On July 20th, Nickelodeon offered up a preview of its newest take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Dubbed Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new show is the heir-apparent to the one Nick ran from 2012-2017. Simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that show was a modern re-telling of the story we’re all familiar with. It was presented in CG and featured the main characters from the comics and older television shows while mostly adhering to the personalities that had been long established throughout the various media. It was the fourth attempt at bringing the Turtles to television, and by all accounts it was pretty successful. Likely no future version of gang green will ever be as impactful as the 1987 series, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a success.
The show was well-received and it was one that even I, a 30-something, mostly kept up with. It likely ended for business reasons, though possibly artistic ones as the show-runners may have felt they had told all of the stories they wished to tell. I think it’s more likely the network felt the toy franchise was mostly tapped out and there were probably new contracts that needed to be negotiated. Television shows for older kids are also transitioning away from CG and back to 2D as technological advances have made that medium a lot cheaper, and easier, to work with. Which is likely one of the many reasons we are here today talking about a new version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arriving just a year after the previous one ended.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an entirely new show with a new cast of characters. In some ways, this is the most ambitious reboot we have ever seen for the franchise. The 1987 series took the most recognizable characters from the Mirage comics and adapted them for television while also stripping out the violence. Each turtle was given his own personality, something they kind of lacked in the comics, and Shredder was made the main villain and given an accomplice in Krang. Ever since that series found success, it would seem each successive iteration tried to incorporate more of the original comic. Starting with the 1990 movie, Raphael would see his prickly and combative nature made his default personality, the tone would be a touch more serious, and Shredder more deadly. The 2003 4Kids series practically adapted the early books, and even Michael Bay’s turtles tried to keep some of that spirit, while also bringing the turtles closer to their cartoon counterparts.
The 2012 series did the same while also making sure to make everything appear modern. It’s biggest change was making April O’Neil and Casey Jones adolescents, but it mostly took the comic and cartoons that arrived before it and melded them together. It was a show that really wanted to appeal to adults who grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and likely hoped these adults would get their kids hooked. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is attempting to no such thing. For the first time since that 87 series debuted, this is a version of the Turtles made to appeal to kids first and foremost. It doesn’t care if you’re familiar with the property. It doesn’t even need to be a TMNT show, but the brand recognition is certainly easier to sell than a new IP.
Of course, some things will naturally never change. The Turtles are still Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. They live in the sewer with their sensei Splinter, a mutated rat, and reside in New York City. Their only human friend is a girl named April. What’s different is both radical and superficial. For the first time, each turtle is actually a different sub-species of turtle. Most notably is the large and spiky Raphael who is a snapping turtle and kind of looks like the old Slash. Donatello is a soft-shell turtle, and as a result, he creates backpack-like shells to wear to protect himself. Leonardo is now a wise-cracking turtle and Raph is an ineffective leader, as the two have sort-of swapped personalities from the 87 show. When the episode opens they all have their signature weapons, but that will change by episode’s end. Splinter is not the stoic Ninja Master we’re used to, and instead is a chubby little rat who likes to fall asleep in front of the television. April is once again a kid, though just how young is hard to gauge. She’s also African American and sports a pair of oversized glasses. In some respects, she reminds me of Irma from the old cartoon.
The episode opens with some light crime taking place in New York and the Turtles on the prowl. We’re supposed to think they’re patrolling the city as usual, but they’re actually just looking to discreetly take a dip in a rooftop swimming pool. It will become clear soon enough that these turtles are not proper ninjas. They don’t really know what they’re doing or appear to have any designs on fighting crime or anything. April is kind of just there and we’re not sure what the relationship is, but at least they appear to be having fun. The palette of the show is incredibly bright and vibrant, but the animation is not smooth in the least bit. Everything feels loud as characters move suddenly and quickly as if frames of animation are skipped. I don’t think this is a cost-cutting decision, but an artistic one to make the show feel heightened and manic and strikes me as an example of the show going for kids.
