I have been through a lot as a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. During my formative years, I lived for the four brothers in green. I had the toys, I watched the shows, the movies, and played the video games. Hell, the reason I can read is because, at the age of 6, my mother bought me a copy of Issue 25 of the Adventures of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Archie comics, a comic book that I still have in my collection to this day! To be honest, I owe a lot to this franchise for shaping me into the person I am today thanks to the long history I have with the original 1989 cartoon series and the lessons it contained.
Like I said, I’ve been through a lot as a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A lot of early content I did on this site was TMNT related. I did a top 10 list of the toys I never had as a kid, one of my favorite nostalgic articles; I also ranked the movies from worst to best as I led a charge for more TMNT content before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows arrived in cinemas and I reviewed it. I think the only piece of TMNT related content I didn’t do personally on this site was the review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, which was done by fellow TMNT fanboy Keith Mitchell.
So when Rise of the TMNT was announced, you bet your ass I was going to cover this closely. Coming off the back of the very successful reboot that ran from 2012 to 2017, which featured probably one of the best versions of the brothers to date; blending in elements from every piece of TMNT media out there, from the original Mirage comic books, the 1989 cartoon, the more recent IDW comic books, the movies and everything in between… All done with a sense of pride and reverence for the media that came before it. I was wondering how Nickelodeon, the owners of the brand after buying it out completely from Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, the creators of the franchise.
I’m not going to sugar cost this at all… I have HATED the idea of Rise of the TMNT from the very moment it was announced. Everything from the first image of the show, to the trailer and even the toys I have covered and spit upon along the way. Well, now I have to finish my duty. Much like when I wrote an opinion piece about how badly Ghostbusters was going to suck and then followed it up with a review of the film, I’m going to finish up covering Rise of the TMNT by looking at some of the many, many issues of the new cartoon series.
Thankfully, as a special surprise after the SDCC Rise of the TMNT panel, Nickelodeon announced that it was going to put up a sneak peek of the show, which contained the whole first episode along with segments of 3 other episodes which are split into A and B parts (Episode 2 only has Part A, Episode 3 has A & B, Episode 4 has A) so fans could get an idea of what is in store for them when the show actually debuts properly on Nickelodeon in September 2018. Here’s a brief breakdown of each episode so you get an idea of what is in store for us come September.
Episode 1: Mystic Mayhem
The Turtles discover for the first time that they are not the weirdest things in New York when they encounter two villains from the Hidden City pursuing a teleporting cat-like alien. This leads the brother, and April, to have their first encounter with Baron Draxum who is making mutants with the help of his Oozesquitos. Baron Draxum sees the brothers as the pinnacle of mutation and tries to capture them and turn the TMNT to his side to become his minions. The brothers refuse and fight their way out of Draxum’s lair and save the cat-like alien.
Episode 2a: Origami Tsunami
Longing for the excitements of hero life, Leo talks the team into tracking down the paper thief duo currently stalking the city. In doing so, the Turtles run into the Foot Clan and their mystic ability to create origami warriors. There is no Shredder and the Foot Soldiers are pretty crappy.
Episode 3a: War and Pizza
In order to save April’s job at Albearto’s Pizza, Donnie upgrades the main animatronic, a Pizza making bear named Albearto, only for it to gain sentience when hit by a lightning bolt. Using the energy Albearto obtained from the bolt, he goes out of control and beings creating havoc at the Pizza shop, leaving April and the TMNT to face off against Albearto and his mechanical friends in a fight that ultimately destroys Albearto’s Pizza and costing April her job anyway. Very Five Nights at Freddies feel to the episode and a small stand out from the pack.
Episode 3b: Newsworthy
Former news anchor Warren Stone, now mutant worm, gets in the way of the Turtles as they track down Hypno-Potamus. Calling himself the TMNT’s greatest rival, Stone creates a series of traps that end up distracting the TMNT while they hunt down the bigger enemy of the episode. Eventually, though acquiring a mystic gem, Stone is able to go from being a joke to a formidable enemy, only to change sides and help the TMNT when Hypno-Potamus traps the brothers.
Episode 4a: Repo Mantis
Mikey and Donnie try to get a movie prop vehicle from a repo yard, where they fall into a scrapping trap set by the junkyard’s owner Repo Mantis. (Editor Note: Not too sure about this episode since this is where I completely tuned out and stopped caring)
If there is something that you can tell about Rise of the TMNT right from the get-go, without getting into the details, is the lack of tone with the episodes and their stories. We know that the producers have split the show into halves for the most part because they want to tell more stories, but one of the best things about the two more recent TMNT shows (The 2002 and 2012 versions respectively) had a solid tone to the episodes and an overall story arc to tell with each season. Rise of the TMNT has no tone except stupid and there is no overall narrative to be seen at all. Given that this is meant to be an era in which we see the TMNT grow into the formidable ninjas that they are in other shows, there is nothing at all to show that progress or anything. These brothers don’t learn anything, don’t improve at all from episode to episode, and most annoying of all; they actually feel like a very lazy regression from all aspects.
