Tuesday, September 18, 2018

SepTMNTber - Top 5 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Rip-Offs

In the wake of the original Turtles cartoon’s success, there was a glut of shows featuring anthropomorphized animals with crazy sci-fi origins.  Whether they’re created through science or aliens from (or on) another planet, these guys all owe their creation to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Though none of them achieved the success of their forefathers, there’s no denying they were just as weird.  I never bothered to watch these in their original runs, seeing them as inferior imitations, and I’m not bothering to watch them much more now, only watching the first episode of each shows for this list. 

Street Sharks
I’d wager this is the most well-known show to follow in the Turtles’ path and stays as close as possible to the original formula.  A scientist working with integrating aquamarine animal DNA into human genes, his evil partner uses it for evil purposes, and the scientist’s four sons need to rescue him.  They’re injected with shark DNA and turn into the Street Sharks.  That’s about all I got from the show – the four brothers have the most generic personalities – one’s lazy, one’s brainy, one’s athletic.  I’m not sure what the last one’s trait is, and I don’t think I caught a single name of theirs.  As Street Sharks, they swim through the streets causing thousands of dollars in infrastructure damage, while eating anything that gets in their way.  They all talk in the same 80s surfer lingo as the Turtles, but with shark references.  Artistically, this show’s a mess.  The animation is terrible, the designs are dull, and there’s a weird Seinfeld-style riff that goes through the episode.  And what’s with the misplaced environmental message? “Jawsome?” No, far from it.

Biker Move from Mars
I feel like when this show was created, the writers tossed some dice in a box and went with what came up.  Biker Mice from Mars is about as basic a concept as you can get; The planet Mars is populated by mice people and was taken over by Plutarkians, which look like big fat bipedal fish.  They escape the planet on a ship that looks like a big motorcycle, crash on Earth, and make friends with an April-like repair garage owner.  The leader of the Plutarkians, which commanded the bikers’ ship to be shot down, is also somehow a huge business owner on Earth at the same time.  I’m not sure how that worked out, but whatever.  They’re on our planet trying to steal all the resources like they did on Mars, and somehow decided to start in Chicago.  I guess with all the other crap that goes on there no one would know what they’re doing?  There’s a bunch of terrible 80s references – the big bad of the episode is a total rip-off of the Terminator and they even crack a Turtles joke.  Have some respect, you young upstarts! 

Bucky O'Hare
Before I get started, I know Bucky O’Hare existed as a comic about 5 years before the Turtles comic even came out.  But if it weren’t for the Turtles’ cartoon, I don’t think Bucky would have ever made the step to animation.  Of all the cartoons to come in their wake though, I think this one is the best of the bunch.  It’s got a serious tone, in the middle of a war between the United Animals Federation and the Toad Empire, with much of the show’s humor coming from their foot soldiers.  Bucky pilots the ship, the Righteous Indignation, freeing slaves with his crew.  Bucky is a green hare and ace pilot, Deadeye Duck is their gunner that bears a huge resemblance to Daffy except he’s got 4 arms, and Jenny is a telekinetic cat. Where the story loses me though, is when their engineer is lost during a warp drive accident, they open a portal to Earth and recruit a nerdy kid to take his spot.  This show would have been way better if Earth wasn’t involved, in my opinion.

C.O.W.Boys of Moo Mesa
As soon as I started this show, I not only got that it was inspired by the Turtles but by Bravestarr as well.  In fact, not only is the main character played by the same guy that did Bravestarr’s voice (Pat Fraley), he’s using the same exact voice.  It’s a Wild West show that takes place on a different planet populated mostly by bipedal cows, though other humanized animals exist there.  The C.O.W.Boys follow the Code of the West – that’s why the COW is an acronym – which is something they repeat so many times in the first episode I got sick of it.  While we got no real intro to the Street Sharks, this show makes sure you know their names by singing a song that introduces them right after the intro song does.  While the story isn’t particularly bad, there’s nothing real special here, made worse if you had watched Bravestarr before it.

