It’s really pretty amazing how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the more versatile properties in comic history, ranking up there with Batman and Wolverine. Remembered mainly for the popular 80’s and 90’s children’s cartoon, you have to remember that the foursome started out in a comic where Leonardo impales Shredder with his katana in the very first issue. He even drinks some beer a few issues later, which feels off in retrospect. The property has taken some strange turns over the years, even to the point where the more kid-oriented comic series by Archie Comics featured a storyline where they go back in time, beat up Hitler, convince him he’s in Hell and trick him into shooting himself in the head. Around the same time, Michelangelo was teaming up with the Muppet Babies, Alf and Bugs Bunny to get a kid off drugs on a Saturday morning TV special.
When the Turtles fad died down, the cartoon still remained on TV for a long, long time. How long? There was an episode that featured April O’Neil looking stuff up on the internet. Jesus. I even remember stumbling upon the very last episode one Saturday morning, surprised that it was still around. The ending was rather nice, with Splinter telling the four that he had nothing left to teach them. They were all his equals and would no longer be able to call him “Master”. They tried to keep the franchise around just a little bit longer with a live-action show, but with that failing, the Turtle stuff took a break for a few years.
In the early 2000’s, a new Ninjas Turtles series was created by 4Kids that revitalized the concept. It decided to go back to basics, throwing away all the ideas and characters from the 80’s cartoon and basing everything on the original Mirage comics. In fact, there’s an almost purist distaste you can feel from the series in their refusal to pay any lip service to the first cartoon, outside of a couple Easter Egg references. Though it is rather cool that by revealing their version of Shredder to be an Utrom alien, he’s essentially Krang and Shredder in one character. Regardless, it was a good show and lasted a rather long time, even after jumping the shark and going into the future for a season.
It was announced that Nickelodeon was buying the rights to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and if the 4Kids series wasn’t already on its way out, this made it definite. The creators decided to go out the best way possible: an animated movie in the style of a crossover between the 4Kids TMNT and the 80’s cartoon TMNT.
The movie begins with Hun, leader of the Purple Dragons and go-to muscle for Shredder, as he steals some tech stuff at a lab. The Ninja Turtles appear to stop them. Later that night, the situation makes the news, distressing Splinter, who can’t believe his students would be so careless. What’s extra strange is that all four turtles have been home in the sewer all night. They figure out that the Purple Dragons are involved and go to find out what’s going on.
We find that the Purple Dragons won that little pre-credits skirmish and have the Turtles as prisoners. Hun sees them and is completely confused.
“You were expecting maybe someone else?”
The 80’s foursome joke in the face of Hun’s threats and questions, annoying the giant more and more by the second. The best part of this is when Raphael breaks the 4th wall with a one-liner and Hun looks towards the viewer, wondering what the hell he’s doing. His temper subsides when he finds out that they have some capsules of mutagen on them. He leaves the scene with orders for his henchmen to execute the Turtles. The more modern Turtles step in and are absolutely confused at seeing their counterparts. Still, they help let them loose and team up.
From here, the two main problems with the movie become pretty apparent. First is the voices. Due to some union tomfoolery, the original cast could not reprise their roles. Instead, they have soundalikes. Some work, some really don’t. Leonardo’s voice is the most notable offender.
The other problem is best summed up by 4Kids Michelangelo’s love for the 80’s Turtles and 4Kids Raphael groaning, “It’s like having five Mikeys!” The 80’s Turtles are practically one character in the form of four guys. There’s very little that differentiates them and for the sake of making the new guys look better and more serious in comparison, they really ramp up how goofy and non-caring they all are. Again, Leonardo gets it the worst as his status of being “stoic leader” is compromised. He follows the lead of the 4Kids Turtles and any relative stoicism is dropped for the sake of giving people noogies in times of great peril.
While I’m pointing out flaws, one thing that gets REALLY annoying is the insistence of using the word “shell” every other minute in place of “hell” or “ass”. Having to hear, “What the shell?!” again and again makes you want to punch something.
After an incident of the doofy 80’s Turtles walking around in broad daylight to get some pizza and unknowingly scaring away all bystanders (again, not sure if that’s really in-character, since I recall them taking some precautions back in the day), Splinter shows up to smack some sense into them. We find out that a battle in the Technodrome caused the dimensional transporter thingamabob to go crazy and brought them all to this different New York City. Since there’s no big villain plot yet, the course is pretty simple: find the Technodrome, beat up 80’s Shredder and send the 80’s Turtles back home.