Now let’s get into the more detailed aspects of Rise of the TMNT and maybe you’ll begin to understand why I’m calling this series the worst since Next Mutation…
Ok, let’s start with the main stars of the show, the TMNT themselves. I know they aren’t biological brothers (and never have been) and this leads to the designs being different for each one of them, which to be honest is not such a bad thing as it makes them easy to work out who is who. However, when it comes to personality, things are just all over the place.
The easiest one to speak about is Donatello, the “smarter” one of the group. He uses a bow staff that has been outfitted with a bunch of technology that can help get himself out of just about any situation. I put the word “smarter” in quotations here because Donatello will do so say something smart then follow it up with a goofy dumb gesture or joke or reference (Like “Based upon our entry vector and speed I concur…. RAD!” now imagine that last part with arms crossed over his chest like a rapped with tongue hanging out of his face and large goofy eyes) that just takes away from everything he just said or did. It’s almost like the writers are afraid to have someone actually sound smart on this show.
The next one hit with the stupid stick is Leonardo, the old leader of the crew. What was one a cool and calm ninja is replaced with a clumsy, trips over everything, doopy thing that can barely swing a sword properly. I don’t know why they decided to pull the character waaaaay back this way, but it’s a complete insult to the character. Leonardo is meant to be the responsible one, the straight man, the one who helps teach the others to become better. At this point in the show, he seems miles behind everyone else and could never catch up.
Raphael, the replacement leader, is dumber than a ton of bricks. He has no leadership skills at all, often allowing everyone else to just go off and do anything, even make the plans for the group. I know he is meant to be the heavy, but that is no reason to make him dumb as shit. Raph is a rebel, but they took that away and tried to make him the center point for the show since he is usually the most popular one. However, in this instance, they have taken away what made him marketable and replaced it with something that just does not work.
And Michelangelo is Mikey… no real way to mess that up. If anything, Mikey comes out as one of the more normal and well-rounded members of the group since he is meant to be reckless and goofy, so that style works for him.
Together, the brothers just come off as stupid and goofy, not unskilled like we were promised. They’d rather zip line over obvious villains in order to dive into a rooftop pool than actually fight crime. This was shown in the opening shot, showing that this TMNT is going to be nothing like anything we’ve seen before. Then to add to the stupidity, in one episode the TMNT are given special glowing weapons to replace their old ones, which work sometimes. The whole set up smells of lazy writing for a quick paycheck.
Then we have April… Oh god. I’m just going to say that making her character “black” is just the icing on the shit cake here. April is overly aggressive, more thirsty for blood and fights than even the Turtles are. She will jump right into a fight without any backup and often will get her ass kicked. She speaks in a manner that can only be described as “Ghetto” for the most part, using a lot of “street” speak when talking to anyone. She shows no respect for anyone at all no matter the situation. To be honest, I don’t want to be one of those white people who gets offended on behalf of people of color, but damn! April is offensive to people of color in a way that I didn’t even think was possible. I know the writers wanted to make April more than the damsel in distress that she was in the first cartoon, but the character has evolved and become better in later versions. The 2012 version of April is possibly the best one out there, and they didn’t need to make her into a bloodthirsty lunatic to achieve that.
Remember in the toy reveal that when I got to Splinter I instantly went “what the fuck was that!?”? Well, the cartoon has done nothing to make him better. Splinter is no longer a wise rat who actually wants to take on the Foot Clan, take down Shredder, or even want to teach his own pupils the skills they will need to become great ninjas. This version of Splinter just wants to sit in a chair, eating crap and watching weird Japanese TV shows all the time. When asked for advice, he gives a fart as a reply instead of using actual words, then falls asleep. To think about all the other versions of Splinter out there, even the worst ones like the Bay Turtles version kept to the idea of Splinter as a mentor and teacher whereas this one is nothing remotely near that.
Now, of course, the TMNT need villains, and Rise of the TMNT is said to have many new and interesting villains for the group to fight. During the course of the 5 segments that are previewed, we actually see things like Warren Storm (a mutated worm), Repo Mantis (a mutated Mantis… duh), Hypno-Potimus (a mutated magician combined with a Hippo) and the much-publicized Baron Draxum, played by WWE Superstar John Cena. Now so far these villains have been hit and miss. Hypno-Potimus actually looked and acted like a decent villain as he had magic on his side to take on the brothers with, but instead, he gets pushed to the side in order to focus on a joke of a worm character. Repo Mantis acted like a manipulating bully, but there was no real reason for him to be involved or seem to have any motivation at all. But none of that is anything to bitch about compared to what they did with Baron Draxum.