Road Rovers

If you looked at the other cartoons on this list, you’d notice most of these cartoons are pretty low-rent.  The animation’s adequate, the writing stale, the creativity almost non-existent, but you can’t really expect more than that because none of these are from big studios.  But what if someone like WB did one?  You’d get Road Rovers – a superhero cartoon about dogs that get superpowers and crack a whole lot of jokes.  Coming out around the same time as Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, this show obviously doesn’t take itself seriously.  Five dogs are summoned by a ghost or angel or something and are sent out to save the world from other dog-related crimes.  The characters are all stereotypes or imitations of celebrities, their powers are goofy, and the schemes they prevent are just kinda dumb.  But it’s what you expect from the studio that made Freakazoid.  It could have taken itself seriously like Disney’s Mighty Ducks, but I'm not sure anyone would have wanted that.

Monday, September 17, 2018

SepTMNTber - TMNT (2007)

When I found out the Turtles was going to be getting a brand new movie in 2007 and it would be fully computer animated, I was so stoked.  It had been probably fifteen or so years since I'd seen the Turtles - the original cartoon had finished its run after 9 seasons (of which I think I only watched about 5) and the Secret of the Ooze was the last movie I watched.  Keep in mind, I was clueless about the 2003 series.

So when this movie came out, I was so excited.  I saw it in theaters and once it came out on home video, I watched it on my first date with the woman who would become my wife.  Even if the movie sucked, it would still be special to me, but I'm glad I don't have to worry about that.  Going through college for a computer animation degree when this movie came out, I was totally ready to ditch the suits and get to an animated movie. 

The designs of the Turtles themselves are a little weird for me, with their faces being somehow flat, but the animation is pretty great.  I'm glad they decided to go the route of everything being animated instead of live-action with animated Turtles, like Transformers got the same year.  Man, what a year with two of my favorite cartoons from my childhood getting big screen movies.

The movie starts kinda where the 2003 series left off with Shredder defeated.  Without a big enemy to focus on, the Turtles start to drift apart.  Leonardo goes to Central America to finish his training, Raphael goes to patrolling the city for criminals every night, while Donnie and Mikey get actual jobs - Donnie's in tech support and Mikey does birthday parties as "Cowabunga Carl."

April, who is now living with Casey Jones and is an art dealer working for a billionaire named Max Winters, goes to collect a piece and convince Leonardo to return to his brothers.  After saving two citizens from a militia attack, Leo takes April's advice and goes back to New York.  Mikey and Donnie are excited to go back to defending the city, but Leo's immediately berated by Raph for leaving them.  Splinter forbids them to fight until they can do so as a team, but Raph leaves anyway.  Leo also finds out about the Nightwatcher, a vigilante who hunts criminals with extreme violence.

Meanwhile in April's side of the story, she brings Winters a statue, completing a set of 4 figures wearing animal-styled armor.  Winter brings the statues to life, revealing that they were four generals that had been turned to stone and he was their leader, the immortal warlord Yoatl.  With their return, a portal is opened that releases thirteen monsters into New York.  His plan involves capturing the monsters and opening a new portal that would remove their immortality, as he resents his eternal life.  The generals, having just returned to life, aren't keen on his plan and start to plot against him.

So here we are with two huge different stories and you might say Winters's part has nothing to do with anything in the Turtles' history.  There's never been South American demon generals or portals to any dimension besides X.  And to be honest, I love it. We're not rehashing previous stories here, telling a new story that fits the Turtles well without conflicting with other stories.  We still have the Foot Clan here, led by Shredder's adoptive daughter, Karai, but instead of hunting the Turtles, they're working with Winters to capture the beasts.

And here's where the Turtles come in - they're finally allowed to go out and patrol the city and they find a Sasquatch fighting against the Foot.  They're still not supposed to fight but Raph jumps in and the others follow.  It's a great fight scene, lots of action, and it's cool seeing them kick ass against this giant monster.

Raph and Leo fight some more, Raph takes off and Leo goes out looking for him but comes across the Nightwatcher.  After watching him fight another one of the monsters, Leo confronts the Nightwatcher for his violence ways, revealing him to be Raph in a not so amazing twist.  They have a brutal fight on the rooftop, which ends with Leo's swords broken and Raph moments away from killing him. 

Raph realizes what he's doing and runs away, which lets the Generals capture Leo, planning to use him in the place of the last monster and sabotaging Winters's plan.  The rest of the Turtles go to rescue their brother while April (who now knows ninjitsu as well, did I forget to mention that?) and Casey pair up with the Foot Clan to capture the last monster. 

Overall, I think this movie is fantastic.  The animation is great, the action is fast-paced, and I'm glad they ramped up the schism between Raph and Leo to its natural conclusion.  Originally, I wasn't a fan of seeing them always fighting going back to the first movie, if not the comic, but I've accepted it, so to see this final battle between them was pretty satisfying..

