attempted using today’s technology. Another sequence, featuring the appearance of the Neutrinos (a pacifist rebellion ‘army’ from Dimension X) could have only come out of the 8’s, with their post-punk, multicoloured hair and outfits probably best left in the past.
The introduction of April O’Neill, the Turtles’ trusty news reporter ‘sidekick’, makes for some superb fight sequences, with her uncanny ability to sniff out an evil ninja plan, usually with a boat load of Foot Soldiers providing added cannon fodder for our heroes along the way. This is particularly impressive during the first three episodes (Turtle Tracks, Enter: The Shredder and A Thing About Rats), wherein the Turtles battle an endless stream of faceless ninjas, along with ridiculous robots and the always hilarious Beebop and Rocksteady. The final episode of Season 1 (Shredded & Splintered) features one of the series’ most exciting storylines, with Shredder daring the Turtles to enter the Technodrome, to retrieve a device that would change Splinter back into human form.
It’s a shame then that the later seasons failed to build on the groundwork laid by the original. Later episodes, in particular in season 2, relied on tried and tested formulas (Shredder invents new device, Turtles destroy, cue final confrontation, Turtles win), rather than trying to push anything new, although this is a moot point given that more of the same was completely acceptable when I was a child, and given the target audience of the series at the time.
Given the benefit of a few more years – not to mention movies – under my belt, there are also a wealth of amazing jokes and references that went completely un-noticed the first time around, like Shredder screaming, “It’s Alive, Its ALIVE!” upon completion of Krang’s body. Or Krang’s exchange with the Turtles after being chased through the sewers: “Prepare to face the wrath of Krang!” To which Raphael replies, “Wasn’t that a movie?” leaving the other Turtles scratching their heads in unison. Upon viewing the credits, it would also appear that a certain James Avery, AKA Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, provided the voice of Shredder, a fact that provided much amusement every time he spoke.
Bonus material is light, coming in the form of four later episodes produced in the early 90s. Now, these may feature sharper animation and sound, but the endearing charm of the scrappy originals is sadly missing. It’s this that proved to be the package’s only sore point. The humour is more contrived, the action feels forced and the villains are just lazy. When held up against 90s animation classics such as Batman: The Animated Series, the later TMNT offerings appear slow, stale and, unfortunately, reliant on poor references to the Duracel Bunny and the newly-created Internet for comic relief. The villain of the later episodes, Drake, is an inter-dimensional rip off of Lo-Pan, the thousand-year-old villain of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China, with glowing red eyes, grey skin and a bizarre cross between Lesley Phillips and Richard Wilson providing the voice. With no other bonus features included, this feels like more of an intrusion than a worthy inclusion.
This collection, though, as a whole, is a must have for anyone in their 20s looking to relive their childhood, or treat the CG spoiled kids to some classic 80s fun. Forgetting the later episodes, this would be a near perfect collection and a recommended purchase, even without special features, although I’d probably hold out for something a little more comprehensive. Let’s just hope it won’t take 20 years for something more substantial to show up.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Edition will be released on 25th May 2009