The Turtles will encounter a weird teleporting dog/cat creature that takes an instant shine to April. It’s being pursued by some sketchy looking individuals and the Turtles feel compelled to help. This will result in them taking a trip through an inter-dimensional portal where they’ll meet the big baddie of the series, Baron Draxum, and also acquire new weapons. All except Donatello that is, who prefers to stick with his techy-looking bo staff. From here on out, Raph will wield twin tonfa in battle while Leo downgrades to one sword. Michelangelo will wield a kusari-fundo and all of their weapons have some mystical property that they’ll likely need to learn more about as the series moves along. Baron Draxum is a large, some-what Shredder-like figure, who is apparently behind the mutation of the Turtles. He has scores of underlings presumably, and some odd mosquito things that carry mutagen. The episode is an establishing one, and it’s likely the Ninja Turtles will need to get a touch more serious following this episode if they want to challenge Draxum in the future, since their fighting prowess is severely lacking.
It bares repeating that Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a show very much aimed at today’s children. It’s not a show made for me, and that’s fine as the children of 2018 deserve their own TMNT. As a show, it feels very similar to Cartoon Networks Teen Titans Go! It shares a similar look and the show wants to make kids laugh and is less concerned with wowing them via action sequences. The characters take nothing seriously, and I suspect they’ll have some failures along the way. The structure of the show is also to be two 11 minute cartoons for each episode, so the scale of each plot is obviously small.
The voice cast struck me as fine. Ben Schwartz is Leonardo and he’s essentially just playing Dewey Duck from DuckTales. I thought it would be odd seeing Leonardo act in such a manner, but it was fine. Omar Benson Miller is Raph and he’s obviously being tasked to play a very different Raphael. He’s a leader, which just feels off, and he’s a bad one too, but not because of the usual Raph traits. He’s more indecisive and uncertain as opposed to abrasive and headstrong. Donatello is played by Josh Brener and he’s more or less the same Donatello we’re used to, with maybe a touch of dryness. Michelangelo is played by Brandon Mychal Smith and is the character I felt the least impressed by. I just didn’t get much of a sense for his personality, though he did refer to himself as an artist. The press material labels him a prankster, but we didn’t really see that side of him in this episode. This episode was probably too concerned with establishing Leonardo as the new Mikey type at the expense of the other turtles.
Splinter is voiced by Eric Bauza, who had previously voiced Tiger Claw for the last TMNT series, doing a stereotypical Japanese master voice. It almost feels out of place with so much of the other personalities mixed-up, though his personality is obviously different as well. He’s rather funny looking, and I presume he will have to actually train his sons eventually. We didn’t see much of the lair, but it appears to follow in the same mold as the other cartoons in that it’s lavishly outfitted with Donnie’s tech. April is voiced by Kat Graham, and she’s another character I didn’t get much of a read on. She seems more heroic than the actual turtles, and obviously felt an instant connection with the little dog/cat creature she acquires in the episode. WWE’s John Cena is Baron Draxum and I forgot he had been cast in this series. Draxum looks like a high resolution Xavier Renegade Angel, which isn’t a compliment, but his personality seems interesting. He doesn’t want to be a foe to the Turtles, though he obviously will be, and he came across as less cartoonish than the villains from the 87 show, which surprised me. He may prove to be a worthy foe after all.
I can see what Nickelodeon and executive producers Andy Suarino and Ant Ward are going for with this show. I also know that very little of it appeals to me. I welcome the change back to 2D, but I’m not crazy about the design of the characters. They’re a bit too similar to the Bay Turtles, which I found gross, but I concede they have a marketable look. I just feel it’s a bit too similar to other shows out there and it doesn’t strike me as unique. I did not enjoy the janky animation techniques and I hope they tone that down. The pivot to humor is fine, and it does feel like Teen Titains Go!, but it’s not naturally funny like that show. I didn’t watch it with any children present, so maybe they’ll disagree with me, which is what matters most. This isn’t a show I’ll seek out and watch as I did the 2012 show, but as a parent it won’t bother me if my kids start watching it. I like seeing the TMNT brand relevant, so for that reason I hope it’s a success.
“Mystic Mayhem” is just the debut for the show. Additional episodes are available right now online via Nickelodeon’s website and app. The actual series premier is scheduled for September 17, and the ever important toy line is expected to launch in October. Each episode will consist of two segments, but this first episode was one long segment. If you’re an adult fan of the brand I would still say give this one a peek just to check it out. Maybe you’ll like it, most likely you won’t. In a world where a lot of cartoons are hitting wider audiences (OK K.O.!, Gravity Falls, Craig of the Creek, etc.) it’s a little disappointing that this one does not, but not everything has to. Sometimes it’s fun for kids to have something that’s just for them.