The voice cast is a mixed bag with some high points.  Max Winters is played by Patrick Stewart, Chris Evans pre-Captain America is Casey Jones, and Sarah Michelle Gellar plays April.  For the longest time, I thought it was Freddie Prinze Jr as Casey, the couple playing together like in Scooby Doo.  The Turtles themselves are played by established voice actors, with Nolan North being the biggest name as Raph.  I'm really surprised they didn't stunt cast the Turtles, but I'm glad they didn't as their work was well done. Kevin Smith plays a weird cameo that I still don't understand the purpose of.  It does bring up a point that the humor in the movie is a little off.

If you're a fan of the Turtles, you owe it to yourself to watch this.  It's the last good Turtles movie we got, far superior to the newest movies.  Even though it goes in a completely different direction than the Turtles' have gone, I certainly prefer it to changing the stories we know like the Bay produced ones.

Friday, September 14, 2018

SepTMNTber - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)

I'll admit, this show passed me by when it came out.  At the time, I was in the Air Force and working on my own creative projects and didn't have time to watch much in the way of cartoons, and what I did see was generally on Cartoon Network.  Still I caught some of the network shows.  I watched the new He-Man cartoon and a lot of the shows designed by Jeff Matsuda (The Batman, Jackie Chan Adventures), and my personal favorite of the lot, X-Men Evolution.  But somehow this new Turtles series just eluded me.

With the rest of SepTMNTber, I had to give it a watch and I decided to go the route of my Villain Retrospects and check out the first three episodes, just to get a taste of it without going down the Turtle hole, as it were.  And what I discovered is that I really missed out on a good show.

But first, let's talk about that horrible theme song.  For some reason they went against the trend of the early 2000's and had an actual intro song instead of some techno or orchestral music.  I think that was a huge mistake, especially as it had to compare to the far superior theme to the original cartoon.  I mean, why not just update that song?  Why not incorporate parts of it at the very least?  Instead we get "Turtles count it off!" whatever that means.  There's 4 Turtles, we get it, jeez.

Next, I'm looking at the art style, which definitely fits in with the more angular designs and darker colors of its era.   I love the fact that the Turtles took after their original toy designs and got different colored skin and shells.  It's such a cool touch that I wished could have been in the original.  Their white eyes remind me a bit too much of Batman, but it makes sense.  Batman's influence doesn't end there as so much of the show is bathed in black shadows, which suits the Turtles well since, you know, they're ninjas.

The Turtles all fit their respective attitudes, with Raph retaining the angry, rebellions personality, which has him fighting with Leo a lot.  Maybe someone that read the comics could tell me - was Raph always like this, or was it something they came up with for the first movie and everything else just kept it going?  Splinter remains almost the same as his previous incarnation except keeping the origin from the movie (or comics, I need to pick them up someday, but not for SepTMNTber).

April does go back to her comic role as Baxter Stockman's lab assistant, but her introduction to the Turtles remains the same - saved in the sewers, faints, etc.  She's lost the yellow jumpsuit but retains the red hair.  Baxter gets an update from the original cartoon, now he's confident to the point of arrogance, which I certainly prefer.  Shredder makes a few brief appearances in the three episodes I saw, but never in his bladed armor, only wearing a robe and issuing orders to his minions.

Voice work is pretty good, though I don't recognize any of them actors besides Michael Sinterniklaas, who plays Dean in the Venture Bros.  Overall, I think this entry in the Turtles' history shows great promise and I do plan to watch more of it.  I loved the art style, and that there seems to be an overarching story instead of just standalone episodes.  I wish I had caught it as it had come out because I missed a fantastic show that would have kept me hooked.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

SepTMNTber - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation

After the success of the live-action TMNT movie, there was a whole slew of other live-action Turtle projects floating around.  One of the biggest (and definitely worst) was the Coming out of their Shell Tour rock show, which I will not be covering this month because I prefer to keep my sanity.  Another one came from the minds behind the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, Haim Saban, and if you’ve ever seen a Power Ranger show, you still wouldn’t have a clue what was awaiting you.

Before I get into the show, I have to give some credit to the Turtle suits.  Obviously, they’re not going to be one the same level of quality as the movies. Their heads aren’t full of the servos and transceivers and mechanics to move their eyes or lips, but their mouths still move correctly.  The Turtles each wear different styles of bandannas and wraps to differentiate themselves more. Overall, these costumes look way better than those singing monstrosities.

