Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: A whole new TMNT

I grew up loving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – as you can probably tell him the name of my blog and my Twitter and everything else handle – but it’s something that I’ve loved in absentia since the mid-90s. I haven’t really followed any Turtles series since the original cartoon and the movies. I did check in on the CGI show that came out a few years ago, and while it was pretty decent, it wasn’t so good that I – a dude in his mid-20s at the time – felt the need to keep watching it. I did think when my nephew was born a few years ago that as he grew up that would be the Turtles he knew, but I was just reminded this morning that there’s a whole new series starting up right now!

Nickelodeon has the first five episodes of “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” up on their website right now. As soon as I clicked in to see the thumbnail, I realized that I had heard about this show before. I remember seeing the character models when they were revealed some time ago, and really liking the style they went with. I started up the first episode, and right from the jump, I was pretty much in. The intro is flashy and action-packed, really highlighting the bold, colorful look of the show, and the lyrics of the song are catchy, snappy, and introduce you to the Turtles; it’s everything a TMNT theme song should be. As it transitioned into the actual episode, I stayed with it. The animation is bold and expressive, and the show delivers humor in the writing and in the way that characters move and emote. Storytelling through visual style is very much my jam.

After some scene setting, we meet the Turtles, and it would be dishonest for me not to talk about how this show differs from MY Ninja Turtles. Now, I want to preface this by saying that, in general, I don’t think that it is any great sin for a reboot to retool characters. If you’re doing a new take on an established property, I think you have to change up the characters, at least a little bit, because otherwise… what’s new about the take? Having said that, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles it does strike me a bit differently, because those four characters, for me, are the archetypes by which I judge pretty much every other character in pop culture. I grew up with these four personalities, and the dynamics between them, so much so that when I look at personality tests, I think of them in terms of Turtles. So meeting these slightly shifted versions of the turtles felt a bit odd to me.

Donatello, historically my favorite turtle, is the truest-to-form in this episode. He’s nerdy, he’s awkward, he’s focused on science and logistics, and he makes fancy, high tech equipment that he barely knows how to use. With Raphael, things are a bit different, but not too terribly so. He’s still brash and confident, but he also is cast as the leader of the team this time. He’s the one in front, he’s issuing commands, he speaks for the team… he does the things that I expect Leonardo to do! This has Leo feeling a bit weird. He doesn’t seem to have the traits that I identify with Leo from when I was a kid. He’s overconfident, quippy, and accident prone. He actually feels more like Mikey than Leo. Because of that similarity, Michaelangelo wasn’t able to stand out quite the way I’d expect. He had a few good funny moments, but with both Leo and him making jokes, the party dude didn’t get as much spotlight as I would have liked.

To be fair to this show, it’s very clear that it introduces us to the Turtles early in their careers. When they beat the big bad at the end of the episode, they talk about how this first boss fight victory should earn them a team name, so it seems like this is their first foray into heroics. With that in mind, I’m guessing we’ll see some character development as they develop from brothers into a crime-fighting team. My biggest hope is that we see Leo develop a bit more. Even if Raph stays in charge of the team, it’d be nice to see some of the Steve-Rogers-esque, boy scout, goody-goody traits that made Leo the beacon of heroism when I was a kid, if only because I think that playing that off against Raph’s brashness and Mikey’s silliness was part of what made the team dynamics when I was a kid so interesting.

So, the turtles a little bit different, but not in any way that made me say, “Hey, this is not TMNT!” However, it’s not just the Turtles that have changed; there are two other characters we meet in this episode who are important carryovers from before. First is April O’Neil. April in this show is younger than we’ve ever seen her before, fitting with the young turtles, and is black, spunky, confident, smart, capable, and freaking fantastic! I absolutely love this characterization of the Turtles BFF. She doesn’t really reflect the April I grew up with, but since that character didn’t solidify as an archetype in my mind the way the brothers did, I think I’m way more open to a fresh version. The other returning character is Splinter.

The sensei.

The master.

The disciplined, strict, focused, and compassionate martial artist.

Or, at least, that’s how he was in the Turtles I grew up.

Now, Splinter is a slob. He’s fat, he’s lazy, and he eats junk food and then passes out in his easy chair while watching Japanese reality TV shows.

I hate this version of Splinter.

I’m going to keep watching the show, at least for the five episodes that are available online right now, but the thing that will make or break it for me is this representation of Splinter! To me, Splinter needs to be there to lead the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles towards their disciplined and respectful and important purpose. Without his guidance, I struggle to see what the ninja turtles will do when they come across a situation that challenges their morality, or their spirit, or their confidence! I suppose this version of the show might be planning to have the Turtles internalize that growth, but if that’s the strategy they are going with, I wish they would’ve just left Splinter out entirely. It would be better for me to see a show where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had to work through tough times on their own than to see a show where the character that should be their role model is awful.

Overall, I liked the episode. It’s funny, it’s quick, it’s got good action, and the Turtles – while shifted from what I remember – are already interesting and fun characters. Here’s to hoping that the show is successful, continues to improve, and that it can be something that my nephew and I can watch together.

 

For another take on this episode and to watch it with commentary, I’d very much encourage you to go take a look at the Turtle Power Pod’s video review. It’s funnier, more rambly, and way drunker than this take, and it’s only thanks to seeing it pop up that I realized episodes from this series were available.

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