Nickeloden’s all-new, CGI-animated hit series debuts on DVD with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles on February 26. Leo, Raph, Don and Mikey are back in the action-packed adventure as they emerge from their underground lair in the sewers for the first time. There are five episodes on the DVD, which include Rise of the Ninja Turtles (Double-Length Episode), Turtle Temper, New Friend, Old Enemy, I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman and Metalhead. The DVD runs 145 minutes, plus has 6 “making of” animatics and a Karaoke Music Video. Does this iteration of TMNT make us say COWABUNGA! or should it be thrown to The Shredder?
This new iteration of the Ninja Turtles is familiar, while bringing a breath of fresh air to the series for a new generation at the same time. Sure, Leonardo wears his classic blue eye wrap, Raphael wears red, Donatello wears purple and Michelangelo wears orange, but that’s not the only aspect of TMNT that remains true to the 1980s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series. These similarities to the original are a big reason the new show is so enjoyable across multiple generations. This new series, unlike the original cartoon and feature film, follows the origin of the turtles and Splinter, instead of making the turtles aliens as is rumored for the next TMNT live-action feature film. In this series, the turtles, as baby turtles, get stuck in some ooze and it is the ooze that turns them into the lovable mutant turtles they are today. The rivalry between Splinter and Shredder is still a strong theme, although we don’t get to see it play out entirely in this collection of the first five episodes (and I don’t think we will see the conclusion until the series’ end). The Kraang also make their appearance in Rise of the Ninja Turtles and remain true to their original look.
While its ode to the original is what appeals to the 20 somethings, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles’ funnier moments and creative, quick animations are what make it appeal to the younger generation of teens, as well as the revamped theme song which has taken a hip hop turn away from the original. No, Vanilla Ice doesn’t make an appearance here, but some unknown rap group attempts a “hip” reboot of the 1980s title sequence music. These new Ninja Turtles also have a greater sense of individuality than their Eighties counterparts, which is an important trait for today’s youth. Each of the turtles has their own shape and height, as opposed to them all being the same physical build, as they were in the 1980s classic. Each turtle also has his own, newly definitive physical attribute: Donatello has a gap in his teeth; Michelangelo has freckles; Raphael has a chipped shell; and Leonardo’s skin is a shade darker than his brothers’. In the fifth episode, you can also see that each of the turtles has his own, unique skateboard. Another changed aspect that Rise of the Ninja Turtles brings about is Donatello’s love for April O’Neil. While the original cartoon and feature film alluded to a general love for April by the turtles, this new series targets Donatello’s heart with Cupid’s arrow. April is also significantly younger than I expected.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Ninja Turtles also showcases weapon upgrades for Donatello and Michelangelo. Now, both of their weapons can pop-out a blade, making them even more lethal, which is a surprisingly violent change for the Nickelodeon series.
The CGI-animation is very high quality and there are some unique, stylistic twists that set the show apart from the standard animated show, such as a clear animé influence throughout. For example, while in battle, each sword hit and polearm smash are accented. Each loud sound has its own exclamatory highlight. There are also great animations that highlight certain feelings that one of the turtles is experiencing. Two great examples of this are when Donatello first meets April in the pilot episode and when Michelangelo is forced to listen to Polka music in I Think His Name is Baxter. Another great, albeit minor, stylistic twist is the decision to make the turtles have their pupils turn all white while fighting. Overall, the animation is fluid and quick.
The vocal cast is surprisingly well-assembled, including; Sean Astin as Raphael, Jason Biggs as Leonardo, Hoon Lee as Splinter, Mae Whitman as April and seasoned voice actor Rob Paulson as Donatello; while bringing in lesser known vocal talent Greg Cipes, who does a fantastic job voicing Michelangelo. I was excited to see that Nickelodeon brought Paulson back to the franchise (he voiced Raphael for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time video game way back in the days of Super Nintendo), although he now voices Donatello. Each of the voice actors does a sensational job giving their respective character a unique voice, but the newcomer, Greg Cipes, is the who that stands out the most. Michelangelo sounds a lot like Jeff from American Dad, while keeping his own voice intact.
Some parents may object to the animated violence that is prevalent in this series, but I’m not one of those parents. There’s a lot of valuable messages in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, although they may be unintentional. The show promotes brotherly love and discipline, things we could use a lot more of these days. No, I don’t expect you to get your life lessons from a cartoon, but the themes are in place. And they can’t hurt, can they?
I only have one major gripe with the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that is Michelangelo’s new catchphrase. The COWABUNGA! that I remember has been replaced by a booyakasha, which is actually East London slang. The changed catchphrase is certainly an irritation, but Mikey doesn’t say the new term as often as he said COWABUNGA! in the first series and the movies, so I can learn to live with it. Still, it was an unnecessary change that took away a small slice of the turtle pizza I loved.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles is meant to be a fun experience, and it truly is, from start to finish. The new series is like watching a comic book in motion, in a fantastic blend of CGI and stop animation. While not as dark and edgy as the 2003 series, this new show isn’t as lighthearted as the 1980s series either. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles fits neatly between its two previous iterations and is a delightful upgrade from the 1980s cartoon. This is one 80s reboot that is just as good, if not better than, its original.