Of course, the main thing anyone would notice when seeing anything about the show is Venus De Milo.  Yes, they made a fifth turtle and this one is female.  Frankly, I’m all for it.  I have no problem with them trying something new, and it made for some real interesting material instead of the same dynamic playing over and over again. 

The story starts with her and her master talking about an evil in another dimension trying to break into ours.  She’s inexperienced but when her master is killed, she finds the next master capable of combating this evil – Master Splinter.  When she meets the Turtles, they’re amazed that there’s another one of them alive, and besides being female, there’s one other difference between them and her.  She’s a Shinobi, a master of the mystic arts.

The Turtles find themselves in a position they had never been in before – rivals for a love interest.  Granted there was some competition for April’s attention, but it was never treated seriously in previous works.  We find out that Turtles aren’t actually related, brothers in the social sense but not biological.  It’s a new way to look at them that the creators go even further with in a later series.  Since they’re not related, none of them are related to Venus either, so she’s fair game, which is a terrible view on life, but whatever, at least it isn’t interspecies.

Of course, being an early Haim Saban series, being released around the same time as Power Rangers Turbo, the series was full of special effects but light on budget for them.  Venus’s shinobi powers were full of blurry sparkles and other effects that were just there to take up space.  It had its share of cheesy costumed monsters, as the Shredder (who looked pretty cool) is put out of commission early on and replaced with the Dragonlord, your typical Power Ranger-style monster.  There’s also plenty of new vehicles, with the Turtles receiving motorcycles and a flashy Turtle-themed Hummer.  I still miss the van though.

Speaking of Power Rangers, there’s a crossover with them!  I don’t think I need to watch it, but it’s interesting seeing the two series together.  Totally makes me wish for other crossovers.

Overall, from the handful of episodes I watched, I didn’t see any major problem with what they were doing.  It could have been loads better, of course, but there are so many ways it could have been worse as well.  I’d check it out for the novelty of it, but it’s not worth going through the whole series.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

SepTMNTber - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is the black sheep of the Turtles trilogy and I’m not exactly sure why. I know it’s a departure from their escapades fighting the Foot Clan and there’s no Shredder, but I’m not seeing a major difference in quality here.  The Turtles still look good, and it retains its trademark sense of humor, and most of the cast is the same – they even brought back Elias Koteas as Casey Jones and Corey Feldman as Donatello.

I’m not here to talk smack about the movie because I don’t hate or even dislike it.  If that’s what you want, you should check out Cinemassacre’s figurative and literal bashing of the movie. I do have major questions on why they decided to do what they did, but it’s not enough to leave me disappointed or frustrated.

The main story we’re dealing with here is a relic teleports April into feudal Japan, and the Turtles must travel through time to rescue her.  It’s a time tested (pun intended) formula and it really works here considering a quarter of what the Turtles are is Ninja and that’s where it was born, if not when it was too.  They’re able to disguise themselves as the daimyo’s honor guard, rescue April, overthrow an Englishman’s plot for power, and go back to their own time.

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop is out as the puppeteers for the Turtles, and their absence is noticed.  The Turtles still look really good and have the same functionality as before, but there’s a bit of life missing from them.  The voice cast is still at it and Feldman’s return is definitely appreciated.  It was weird hearing him as Donatello in the first movie, but after the bland portrayal in the second one by Leif Tilden, who was the actor in the suit as well, was doubly disappointing because of Donatello’s focus in the story.  While Feldman doesn’t get any breakout scenes In this movie, the recognizable voice helps elevate him a bit.

Since Raphael and Leonardo got the focus in the first movie, and Donatello in the second, you'd think this time Michelangelo would get some big scenes in this movie, but you'd be wrong.  I mean, they tried doing that with Mikey wanting to stay in the past, but he only got two scenes to talk about it, so it surprises you in the end.  I wish he got more scenes to show his desire to stay, slowly learning more about it and liking what he finds.  It's undercut thought because Raphael has the same progression to the same conclusion, so Mikey's decision doesn't stand out.

April plays a bigger role here than the second film, which allows Paige Turco to show she’s the superior April, looking like the cartoon and showing some attitude.  The Turtles are rubbing off on her – uh, that sounds gross after they schwing’d her.  I was pretty disappointed that Casey Jones got nothing to do.  Elias plays him with his typical bravado, but I’m not sure what the point was of having him play another guy in the past.  If he wasn’t tied to Casey Jones’s past, what’s the point?

