Three Animated Series and Counting: Is the new Ninja Turtles Series a Welcome Addition?

Out of all the series/franchises of my childhood, the one that’s withstood the test of time has got to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While the series has been integrated into American pop culture by this point, if one were to take somebody who’s never heard of the series in their entire life and try to explain the gist of it to them, they’d probably tell you that Snakes on a Plane would have a better chance of getting an animated adaptation than this… whatever you want to call it. And yet the series has been reborn multiple times, coming in varying waves of popularity and adjusting to the pop culture times as necessary. Having just aired the premier of the new Ninja Turtles on Nickelodeon today, it leads one to ask just what does a reboot—especially a reboot of a popular franchise—have to do to get on the right footing?

The Turtles franchise originated with the darker-in-tone comics published in 1984 and created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. However, it wasn’t until the 1987 animated series that the turtles finally hit the mainstream, spawning all the signs of a cartoon making it big, from t-shirts, action figures, lunch boxes, etc. And for the longest time, and with the exception with a live-action movie or two, the ’87 series was what most people point to when hearing the name. So when rumblings of a reboot series that took a darker tone closer to the original comics was in the works, people were (and probably still are) split. How could something as ridiculous as genetically altered turtles named after Renaissance artists and know ninjutsu ever become more than a comedic cartoon from the ‘80s?

Well regardless of what anyone thought, the reboot series aired in 2003 to relative success, as far as I’m concerned. Not only was there a good seven years between the end of the ‘80s series and the start of this new one, but its ad campaign made a point not to make it something to be compared to the old series with. Rather, it was seen as a separate entity entirely, taking the most basic of aspects that made the ‘80s cartoon a hit (colored bandanas, turtle-centric catchphrases, and the like) and giving it a unique enough spin that to actually compare the two would be unfair for both sides. I specifically remember someone in an interview for the Ninja Turtles movie fresh off the heels of the ’03 cartoon saying “This isn’t your older brother’s Ninja Turtles” which speaks volumes as to how one should approach each new iteration of the series.

It’s now been three years since the end of the second Ninja Turtles cartoon (though similar to the ‘80s cartoon, I might tack on a couple more years since the series went under the radar in later seasons) and we are now entering yet another era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; another era of kids losing their ever-loving-shit over anthropomorphic turtles; another era of kids liking Michelangelo best; another era of just… turtles. But is it even worth it at this time?

At this point, I’d say it’s about time a third incarnation of the series make its way to TV. This not only marks the third generation of Turtles, but a possible third generation of new fans to get into the series. A large enough gap has been made since the last iteration to clearly distinguish itself, and the previous wave of Turtles popularity has subsided enough to not make any conflicting waves with this new show.

Now, I’m going to deviate just a bit for comparison’s sake and bring in the Spider-Man franchise—another slice of American pop culture that’s been around for years. The sheer amount of Spidey TV series that have aired over the years is enough to warrant the existence of its Wikipedia page, so please bear with me. The animated Spidey shows that ran between the ‘60s to ‘80s can all be lumped together, mainly due to them all having a similar tone as well as animation style, with the latter series clearly being made with reference to its older counterpart. Jump to the two ‘90s series, which while stylistically different from each other, again held a similar overall storytelling style that lumped them together as one. All these series were made with a particular aesthetic in mind, which in turn influenced fan opinion as to which series would be lumped together.

Finally, enter the two new Spider-Man animated series (the 2003 MTV movie-tie-in series doesn’t count by anyone’s standards) made in 2008 and 2012, respectively. The 2008 series is considered by most fans to be the defining television series that unfortunately wasn’t able to live as long as it should have due to the copyright for the adaptation switching from Sony back to Marvel. On the other hand, the 2012 series, while different in every aspect, just comes off as something released in bad taste having been announced shortly after the end of the 2008 series. Some people may say to exclude such unfair outside circumstances when comparing the ’08 and ’12 series, but popular opinion says otherwise. To have something so stylistically different after the plug was pulled on the series prior is just something fans can’t get past.

Would this suggest that fans of either of the previous Turtles series become incredibly wary about this new one? Finding an answer entails having to pick apart the Turtles fanbase.

Let’s be honest; at the end of the day, it’s somehow easier to justify the existence of a franchise where a guy in a red/blue onesie fights crime by shooting silly string, especially when you’re comparing it to a franchise where “ooze” inflicted turtles use their ninja skills as taught to them by a giant rat against the forces of evil. That said, while I’m not fully immersed in either the Spidey or the Turtles fanbase, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that most Turtles fans are aware of how ridiculous the series foundation is and at this point is open to any type of adaptation as long as it doesn’t involve introducing a fifth turtle member to pull in female viewership.

Upon watching the hour premier of the 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, its tone seems to take a middleground snuggly between the ’87 series and the ’03 series. Jokes are lighthearted and the turtles seem more innocent when exploring the world outside their sewers, but action scenes are beautifully choreographed, even giving the ’03 series a run for its money. On top of that, flashback scenes are told in a rather comicbook-style manner, and even the series’ title logo is incredibly reminiscent of the original Eastman and Laird comics. So while this new series may not be trying to push any boundaries in television, it has taken an excellent job so far in terms of treading familiar grounds in a unique way while taking just the right amount of references from previous incarnations to give previous fans something to look forward to.

