In an incredible display of commitment to my craft, in order to complete this article I spent an entire weekend watching cartoons and eating cake. You’re welcome, Den of Geek readers.
With the third season of the cartoon launching in the UK and the second half of the second season arriving on DVD, I decided it was time I wrote something else about one of my favourite television shows. Then, in my local supermarket, I found this.
It was the same Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cake that I had bought last year, except that this one was Michelangelo! As it had a slightly different mouth and a different colour headband, I obviously had to buy it immediately. I have no problem paying out twice for a lazy rejig if I get to eat a lot of cake as a result.
With the idea of the lazy rejig in mind, I had an idea for my article ; what if I watched a load of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes, then wrote up my favourite ones while chronicling my attempt to eat an entire birthday cake? Exactly like I did last year.
Last year’s article wasn’t popular enough to warrant a sequel, so I’d have to go with a Hollywood style reboot or reimagining. So this is a, er, rebake.
Here is my write up of 5 of my favourite episodes from Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve gone for all season 2 episodes, as I think it’s important that we properly prepare ourselves for season 3. I’ll also be updating you on my attempt to eat an entire birthday cake on my own.
1. Fungus Humungous
Notable Michelangelo quote: “Check it out… Super Mikey Brothers!”
In this episode the Turtles help teen troublemaker Casey Jones track down their mutual ally, April O’Neil, who has disappeared into the sewers. Weird mushrooms have been popping up everywhere, and it turns out that April sprinted off mid-freak out after being sprayed by the ’shrooms with a weird hallucinogen that causes people to see their worst fears come to life. One by one, the gang are terrorised by their minds thanks to these evil mutated mushrooms.
I’ve included this episode because it showcases Nickelodeon’s take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at its most inventive. It’s full of ideas, has a variety of tones, good music, it’s creepy, it has top notch action and it’s funny. It doesn’t do much to advance the overall plot of the season, but my favourites of this series rarely do. It’s just 22 minutes of brilliance.
Visually, it has a lot going on. When the characters start having hallucinations, the team behind the show get to play around with weird imagery and it appears that they enjoyed themselves. The whole thing is just super tripped out. There are also some really wonderful transitions between the different characters nightmare experiences.
This version of Ninja Turtles is really good at doing horror; this episode has a murky atmosphere and feels quite claustrophobic. It’s also got what I’m sure is a little nod to Aliens in it and that’s the sort of thing that makes me very, very happy indeed.
The Force Acakens
It felt particularly apt for me to start with an episode where characters face their deepest fears because I was facing the fear of cake I developed shortly after finishing the last article. I do understand that it sounds like a brilliant thing to do, to eat an entire cake. The reality is that last time I ended up feeling like I was going to vomit out all of my intestines. This time I knew that I would need assistance. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to Assistance.
So, with a decent supply of coffee to hand, I ate a large slice of cake. As you might expect, just the first normal amount of cake was lovely. It has two layers of filling; one a thin layer of cream, the other cream and a decent amount of jam. Otherwise it’s just a standard sponge. I didn’t know how this was going to play out over the course of the weekend, but this had certainly proved a decent sized slice of fun. A wedge of enjoyment. You get the idea. I just had to hope that the hallucination theme of the episode didn’t prove prophetic.
2. Of Rats and Men
Notable Michelangelo quote: “Smell the cheese. SMELL THE CHEESE!”
Another solid horror episode, this one sees the Turtles pitted against the returning Rat King. Right, so in this version of TMNT Rat King can control the minds of rats, which often includes a struggling Splinter. Here, he also has giant rat monsters that he’s using to capture people as part of a broader plan to take over the city. The Turtles have to stop him.
This is an episode that gets all sorts of things right. The Rat King/Splinter dynamic is terrific. Rat King is creepy as hell and when he’s attacking Splinter’s mind they flash his face over the screen in a weird ‘what-was-that’ style that’s very effective. The way Splinter works in this show is that he’s a strong guardian type; he teaches and shows, but he very rarely joins in the action. The reason it’s effective is that when Splinter does get involved, it suggests higher stakes than normal, which instantly makes thing more exciting, and the scenes are always really exciting. Basically, Splinter and Shredder, the two father figures, are better at fighting than everyone else and so they’re used sparingly and well. Due to his powers, Rat King poses a threat to Splinter that other characters can’t, so we get to see Splinter challenged.
As far as the other characters go, Of Rats and Men does a good job of involving multiple characters. Just by bringing in notable supporting characters Casey Jones and April O’Neil to go alongside the Turtles and Splinter, the episode has just to twenty-two minutes to keep seven good guys busy, and yet no one feels short changed.
Where this one thrives, where any episode of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles thrives, is its use of Michelangelo. Here, Michelangelo accidentally concocts a mutagenic form of ice cream, which he then accidentally feeds to a cat. The result? His new sidekick, Ice Cream Kitty!
The Strange Cake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The second slice, a decent size, didn’t feel like it was going to be a big issue, but for a short while afterwards I just didn’t feel myself. What was I doing this for? Was anyone even going to read this? Was it really necessary for me to eat cake just so I could write about my beloved Ninja Turtles? This altered state of mind soon wore off and, with my senses of logic and reason returned, I prepared to eat cake until I felt physically sick.
3. The Lonely Mutation of Baxter Stockman
Notable Michelangelo quote: “Dude, when you hear what happened you are gonna laugh so hard!”