My biggest problem with the film is that going to the past in Japan could have still been linked to the Turtles’ history.  The writers could have easily had the Turtles run into Uroko Saki’s or Hamoto Yoshi’s ancestors, or an early Foot Clan, tying in themes from current times.  Maybe the Turtles go full circle, helping to establish the Foot Clan?  Maybe some weird stories from Splinter’s past are finally explained by learning of their involvement with the Hamoto family?  As it is, facing off against some generic English trader and his crew and saving a generic Japanese daimyo felt pretty... meh to me.  And what was with that scroll showing the Turtles as some legendary demons.  What was that about?  It didn't even lead to any big revelation!  It's such a missed step that could have made this movie way better.

Friday, September 7, 2018

SepTMNTber - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

After the massive success of TMNT the movie, everyone I knew went crazy waiting for the sequel.  What got me most excited was all the rumors that we’d be seeing Bebop and Rocksteady – Shredder’s mutant minions – on the screen. If they could bring the Turtle’s to life so well, imagine what they could do with the big bad boar and the rampaging rhino! 

The movie starts with Keno, a martial artist/pizza delivery man, being saved by the Turtles in some weird subterranean shopping mall.  Gone were the last movie’s intense fighting, replaced by some major slapstick where the Turtles fight with whiffle bats and coldcuts.  I won’t deny laughing my ass off during the fight, but I didn’t know why they weren’t employing the weapons they were known for.  Much later I found out it was a studio mandate that they couldn’t use their trademark weapons for most of the movie because the previous movie was deemed too violent for some tastes.

Keno eventually discovers the Turtles’ hideout – in April’s apartment after their sewer den was destroyed in the first movie – and becomes a sort of sidekick to them.  Keno is played by Ernie Reyes Jr. who wore the Donatello suit before and was upgraded to his own role, replacing Casey Jones in the process.  Speaking off replacement, April O’Neil is played now by Paige Turco, who some would say looked closer to the cartoon material.  I know I was happier with her in the role.

Tatsu, Shredder’s second-in-command and near mute, is now running what is left of the Foot Clan in the local dump, which is so convenient since he survived being crushed in a garbage truck and climbs out of the heaps to take back control.  Too bad Casey Jones is gone and Shredder can’t take revenge on him, it would have been a nice scene, even if it went against the movie’s cleaner image.  Instead, he puts out word – the Foot Clan is recruiting again and wants anyone with martial arts experience so he can defeat the Turtles.

The story ramps up when a foot soldier in disguise as April’s cameraman discovers a giant dandelion at the nuclear facility, a product of toxic waste contamination.  Shredder sees the potential and has a scientist kidnapped so he can create his own mutants.

This is the time all of us have been waiting for – Bebop and Rocksteady!  Bebop and Rocksteady!  And what do we get?  A slobbering wolf and another turtle… Tokka And Rahzar.  I will never in my entire life understand why they went this route.  Were they trying to steer away from the cartoon?  I read somewhere that the creators of the Turtles, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird didn’t want any of the characters from the cartoon to appear, but considering the overall feel of the movie was more cartoonish, why not go with already established characters?  And when it’s revealed that these two mutants are babies and consider Shredder their mother, how much more cartoony could you get?!

Continued from the original film, Raphael and Leonardo still don’t see eye to eye, even if their conflict isn’t a central role.  Raph wants to use Keno to infiltrate the Foot, Leo doesn’t want to risk it, and Keno is all for it.  They argue, but there’s no fighting between them.  Instead Donatello gets elevated to main character, with the discovery of the nuclear waste, the titular Ooze, causing him to question his creation.  Was he a mistake, an accident?  It’s really nice to see another Turtle get the focus, especially Donnie, since he had nothing to really do previously.  After saving the TGRI scientist from Shredder, he’s able to apply some more of his mental ability, helping to create an anti-mutagen that could revert Tokka and Rahzar to animals. 

The movie famously ends with a showdown between the Turtles and the Foot’s mutants which spills into a Vanilla Ice concert.  I don’t have to tell you how freaking weird it is that the rapper already had a song prepared for their arrival and then Turtles already had a dance rehearsed for it.  There’s no point even talking about it – just watch it again.