Garage Exploration: Ninja Turtles

I’ve never lived in a house that had an attic. At least, I’ve never lived in a house I knew had an attic. Either way, if I were to base real life off the shows I watched when I was younger, I’d say that attic were windows to another realm, filled with a crapton of old-people stuff, each one with a story to tell. Yeah, well I never had an attic—I had a garage.

Occasionally helping actually sort through all the amassed stuffage (accent on the “occasionally”), I’ve actually found quite the number of things with some interesting little stories behind ‘em, hence this new blog series. Hopefully, it’ll serve as something new to post about when I don’t feel like an Episodic Review.

I’m sure anyone that grew up at the time can tell you just how big the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Hell, they were even my first entry on wordpress. Hopefully, I won’t be repeating myself too much.

What you see in the above picture is my main set of turtles figures. While I did have a good number of gimmick figures, like ones that transformed into a car (the door bit would always break on me mid-transforming), one with karate chop action, etc, apparently I still made it a point to have the core turtles at their most basic of action figure forms, keeping them all inside my bike pouch (or Pekkle the duck backpack if the occasion called for something slightly classier) for easy transportation. Though that’s not to say I traveled that far with them in the first place. Off the top of my head, I can remember the occasional trip to the park, but for the most part, I’d keep it parked in front of my house on the driveway while my mom would be gardening.

And for those wondering, yeah, those are feathers packed along with the turtles. I had a thing for soft things when I was younger and would bike around the cul-de-sac that was my neighborhood looking for any feathers I could collect. No real relevance to the turtles figures other than they shared the same space inside my bike bag. Though, thinking about it, I guess they had the same potential for disease as a group of mutagen-exposed pet store turtles would have.

Turtles for Every Occasion

In my first ever blog, I was a high school sophomore complaining about my English 2 reading list. My first ever blog under the name “DaemonCorps” was part of a group list ranking the best animation villains. Both those occasions, I wasn’t really considering what I was typing to set up the tone of all my future blogs, so for my first wordpress blog, I really wanted to write about something that would prove a good example of everything I’m about… but what?

Then I checked my twitter feed:

Hooooly crap, a new Ninja Turtles movie? (stretches arms) Hokay, time for a history lesson

No disrespect to my parents whatsoever, but I consider myself to have been raised on TV. There wasn’t a day in my life that I existed without cable at my place; I preferred VHS tapes over story books as my bedtime stories; the one time I went camping, I was totally elated to find the van had a TV installed in it. You get the point. That said, I’ve gone through quite the number of television series that I was absolutely crazy about—Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of the first, if not the first) of them. I remember having ninja turtles rain boots and insisting on wearing them even when they got too small for my feet to the point that the zipper would always snatch my foot whenever I tried to zip it up. I had a ninja turtles bike helmet and would occasionally bug my mom whenever I wanted to switch the color of my headband. I remember taking the turtles action figures for adventures in the garden and garage. Hell, on one occasion, I even cried during my grandma’s funeral—not for her death, but because I left my turtles action figures at home.

From the age of three to around seven, the turtles were my life.

Flash forward to 2003: a time when Toonami was king and action cartoons ruled every network that aired any kind of cartoons. In a time when goofy action heroes were fading to the background, I was absolutely surprised to find one Saturday morning that the turtles were back in action, brought closer to the Mirage Comics they originated from and were able to hold a flame to Goku, Gundams and the like. While nostalgia freaks did what they did best, I was just glad that the turtles were back.

Now five or so seasons of the 2003 season and the ‘80s series still big with hipsters in the form of ironic graphic tees and such, the turtles are celebrating their 25th anniversary in style with Blu Ray movie releases, ‘80s and 2003 series alike with season sets… and quite the awesome movie taking the best of every turtles universe.

The made-for-TV-but-still-pretty-awesome movie pits has the turtles from the ‘80s series transported to the universe of the 2003 turtles. Great, so it’s a crossover series? While I think movies and episodes with a crossover as their basis are generally pretty crappy, “TMNT: Forever” makes a pretty decent explanation of it all. I mean, from the little I remember of the ‘80s series, it would get pretty goofy at times, so the idea that a freak explosion during the latest of the turtle’s scuffles with Shredder and Krang transported the gang to the 2003-verse makes total sense.

One problem I’ve seen viewers have with this movie, however, was the portrayal of the ‘80s turtles. Rather than being portrayed as lovable and kid-friendly, yet still able to put up a decent fight, the ‘80s turtles are more a parody of themselves more than anything else. Personally, I have no problem with this, since most turtles fans I’m aware of know it mainly for its goofiness more than anything else, so it’s completely understandable. Besides, it looked like they put up a pretty decent fight in their first fight scene—that ain’t too shabby, right?

And if a crossover with the ‘80s turtles wasn’t enough, resurrected 2003 Shredder expands his plans for world domination, taking things one step further: taking over the multiverse! However, he’s got one problem: no matter which universe he tries to take over, he notices that those darn turtles are always there to try and stop him in some form or another. Following these turn of events is a series of references of turtles series, from the live action movies, to the Japanese adaptations and all other ones in-between. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say the end results are pretty sweet. And this is from someone who generally hates multiverse crossovers.

From the start, you can just tell that “Turtles: Forever” was made with quite the amount of tender loving care, paying respects to not just the two animated series, but absolutely every incarnation of the series you could think of. If you’re a turtles fan of any kind, definitely check it out.

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