Underground, as the nine mutants fight an army of easily-beatable Foot Soldiers as well as Bebop and Rocksteady, we get one of the better little subtle moments. 4Kids Leonardo takes on a Foot Soldier and…
…suddenly notices that these guys are robots. Yes, that’s right. Leonardo was going to flat out kill a dude. The fact that this kind of slides by is awesome.
Shredder sees his forces getting annihilated and figures out that if they’re in an alternate reality with another set of Ninja Turtles, logic says that there has to be a Shredder. He, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady escape by causing all the Foot Soldiers to self-destruct and then causing a minor earthquake to separate them from the heroes via rubble. Shredder finds no records on there being a Krang in this dimension, but he does find footage of 4Kids Shredder and is in awe at how much ass he kicks. Picking up on 4Kids Shredder’s last defeat, 80’s Shredder finds his body floating in space via a block of ice. He’s teleported into the Technodrome and thawed out.
80’s Shredder isn’t happy to find out that his promising counterpart is nothing more than a brain-like slug. Regardless, 4Kids Shredder doesn’t need a robot form to kick his ass.
After a little groveling, 80’s Shredder and Krang do get the best of their edgier would-be comrade via knockout gas. While they have him defeated, 4Kids Shredder’s adopted daughter and leader of the Foot Clan Karai tracks him down to this location and proceeds to kick the ass of everyone. A lot of this is cut out of the final product, which leads me to the fourth and final major problem of Turtles Forever: deleted scenes.
They needed to cut out about ten minutes of footage when putting it on TV so that they could show more commercials. Fine. I get that. Thing is, when they keep those ten minutes out of the US DVD release. What? Why would you do that?! Especially since there’s some good stuff on the cutting room floor. For starters:
– Karai gets more characterization and justification than simply being a deus ex machina plot device.
– We get our one moment of the two Raphaels seeing eye-to-eye when they watch the two Donatellos pal around, look to each other and say, “Nerds.”
– A scene in the sewer where 4Kids Raphael dresses down the 80’s Turtles for being clowns instead of ninjas. They take offense and get in his face, but 4Kids Splinter gets in there and yells at everyone for embarrassing him with their actions. Once Splinter storms off, Raphael feels bad about it and apologizes for calling them clowns.
There’s another big one I’ll get to later.
As the Turtles search for the Technodrome, they get in a big fight with the Purple Dragons again. During the melee, Hun gets doused with some mutagen and kicked in the chest by one of the Turtles. This in turn mutates him, which causes him much dismay. Not only because he hates the Turtles and is one as well, but because he’s also something of a human supremacist and hates all freaks. He staggers through the sewers until being found by his old master Shredder, now in a new body. With not much choice, Hun bows to him and offers his services. While he’s obscured for his first couple scenes post-transformation, we eventually get a clear look.
It’s a nice touch. The creators always wanted to put Slash on the 4Kids show, but never got around to it. Well, here’s your Slash.
4Kids Shredder and Karai take over the Technodrome and realize that with its impressive technology, it could actually do some serious damage in capable hands. The “cartoonish” Foot Soldiers are upgraded into being super-skilled killing machines. Human members of the Foot are injected with mutagen to make them monsters like Hun. This in turn creates counterparts of Tokka and Rahzar from the second live-action movie.
While the two Donatellos toil around and try to make a handheld reality gateway device (based on 80’s cartoon bullshit science), the lair is invaded by Hun, Bebop, Rocksteady and the new Foot Soldier robots. The Turtles are out of their league and with the place coming down around them, they have no choice but to teleport out of there using the Dons’ device. Unfortunately, this means Hun has Splinter.
The Turtles all end up in the 80’s team’s world. After a brief run-in with their version of April (who is ridiculously stacked for some reason) and getting in a short fight that involves, well, this…
…they go into the sewer and find Splinter. We get a really great scene where 80’s Splinter acts just as wise and fatherly as the 4Kids one, telling the 4Kids team that they are always welcome in his home, much like the 4Kids Splinter said to the 80’s Turtles. This both puts things in perspective for them and at the same time reminds them that their father is in trouble. They gather some “anti-Technodrome” gear and head off back to the 4Kids world.
