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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 1 (1987)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate)
Movie Connections:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:... (1987)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:... (1988)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:... (1989)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:... (1991)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
> TMNT (2007)
> Casey Jones (2011)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out... (2016)
Genres:
Animated Action, Animated Comedy, Animated Television, Animation, Children's / Family, Sci-Fi Adventure, Superhero Show, TV Sci-Fi & Fantasy

7.9 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: August 05, 2014
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the late 80s/early 90s, these reptile martial artists took the world by storm. They've had a run on every medium you can think of, and they just keep coming back. A third animated series was launched by Nickelodeon two years ago, and everyone's favorite pyro filmmaker Michael Bay is heading a new live-action film coming out next week. As big a fan of this lean, green fighting machine as I was, there's no question I'm going to see it (even though I've admittedly got extremely low hopes for it), but first I'd thought I take a look back at where it started.

While a certain level of crime is to be expected with city-living, lately there's been an explosion of unique robberies. It seems a group of ninjas have been going around and robbing scientific research labs of their expensive equipment. Leading the story is Channel 6 News reporter April O'Neil who has gotten just a bit too close to the source of the matter. She's ambushed one night by a group of punks who tell her that they've been instructed to beat some silence into her. Fearing for her life, she escapes into the sewers where she's saved by the most unlikeliest of heroes: a quartet of four-foot-tall ninja turtles. After taking her back to their lair, their master, the mutant rat Splinter, fills her in on the back story. Long ago in Japan, he led the honorable Foot Clan, but he was betrayed by a fellow ninja, Oruku Saki, and was banished to the sewers of New York. There, he befriended the rats and the four baby turtles that fell through a sewer grate. One day, he found the reptiles swimming in a glowing ooze. The ooze fused the DNA of the Splinter into the turtles, and the rats into Splinters, turning them into the mutants they are today. Putting two and two together, April joins with the turtles and begin hunting down this Foot Clan, now led by the menacing Shredder (aka Oruku Saki) and a feared warlord from another dimension named Krang.

There is no way I could overstate just how popular this tv show was back in the day. They had video games, breakfast cereals, pudding pies, backpacks, shows and of course, action figures. As a matter of fact, those action figures were the start of it all. You see, Playmate was looking to move beyond the toddler toys they were known for, and the franchise would be a good way to do it. However, the comic it stemmed from had an extremely small following, and despite the silly nature of the concept, its tone was decidedly aimed at an older demographic. Playmate wanted a cartoon released to lay the foundation for their toys, and this five episode miniseries was released to get the ball rolling. Now, this DVD also has a few bonus episodes from the tenth and final season, but I decided to ignore those for now. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

So real quick and dirty-like: I still liked this cartoon. We'll get the disclaimer out of the way early: this was my shit as a kid, and the old memories just came flooding back. Hell, even hearing the Turtles' voices for the first time in years was a treat. But nostalgia aside, I was having fun with it all-over again for its own merits. While the characters haven't quite come into their own just yet, the fights were entertaining and most of the jokes were actually funny. Of course, it was incredibly cheesy, but that was to be expected given the target age group. Like I said, the sole purpose this show existed was to sell action figures, and this introduction does a great job introducing those very toys characters, both good guys and bad, and gets the series rolling admirably well. I mean, our story here is four mutant turtles led by a rat protecting the world from a bladed ninja, an inter-dimensional brain-creature and two street punks mutated into a warthog and rhinoceros. That's not an easy pill to swallow, but damned if they didn't pull it off. Truth be told, I was a bit leery of firing this one up originally, afraid that I was going to ruin what was such a huge part of my childhood. So far, so good.

Again, it's easy to write this off as blind nostalgia, and while I'm sure my lenses were undeniably tinted a bit green, there were more than a few little nuances that bugged me. Nothing groundbreaking, but a lot of little things that slowly added up. Things like April being a lot whinier than I remembered, and how the writers were completely unsure if they wanted Bebop and Rocksteady to be a credible threat or merely a pair of comically inept buffoons. Ironically, one thing I went in expecting to hate that wasn't actually that big of a deal was an over-80s-ness about things. One thing about the 80s, when you see it, you know it. While as a whole the show doesn't wear the decade on its sleeve as badly as I figured it would have, there's still some undeniable appearances. The most obvious example of course is every kid's favorite turtle, Michelangelo. A stereotypical "cool dude", his entire lingo and manner of speaking is that surfer/stoner combination that was hysterical when you were five, but a little aggravating when you're twenty-seven. I'll confess, after a mere five episodes, his throaty "COWABUNGA!" was getting a little taxing. Considering that was the show's veritable catch-phrase, I can only hope it's just the prototype for the actual million dollar phrase. However, there's no redemption for the Neutrinos should they come back. They absolutely bleed the 80s, and were insufferably annoying in their single episode. I'm praying it is indeed their single episode.

Believe it or not, the show is pretty good on a technical level. Sure, they took a few shortcuts with background action (e.g. foot soldiers on a far off building top are in a GIF-like loop of motion), but things were smooth and crisp up close and personal. Which was nice because these initial five episodes had a lot more action than a standard episode of this series. Yeah, there was always fighting, but the straight-forward hand-to-hand combat would be phased out relatively quickly. Seeing the turtles throw down so cleanly with mousers, foot soldiers, et al is something that needs to be enjoyed early on. With all that said, there's a few glaring errors that can only be attributed to pure laziness. Things like animating the wrong turtle for the voice, or forgetting to animate the lasers in the middle of the fire fight. It's not exactly a deal breaker, but it is annoying.

So how has this classic show aged? Well, if a five year old sat down right now with this show, I still think he'd enjoy it as much as I did way back when. And really, how else should this be judged? 7/10.
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