Defeated again, Shredder reveals he has one final vial of the ooze, which he gulps down.  Somehow mutating into a bigger version of himself, including his costume growing more spikes, Shredder chases the Turtles down a pier before bringing it down on himself.  Regular Shredder survives being crushed in a garbage truck, but Super Shredder dies when a few boards fall on him?  It’s a bit anti-climactic, but at least he looked cool.

This movie had a lot to live up to – the first movie came out the previous year and us kids expected another action-and-rage-filled martial arts film with two new massive mutant punks.  Instead, we got slapstick humor and two ugly baby monsters… And it was still an awesome movie!  The Turtles looked great again, with lighter costumes that allowed for better movement, and Tokka and Rahzar looked terrifying.  Tokka, the snapping turtle was my favorite, a huge spiky version of the Turtles that looked like the cartoon character, Slash.  Overall, I loved this movie as much as the first one, even with the shift in tone and the silly dance number at the end.  I left the theater 3 times, thinking of what could possibly show up in the next one.  Maybe we’d get lucky and Krang would replace Shredder as the main villain!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

SepTMNTber - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie

When I found out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was coming to movie theaters, I was beyond thrilled.  I had missed the Transformers movie in theaters, but I was old enough to see TMNT on my own. But when I heard the movie would be live action with actors in turtle suits – holy crap, that was on a whole new level.  I couldn’t even imagine what other cartoons would look like in live action; surely, there could never be a live action Transformers movie.
The movie opens with a skinny redhead with tight curls who called herself April O’Neil.  I didn’t know who this woman was, but she was no April. They even tried tricking us by putting her in a yellow raincoat.  I’ve since groan on her performance, but as a pre-pubescent boy, I was totally disappointed.

But what kid really watched this movie for the human characters?  I wanted to see real life Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles running through the sewer and kicking butt.  Even just hearing them beating up the Foot Clan as they fought in shadows was good enough for me, since I got to see the Turtles just a few moments later in the sewers.  And holy crap, did they look awesome!
Jim Henson Creature Shop created the costumes, which included fully-articulated heads.  Eyes rolled around, eyebrows furrowed, mouths opened and closed, and the lips flapped in multiple places.  These were definitely not the kind of costume you’ve ever seen before. The Turtles moved as if they were alive, like the suits didn’t impede the actors inside at all.  Their skin was mottled and marked with way more detail than the cartoon had ever shown.
Another thing that was never in the cartoon were swear words, so when I heard Raphael say, “Damn!” I was stunned.  Sure, I had heard that Spike said shit in the Transformers movie, but since I hadn’t seen it in theaters and it was edited out of home releases, damn was still sacred, as it was said by Ultra Magnus right before his death, so for Raphael to say it just for losing a sai, and to scream it later, was a big deal.
I can’t say if it showed up in the comics, but for me it was the first time seeing Raphael so angry.  Not only is he cussing up a storm (relatively speaking), but he’s openly fighting with Leonardo, even pushing him around.  His temper gets him in trouble, too, being ambushed by the Foot Clan and almost killed. Raphael’s attitude became the focal point in this movie, along with Leonardo for clashing against it, which unfortunately marginalized Michelangelo and Donatello.  Mikey got a few good pizza jokes, especially his late delivery proverb, but the movie’s more grounded reality means Donnie didn’t get a chance to show off his technical genius, besides trying to fix April’s van.
Another big change to the movie is the Turtles’ sensai, Splinter.  Instead of being a human turned into a rat, the movie flipped his origin, making him a pet to Hamato Yoshi that had watched his master die.  Just like the cartoon, it doesn’t really spell out how he made it into the sewers, but having watched his master teach, he still learned enough to train the Turtles after their mutation.  I never understood why they made the change, besides maybe the additional depth Yoshi’s death gives us, but we did get some great animation of a rat teaching 4 baby turtles high kicks out of it, so I don’t mind.
Rounding out the allies is Casey Jones.  I don’t remember him showing up in the cartoon much, but he got a huge role here as a both Raphael’s rival and later as April’s love interest.  Not that I ever wanted April to have a love interest, but for some reason they threw that in. He’s played to perfection by Elias Koteus and even wears his trademark hockey mask a few times while wielding cricket bats and hockey sticks. He even later commits manslaughter! Yay!

