In the late 80s and early 90s, there was a period when creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were forced to stop working on their original flagship creation (the Mirage TMNT comics) in order to manage their flourishing media empire. During this time, they let other creators go wild on the series, creating some truly inventive, bizarre, and definitely controversial stories that bristled many fans of the mainline continuity. But taken in the proper context, as non-canonical anthology of alternative takes, they’re an absolute blast.
Which brings us to Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nickelodeon’s new show jettisons nearly all of the Turtles’ mythos and even deeply rooted character traits. Raph’s the leader, Leo’s a quipster, April’s a normal teenager, Splinter is a disgusting slob, and so far there’s nary a Shredder in sight. The turtles are all different species (a huge difference from the traditional canon in which it’s intentionally ambiguous whether they are blood siblings). It’s not the “true” TMNT in any way, shape, or fashion.
And yet, for what it is, this reinvention (not adaptation) mostly works. Dazzlingly animated, Rise is highly stylized and energetic, serving up bite-sized 11-minute episodes that are big blasts of all fun, no substance.
Overall, this collection serves up a bunch of fun episodes with no particular connection or ongoing narrative. So far, this iteration of TMNT is clearly designed to just have fun and make with the yuks — the polar opposite of the epic 2012 series which focused on long-term storytelling, a solid emotional core, and deep character arcs.
The first DVD, simply called Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, collects seven episodes from the show’s first season. They’re non-consecutive per the series numbering, but the sequence doesn’t matter since they’re all pretty much quick stand-alone tales with no ongoing narrative. Here’s an overview of the episodes.
Double-length (22 minute) pilot shows how the Turtles acquire their new weapons and first encounter new archvillain Baron Draxum. Oddly, it’s the villain’s only appearance on this DVD as the other episodes delve into various comedic scenarios without any throughline. Honestly it’s probably the least interesting of the episodes: this new series excels at comedy over plot, and the other vignettes are more fun.
The Turtles follow a “paper trail” to tangle with Foot mystics who imbue their origami creations with life to create an army of monsters.
Donatello presents his brothers with new gear, but with ulterior motives. They’re embedded with tech to forcibly curb their worst tendencies: Raph’s poor planning, Leo’s annoying quips, and Mikey’s hazardous nature. Donnie’s gifts backfire when the Turtles enter into battle, completely thrown off by their new limitations.
War and Pizza
April’s new job at a Chuck E. Cheese style pizza party restaurant gets derailed when an animatronic character goes on the fritz. Donnie tries to save the day by fixing it up with some new AI, but the newly sentient band-leading bear goes on a rampage.
The guys discover they can roam Times Square freely, and make some bank, by dressing as mascots — to the delight of customers but not the other costumers, leading to a confrontation in epic dance-off form.
Shell in a Cell
Raph and Leo’s rivalry accidentally goes public when they inadvertently become wrestling stars by falling into the rink. Everything’s great for new World Champ Leo until he realizes he actually needs to defend his title against, you know, real wrestlers.
The Turtles discover a hidden nexus for the strangest denizens of NYC (seemingly modeled after Hellboy II’s Troll Market) and enter a Pizzeria’s labyrinth which promises victors the world’s greatest pizza — provided they don’t cheat.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes in a slick looking DVD with an embossed metallic slipcover. It looks nice. Aside from the obvious complaints inherent to Nickelodeon’s usual release strategy (DVDs with a smattering of episodes instead of proper full-season Blu-rays), the DVD itself is technically lacking, with no subtitles or captions, and interlaced picture in the Year of our Lord 2019. In fairness, this still looked fairly decent on my 65″ TV.
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.