TV Review: Rise of the Turtles I and II (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012)
Today is a day that will be long-remembered: it saw the debut of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon! I've been looking forward to this cartoon ever since Turtles Forever ended the G2 era all the way back in 2009. Three years is a long time to go without animated TMNT, but somehow, someway, I managed. Let's take a look at how the Turtles have changed for this new generation!
This new cartoon is made by Nickelodeon, which bought the rights for the TMNT property from Peter Laird. The fact that no original creators are directly linked to the show anymore (Kevin Eastman sold his share of the Turtles to Peter before the Nick buyout) has been a source of consternation for many fans. Michael Bay's infamous plans to reimagine the Turtles as aliens for a Bayformer-esque movie didn't help, either. But the action figures are all kinds of awesome, so there might be something to this Nickelodeon cartoon after all.
That was my mindset going into this one-hour premier (Rise of the Turtles parts I and II). Fortunately, I was pleased by the outcome. It's difficult to judge just how this series will pan out, but it seems like Nick is on the right track.
Elements from different generations of TMNT are tweaked for this new generation. Like the 200X series, the Turtles themselves fit the character types first brought together in the 1990 movie: Leo's the leader, Raph the hothead, Donnie the geek, and Mikey the goofball. Unlike most TMNT incarnations, the plot balances its attention evenly amongst the Turtles with each being a valid and important character to the overall storyline. Fortunately, this isn't another Raph/Leo-centric plot to the exclusion of the other Turtles. The Turtles also act like teenagers, an aspect that was strangely missing from the 200X series.
There are other familiar yet reimagined elements. April is now a teenage girl, which works pretty well because she's on the same level as the Turtles and interacts more naturally with them. The Kraang are part of a race of brain-aliens that like to hide out in robotic disguises (like the Mirage comics and 200X cartoon), but this time they're evil (like Krang from the classic cartoon). Although I prefer the Kraang/Utroms as good guys, they're pretty cool as villains too.
The mutagen works a lot like the original cartoon in that it mutates a creature based on the DNA of the last organism it touched. This is great because it's easy to create a "monster of the week" (this week's Snake Weed was a lot of fun). But like the original cartoon, it makes Splinter's mutation difficult to justify: in this version, Splinter is a human accidentally touched by a rat before the mutagen took hold, which was more than a little forced.
It's difficult to tell from just the first two episodes, but the disparate elements of the plot aren't as intricately woven together as they were in the 200X series. Splinter accidentally stumbles upon the Kraang and the mutagen; the Turtles accidentally stumble upon April getting kidnapped. Everything seems more circumstantial.
But I admit this new cartoon is more entertaining than the 200X series (at least, so far). Although I love the 200X series because its plots were more mature than the original cartoon and better put together than the Mirage comics, it could also get too heavy at times. The 2012 characters are just plan fun... not fun in a goofy way like the original cartoon, but fun in an adventurous way. They seem inspired by the Turtles as they appeared in the original Mirage comics, especially issues 4 through 8 in which they were having just as much fun with their adventures as the readers themselves.
But this isn't cheesy-fun like the classic cartoon. The gags are smarter and the characters are more multi-dimensional in this 2012 incarnation. Also, the villains are menacing and legitimately threatening, unlike the original's portrayal of Shredder and Krang as incompetent and bungling.
The animation is strong and about on par with the Clone Wars, albeit the characters are more geometric in design. Maybe this is blasphemy for a nostalgic fanboy like myself, but I think this animation is so much cooler than the 2D-animated Turtles. The new cartoon's backgrounds, skin textures, and facial expressions are more detailed and interesting than anything that was done in the 2D format. But I should note that the rendering is not nearly as detailed as the 2007 TMNT movie.
So is this the best Turtles cartoon ever? It's still way too early to tell for sure, but I'm liking what I see so far. It's smarter than the original cartoon and more fun than the 200X cartoon: a nice blend of the best of two disparate takes of the property. Rise of the Turtles part II teased the Shredder for the next episode, so it will be interesting to see how Nick treats TMNT's signature villain. Booyakasha!