Bungling scientist Baxter Stockman has failed Shredder one time too many. Despite his plea for one final chance (he’s working on a plan involving “mutant pigs and rhinos!”), he’s covered in mutagen, and soon transforms into a beastly human-fly hybrid. Back at the Turtles’ lair, Donatello has perfected a retromutagen, albeit a very limited quantity of it. The Turtles set out to demutate April’s father, while evil mutants Baxter Stockman and Rahzar are out to steal it for themselves.
Without wishing to sound like a broken record, this episode has good horror, good action, good character work and stand out Michelangelo.
As far as horror goes, I’m going to talk about one particular scene. Shredder’s mutant henchman… henchdog? Henchpooch? Anyway, Shredder’s assistant Rahzar, along with a small team of Footbots, search for the recently mutated Baxter Stockman. They’re in his lab. The lights are flickering. The newly monsterfied Stockman can be seen as a silhouette in the background. One by one, he starts picking off the Footbots. It’s kind of intense. This is pure horror movie stuff, the kind that the team behind Turtles are getting right every time they do it; simple and effective.
The main reason I’ve chosen to include this episode (although it’d warrant inclusion for an excellent aerial chase sequence and its top notch soundtrack) is Turflytle. Turflytle is Michelangelo’s fly alter ego, complete with homemade costume and catchphrase – “Buzz buzz!” A natural enemy to Baxter Stockman’s mutant fly, Turflytle is genuinely hilarious and steals the episode.
I actually thought the new Turtles film was ocake
Why am I doing this to myself?
Notable Michelangelo quote: “You think I joke about the pizza? You know me a little better than that, Donnie, to joke about the pizza!”
In Pizzaface, Michelangelo fights pizza zombies.
I think Pizzaface is my favourite episode of this show so far. It is riotously funny.
Now, I do understand that this article is quite Michelangelo heavy, but if you’ve been watching the show you’ll surely understand that there’s good reason for that. For example, take the scene that features him creating his own pizza, while singing us through the process; a scene that is actually magic. To get to regularly spend time with a character as sweet, silly and wonderful as this Michelangelo is good for your soul. Praise must be split between the writers, the animators and voice actor Greg Cipes.
Pizzaface provides opportunity to talk about some of the geek credibility the show carries. Mikey’s battles with living pizzas are a clear nod to Bruce Campbell/The Evil Dead. There’s a reference to the Triceratons, who are space dinosaurs that featured in some of the very early Turtles comic books (and will hopefully feature in this series, should the tease be followed through). Mikey even sings the chorus to Vanilla Ice’s Ninja Turtles anthem ‘Ninja Rap’.
These are little references expertly woven into the fabric of the show. They don’t necessarily stand out; not understanding them won’t negatively impact your ability to enjoy the show. But they are there and they serve as to inform us of where this show has come from.
“A pizza who eats calzones? That is sick!” says Michelangelo in this episode. It dawned on me that this far into the challenge, I was more cake than man. My celebration of Ninja Turtles had unexpectedly changed into some warped sugary cannibalistic ritual. Sick! Something had to be done. I’d already had some assistance from Assistance. Now, in this most confusing of emergencies, I would be turning to an even more powerful ally; Further Assistance.
With my ‘coffee/cake/human being’ ratio pulled back to somewhere close to normal, I ate another slice of cake. I don’t know if I enjoyed it, but I ate it. Isn’t that enough?
5. The Wrath of Tiger Claw
Tiger Claw (think of him as TMNT’s Boba Fett) returns after a brush with death in the mid-season finale. With the Shredder’s blessing he sets off on a mission of revenge against the Turtles. Shredder’s daughter Karai, sent to assist Tiger Claw, isn’t sure who she should be aligned with and who she should be helping. The Turtles must go all out to defend their lair from the brutal Tiger Claw.
Nickelodeon’s Ninja Turtles has episodes that stand alone and it has episodes that work towards a more serialized season long plot. The Wrath of Tiger Claw is an example of the latter. There are three things I want to talk about in regard to this episode.
The first is how it digs into the family dynamics between the characters. Specifically, the relationships Karai has with the show’s two father figures (Splinter and Shredder, who represent opposite poles of good and evil), and how those relationships are strained by truths, lies and identities. Karai is a great character, a sort of goodie that doesn’t quite understand that she’s working for the bad guys. Trust, betrayal and the concept of honour all push against her bond with her father in this episode and add some depth to their relationship. Teaming her up with Tiger Claw is great because it creates a strong contrast, with him determined and loyal, and her conflicted and unsure of who to trust.
This brings us to my second talking point, which is how impressed I am with this version of Shredder. Despite barely featuring, this episode is a massively important one for the over-bladed baddie. It does a good deal to humanise him. He’s still a villain, he’s not likely to achieve any kind of redemption, but he has genuine affection for Karai which is a source of conflict for him. Lots of TV shows don’t manage bad guys that are so human, and even fewer do it in a 22 minute Saturday morning cartoon.
The third thing I want to cover is the fight scene at the end of the episode. Brilliantly choreographed with excellent use of sound and silence, the dust up between the Turtles and Tiger Claw is exceptional. It doesn’t just look good, it feels good; it’s thrilling and fraught and frantic.
It’s sort of dawning on me that this joyless slog to eat an entire cake draws a complete contrast to how much pleasure I get from watching Ninja Turtles. Two articles in and I can confirm that it’s a really stupid idea. I love the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. It fills me with enthusiasm, excitement and reverence. Trying to eat a whole cake just fills me with cake. I don’t think I’m going to do this again.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles season three starts Saturday 7th February at 9.30am on Nicktoons. The second half of season 2 is out on DVD on 9th February, if you need to catch up.
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