We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in the middle of a huge resurgence thanks to the awesome IDW comic book as well as the new Nickelodeon cartoon. Personally, I am not a fan of the new cartoon. I like some things about the series (the show’s version of Mikey is fantastic), but there is much about the series that does not tickle my fancy (I don’t like the overall tone, the Kraang annoy me, and I am not in favor of the show’s version of my favorite Turtle, Donatello). I am clearly in the minority when it comes to my feelings on the show, and I am at least grateful to it for helping bring the Ninja Turtles back into the forefront of pop culture. It does make me sad though that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) often gets overlooked completely.
After the failure that was the 1997-1998 live action series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, the heroes-in-a-half shell were shamed into taking a 5 year break from the small screen. The Next Mutation was bad you guys. Seriously, there were no real redeeming qualities. The Turtles returned in 2003, and this time it was once again in animated form. The 2003 series offered us an adaptation that was much closer to the original Eastman and Laird Mirage Studio comic books. Don’t worry, Leonardo still leads and Donatello still does machines (that is indeed a fact, jack!), however the series does differ greatly from the original cartoon. I will get it out of the way right now: Bebop and Rocksteady are not in this cartoon. That is without a doubt one of the biggest complaints that I see about this show. Krang, the Technodrome, and the Turtles’ obsession with pizza are all also absent. The Shredder was no longer a bumbling oaf; this time he was actually competent! Oh, and Leatherhead isn’t Cajun, I guarantee!
Baxter Stockman and April O’Neil were also vastly different from their 80s incarnations as well as being more faithful to their original comic book counterparts. Baxter Stockman was now an African-American instead of a white guy that gets mutated into a humanoid fly. April was introduced as being in the employ of Stockman until she learns of his villainous ways and is rescued by the Turtles. And the closest she gets to being a reporter is impersonating one in order to gain access to a restricted area. Casey Jones also has a much more prominent role in this series than he did in the 80s show. I feel the need to add that this show’s version of Master Splinter is without a doubt my favorite incarnation of the character. He is a total bad ass.
With the 2003 cartoon we also got many adaptations of stories from the Eastman and Laird comics. The first episode opens up exactly as the first issue did, and both the Fugitoid/Triceraton and City at War stories get faithful adaptations as does the Utrom/TCRI connection to the Turtles’ origins. The Utroms are the aliens upon which the Kraang from the new animated series are based (while they borrow their name from the 80s toon’s Krang). The show did take some liberties with the source material as well, with The Shredder’s connection to the Utroms being a big one.
Bebop and Rocksteady may not have appeared, but never fear, the Turtles were not short on awesome villains to fight. Filling the role of the Shredder’s right hand was Hun, a behemoth of a man that gave the Turtles a run for their money. He was the leader of the Purple Dragons street gang and had a long history with Casey Jones. Hun was created for the 2003 show, but he has proved popular enough to debut in the IDW comic book. In fact, he got his own micro series issue this month.
The 2003 series also featured the alien hating government agent named Bishop. He posed a real threat to the Turtles. At one point he staged an alien invasion and kidnapped the president just to get more government funding. That’s messed up! We also learn that he is hundreds of years old and needs to keep cloning new bodies to live! I can’t stress enough the awesomeness that is Bishop. The Shredder’s adoptive daughter, Karai, also appears in the show. Unlike her father, she is an honorable warrior and this often puts her into tough situations. At times, she is as much an ally to the Turtles as she is an enemy. While Bebop and Rocksteady are great characters, with Hun, Bishop, and Karai, their absence goes largely unnoticed.
The 2003 animated series was lighthearted and funny at times much like the 80s cartoon or the Next Mutation (Did I mention how awful that series was?). However, the 2003 toon was not afraid to get serious or dark. The Shredder continually maims Baxter Stockman every time he fails. Stockman eventually ends up as nothing but a brain and eyeball floating in a jar. And at one point Leo actually decapitates the Shredder (though don’t think that’s the end for him).
This series actually gave the Turtles distinct personalities which is something I do not think the original cartoon did all that well. Sure, there were little things like Donnie being the smart one, but overall I fell that the Turtles were almost interchangeable at times, especially in the later years. That is not the case in the 2003 series. Leonardo is the level headed leader, Donnie prefers brains over brawn, Raph is the hothead, and Mikey is the goofy one. With that said, the Turtles are not static in their characterization. They definitely develop as characters. In the fourth season Leo goes through a very big change. The show was also heavy on action. Some of my favorite animated fight scenes come from this show.
Despite my ravings, the show is not perfect. The voice acting for many of the guest and minor characters was somewhat lackluster, though I thought that all the main actors did a great job. The show also fell off the rails in its final two seasons. After the conclusion of the 4th season, which ended with the Turtles ready to go to a mystical island to train, there was an executive decision to overhaul the show. The fifth season was skipped over in favor of airing the sixth which was subtitled Fast Forward. In this season the Turtles travel 100 years into the future and live with April and Casey’s grandson Cody. The animation and character designs were changed and the show became more lighthearted. The Turtles returned to their own time for the seventh and final season, Back to the Sewer. This season once again saw a change in animation and character designs. It featured the plot of the Turtles having to venture into cyberspace to rescue Master Splinter who had been digitized and his data scattered. It was not good. The fifth season (aka the Ninja Tribunal season) that was skipped over in favor of Fast Forward was completed and did eventually air as the Lost Episodes. Personally, when I watch the show now I stop after season 5 and just ignore Fast Forward and Back to the Sewer.
I was 16 when the show debuted in 2003. I was at a point where the Turtles were not a big part of my life anymore. I had outgrown the original show years before. When I heard the news that there would be a new cartoon I decided to give it a shot. I was quite shocked by what I saw. Back then I had not yet read the Eastman and Laird comics, so seeing Turtles that were not obsessed with pizza was something new to me. I was immediately hooked.
While the show did last for 7 seasons with a total of 156 episodes as well as a one TV film (the amazing Turtles Forever which was the official finale to the series and saw the 2003, 1980s, and Mirage Turtles team up), the show did not get the same love that the new series does. I believe part of the reason that the show is overlooked by fans of my generation is that when it originally aired these fans were not at an age where nostalgia drove them to check the show out. I also think that the fact that the show was so different from the 80s cartoon turned many off. The differences never bugged me. I loved the original show growing up, but it does not stand the test of time.
I love this series will all my heart. It is truly my favorite cartoon of all time. If it were a woman I would marry it. I strongly suggest that every TMNT fan give this series a shot. Do it for me. I know we do not know each other, but I’m good people. I promise. If you don’t like it I will only cry myself to sleep for a month, two at the absolute most.
Filed Under: Outside the Longbox