Since the movie makes strains to ground the story in reality with only the Turtles being the stand out fantastical element, Shredder is the only recognizable enemy. No more Krang or robotic foot soldiers, no Bebop and Rocksteady. All he has is a gang of street punks learning martial arts and a big bald dude with a limited vocabulary. At least they keep his costume kinda faithful, especially with the helmet. Another great thing they kept from the early episodes is Shredder kicking the Turtles' asses. The final fight scene in this movie is downright awesome with some great choreography and the Turtles being completely outclassed. It's not until Splinter shows up and Shredder sees the rat that had mangled his face that Shredder loses his composure and is defeated.
As a kid, I didn't understand most of the changes that were made to the Turtles and their world, but I didn't have trouble accepting it.  But one thing I honestly hated is the change to April's boss, from funny Burne Thompson to boring Charles Pennington and his idiot punk kid, Danny.  Both of these characters were terrible and I hated them.  I don't even have a rational hatred for him, but man, I just do.  Danny was easily the worse of the two, since he obviously didn't appreciate how awesome the Turtles were.  Come on, Danny!  They're giant Turtles, show some real awe or something!
Overall, this movie succeeded at the incredible feat of bringing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to life.  Some sacrifices were made bringing it to the movie screen, but the one thing that really mattered was Jim Henson's Creature Shop's work, and I could really believe the Turtles were real. They moved and spoke and smiled and fought like we expected, and most of all, they kicked shell.

Monday, September 3, 2018

SepTMNTber - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been a huge part of my life ever since the first cartoon debuted in 1987.  I watched the show religiously, I had as many of the toys as my parents could afford, and I was even a member of their fan club, which came with stickers and a TMNT bandana.  I think I still have it somewhere, I should really dig that out. 

Before I go any further, I do know that the cartoon is based on a comic book.  I won't go into it much because I have never read it.  I should, but it just hasn't ever happened.  Besides, Old School Evil has always been about the cartoons and the movies based on them, and I've shied away from comics as much as possible.  A long time ago, I even made a post about how cartoons based off other media wouldn't be covered here (I specifically mention Real Ghostbusters, which really bums me out that I can't talk about it here).  But I don't consider TMNT to fall into that since I and the majority of the cartoon's watchers hadn't heard of the comic when the show came out.  Whew.

Starting with that awesome theme song, kids were fed 30 minutes of awesome action, great humor, incredible character design, and more than a few disgusting pizza combinations.  Let's start with that awesome theme song, which tells you everything you need to know, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, give it a listen and you'll be caught up in a minute.

Do you get it now?  You've got four turtles named after renaissance painters and taught ninjitsu by a giant rat, fight a guy named Shredder, eat pizza like crazy, and talk in surfer slang.  It does a perfect job of filling you in and sounds freaking awesome at the same time.

Let's get into the characters, starting with the titular Turtles's leader, Leonardo.  He's the most mature of the Turtles, the most responsible, and in most cases, the most boring. He's nobody's favorite, which is a shame because he's the best fighter of the group with the most badass weapons, the katana.  I'm not sure what has made him the leader of the group, but he definitely seems to be Splinter's favorite.  Leo, as he's often called, is played by Cam Clarke, who had other roles like He-Man in the 2000's Masters of the Universe cartoon.

Next up is Donatello.  While I was purely a Raphael fan as a kid, I've leaned much closer to Donnie as an adult.  "Does machines" is a total understatement, as he graduates from just building vehicles and communications devices all the way to dimensional portals later in the series.  He was always amazed by any technology he finds, like the Mousers and anything on the Technodrome.  He's a master of the bo staff, but isn't above using whatever technological weapon he can get his hands on.  He's voiced by Barry Gordon, who voiced the Orbots Commander in Mighty Orbots.

Third, it's Raphael, who's "cool but rude," which is about all I ever strived to be as a kid.  Raph was the joker of the bunch, and I probably got my snarky sense of humor from him and him alone.  He was hilarious, providing half of the humor of the show, along with Michelangelo.  "No sword on Earth can resist his sai," Splinter says about him.  While I'd seen katanas, staves, and nunchucks before the show, this was the first I'd ever seen of sais and I totally wanted a pair.  He was voiced by Rob Paulson, who has too many voice credits to count, most notably Yakko from the Animaniacs. 

Lastly, there's Michelangelo, everyone else's favorite turtle.  He talked like a surfer dude and introduced a generation to radical, gnarly, and cowabunga.  He was always ordering the grossest pizzas, like peanut butter and anchovies.  Mikey was portrayed as the least serious and dumbest turtle, and I never understood the appeal of him.  He primarily used nunchucks, but it was later replaced by a grappling hook.  Swords are okay but nunchucks?  Hell no. He's played by Townsend Coleman, who famously played the Tick.