Baron Draxum seems like the type of character that could be a long-running villain. He’s big, intimidating, has a great motivation in wanting to create the perfect mutant and take over the world. But all that is undone the second he sees the TMNT. At that moment, we get sparkles, love hearts and a cutesy face with tears in his eyes. Sorry guy, but at that point, you are just another joke character. That seems to be the whole issue with Rise of the TMNT at this point; no one is allowed to see intimidating or as a treat at all. Everything needs to be as toned down and non-threatening as possible. Here you have a villain that could be great, but you ruin him inside of 10 seconds of introducing him for a “aren’t they beautiful” gag. Sure, for the rest of the episode Baron Draxum was fighting the TMNT and using them as punching bags, all the while saying how great they could be if they only trained under him and all that stuff; but by then how could you take a villain that does the face above seriously after that?
That’s what they seem to do with everything on Rise of the TMNT. For example, as I’ve mentioned before, we have the story “Newsworthy” which features Warren Storm, a former reporter who was turned into a worm and his delusional enough to call himself the greatest foe of the TMNT, even blaming them for his current condition. Now once upon a time, we would have seen this happen, an event showing how Storm was investigating the TMNT for a news story only to get caught in an explosion or something. You know, build some background and sympathy to the character in order to understand why he has this obsession with the TMNT. But nope, we get nothing of that. Instead, we get shot after shot of Storm being annoying and getting in the way of battle during other adventures. So what do we get for the whole episode? MORE STORM BEING ANNOYING!! While we get a much better villain in Hypno-Potimus get pushed to being a background character until the final act. Even with the close of the episode, does Storm learn anything? NO! Does he become friends with the crew? NO! It was a waste of 12 minutes from start to finish!
Hell, the only episode I could actually recommend is Episode 3a: War and Pizza. The whole episode plays out like a parody/homage to Five Night’s at Freddy’s. It’s a great episode full of horror and action that actually sets itself apart from the rest of the show and features a villain that is a lot deeper than given credit for. I don’t even want to ruin the episode it’s that good. So go watch that one and for the love of god stay away from Episode 3b: Newsworthy.
Here we go, the main event. The biggest problem I’m having with Rise of the TMNT in general: the animation. Rise of the TMNT just looks low quality, with models being all over the place at the best of times. All you need to do is look at some of the screenshots I pulled from the previews to see that this looks like something out of the Ren & Stimpy age of lazy animation. Now I’m used to animation quality drops from time to time in a lot of shows, after all I’ve seen Dragon Ball Super. So I can deal with quality drops, but a lot of this shit looks intentional. I’m not too sure who the animation studio is, but this looks like crap, and worse than crap, crap made on a small budget. Maybe I’m just not seeing the visual appeal here since I don’t watch things like Regular Show, Stephen Universe, and most other modern day crap; so I just don’t understand today’s animation style.
Animation can be good and there are shows over the years that show that perfectly, but Rise of the TMNT is not going to be one of them. Even crowd and background shots, like the one you see above from my favorite episode “War and Pizza”, look cheap and trashy. The eye models on that blonde kid in the center of the screen just look wrong. I know the idea of the show is that everything is faster paced, but it doesn’t mean that the animation needs to look like that too. Even the more overly cartoony style of the late 2002 series (The Fast Forward era) didn’t look this sloppy but it was a faster pace of show. Frankly, if this and ThunderCats Roar are the future of great franchises like ThunderCats and TMNT, then I’m done. Time to sell up and ship out… oh god, that’s what this all reminds me of… Deviant Art accounts and FanFiction.net scripts.
I can already hear the defenders on the doorstep shouting that maybe this version of the TMNT is not for people like me, that my era is long dead and I need to leave it to the next generation, the young kids that this is meant to entertain. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. As someone not only is an older brother to a child of the next generation but as someone who grew up through all previous versions of TMNT, I feel that there is only so much that should be shown to future generations. Luckily, my brother has access to my collection of cartoons and TV shows, giving him a great library of QUALITY versions of these franchises to watch. Hell, he won’t watch things like Teen Titans GO, which is meant for his age group, because I got him to watch the quality of Teen Titans and Young Justice. It’s up to us, the older and more knowledgeable fans to protect the next generation of fans that are going to watch things like this. When crap like this becomes the first thing that people begin to watch, it creates a decline from which it is hard to recover from. In a world where everything is going to hell in a handbasket, can’t we at least try to defend something from the army of stupidity that rules this current media landscape? Yes, we should. We learned from Next Mutation, so should we learn from this before it’s too late.