Their teacher, Splinter was originally named Hamato Yoshi, sensai of the Foot Clan in Japan. Disgraced by his rival, Oroku Saki, he fled to New York, where he took up residence in the sewers.  When four baby turtles fell on him and they were doused in radioactive waste, they became humanoid, while Hamato turned into a half-rat.  He's your typical wise teacher, ready to impart wisdom on his pupils, the mend any disagreements among them, and to kick some serious Foot clan ass if needed.  He was portrayed by Peter Renaday, who really doesn't have any outstanding voice roles.  Grapple from Tranformers, maybe?

Last of their allies is April O'Neil, the yellow-jump-suited reporter saved by the Turtles and perpetual Foot Clan kidnap victim.  She's always finding herself in danger with the Turtles forced to rescue her from ever increasing peril.  The first real crush of a generation of kids, she somewhere was given the most smokin' of looks.  She sometimes acts as the informant for the Turtles, and has to hide their secret from the rest of her news crew, including Irma, her nerdy assistant.  She's played by Renae Jacobs who went on to do no voice work after this series.  Why not?  I thought she did a good job.

Now let's look at some villains.  I've covered Shredder before in great depth, so click the links if you want to check it out here and here.  He's the leader of the Foot Clan after getting Yoshi kicked out.  He's got an army of Foot Clan robots, which makes me think he was also kicked out of the real Foot Clan and replaced them it with his mechanical followers.  He's voiced by the great James Avery, who played Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince.

Left out of the intro are the rest of the baddies, including Shredder's partner and sometimes rival, Krang.  Krang's a big brain from Dimension X, and the supplier of Shredder's technological weapons, probably including the Foot Clan robots.  Originally stranded in a little walker, Krang is upgraded to a big stupid-looking robot in the 4th episode by Shredder.  But if he needed Shredder to build it, did Shredder make his own robots?  I don't know!

Lastly, we'll cover Bebop and Rocksteady. While initially in Shredder's employ as your basic street punks, they were exposed to the same mutagen that mutated the Turtles in an attempt to make them strong enough to defeat them.  Paired with the most powerful animals they could find, Bebop was mutated to a boar, and Rocksteady to a rhino.  The two became real powerhouses, but were still no match for the Turtles because they were dumb as hell.  Bebop shared voice actors with Donatello (Gordon), while Rocksteady was voiced by Cam Clarke (Leonardo).

The characters finally done, let's talk about the cartoon itself.  It had some seriously great animation and character design.  The Turtles were given color-coded bandanas to tell them apart, along with their initials on their belts.  Shredder was covered with these spiked plates, the Foot Clan robots had this weird hunched body-style, and Krang had these weird tendrils and looked like a spine along the top of his body.  The show had a perfect balance between weird but not gross designs.  One more character that showed this perfectly is Baxter Stockman, a scientist that Shredder mutated with a fly.  I remember having this toy and it's such a great design.  They could have easily gone too far with his looks, but the fact that he even kept his bowtie keeps him on this side of cool looking.

The show had a pretty high level of violence, which is hard to avoid when  your hero is swinging a pair of swords, which they got around by making the enemies primarily robots.  Just like how killing off the Autobots in the Transformers movie was supposedly just fine because they weren't human, TMNT gets away with destroying their robots in some really satisfying ways, usually blowing up in a cloud of parts.

Like I said before, the humor of the show comes mostly from Raph's smart-ass comments or Mikey's slang.  Other than that, you had Shedder and Krang's bickering and Bebop and Rocksteady's stupidity.  It makes for a very funny cartoon that captured the attention of a whole generation. 

This cartoon was certainly something special when it came out, starting a whole new trend in Saturday morning with half-human/half-whatever mutant characters.  I'm going to cover some of them in a later post this month.  It even inspired me to make up a couple of mutant creature cartoons for Old School Evil!  But unlike most of the shows it inspired, TMNT somehow lived on - it expanded  to the silver screen with a handful of movies and it was reinvented into just as many different series. 

TMNT is still going strong today, which a new series premiering on Nickelodeon this month.  It's a big change from this original show (still not the biggest change, though), but the core idea stays the same - four turtles kicking ass.