By this point, 4Kids Shredder has turned the Technodrome into a mini Death Star that’s in the midst of annihilating New York City despite the best efforts of Casey Jones and April. Which reminds me, I would have killed for some kind of mention or nod to 80’s Casey Jones. By not including him in any way, the writers here are MISCREANTS WHO ARE BREAKING THE LAW!
Sorry, where was I?
The Turtles come back and fight through the legion of evil mutants and enhanced Foot Soldiers via the Party Wagon and Turtle Blimp. Ooooh, that’s good nostalgia.
They bust into the Technodrome, fight the Shredder for a second and then find Splinter captive. They realize all too late that it’s a trap and end up prisoners. This is where things go from good to great. Shredder reveals that with this new tech, he’s been able to look into the multiverse and has seen nothing but worlds of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is revealed in the best way possible, through a series of screens that show all kinds of alternate universe Ninja Turtles.
I wish I could find a master list of everything represented, but we get the live-action movie universe, the Dreamwave comics, the Archie comics, the CGI movie, a dystopian reality from the 4Kids series and much more. It’s such a great moment of fanwank and acts as a prelude for a fantastic third act.
Shredder claims to know how to annihilate all the Ninja Turtles everywhere in one fell swoop and it involves needing the eight Turtles and using them in some machine that will cross-reference their makeup and pinpoint the universe known as Turtle Prime. Turtle Prime is the lynchpin of the multiverse and destroying the Turtles there will destroy the Turtles everywhere. The cross-referencing process will also kill the eight main Turtles, but Karai chooses to secretly teleport them away, afraid of the ramifications of her father’s plan.
For some Maguffin reasoning, the Turtles need to go to the Purple Dragon headquarters and steal some of the tech they stole from the beginning of the story so they can upgrade their dimensional portal doohickey. Again, this leads to another fight with Hun/Slash and yet another moment of 80’s Raphael looking to the camera and breaking the 4th wall.
This time, Hun snaps and screams at Raph, “WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THAT?! WHO DO YOU KEEP TALKING TO?! THERE’S NO ONE THERE!”
Due to Shredder’s plan, time is of the essence. In a beautiful homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths (especially cool since this story has been referred to as “Crisis on Infinite Turtles” by many), a wall of white nothingness begins to wash over the world. Anyone caught in it becomes undrawn. Their coloring washes away, the inking vanishes and they become basic sketches before reverting to nothingness. Realizing that Shredder needs to be stopped, Hun gives the Turtles what they need and vanishes. April and Casey are caught up in the destruction shortly after.
The eight Turtles get to the crater where the Technodrome vanished and escape their dying dimension in the last instance. Here’s where things go from great to amazing.
Our heroes find themselves in Turtle Prime, a dark world without color. 4Kids Raphael seems really jazzed about it all, suggesting that he might retire here. Unfortunately, they’re not exactly welcome in the eyes of the resident four reptiles: the ORIGINAL Mirage Comics Teenage Mutant Turtles.
Fairly recently, I’ve started reading the original comics for the first time and it only makes the last 15 minutes of this cartoon better. It gets very meta and it’s established that this takes place during the beginning of the very first issue. Mirage Leonardo narrates as he and his brothers viciously take apart their more colorful counterparts in dialogue taken from the opening scene of the comic. Of course, this isn’t a full inner-voice thing as everyone can hear him talking.
The only one who has any success holding his own is 4Kids Leonardo, but even he is almost killed until he namedrops the Shredder. Cooler heads prevail, but the Mirage Turtles still rail on their animated brethren for wearing colored masks and being a bunch of sellouts. 4Kids Raphael takes to them the same way 4Kids Michelangelo took to the 80’s Turtles, but the feeling isn’t mutual. After some explanation, it’s brought up by Mirage Leonardo that the Technodrome’s been behind them, destroying the city for the last few hours, without any of them noticing.
With the believed-to-be-dead colorful Turtles hidden in background, the Mirage Turtles stand on a rooftop and call out Shredder, much like they do in the comic. 4Kids Shredder could simply blow them up with a laser, but hearing them call him a coward hurts his ego too much and he gives them an audience. Though before he shows up, we do get a quick appearance of Mirage Shredder… before being taken apart in seconds.
As 4Kids Shredder appears, so do the 80’s and 4Kids Turtles. Karai joins them, revealing that she’s freed Splinter, 80’s Shredder and Krang. What follows is a really sweet fight scene. 4Kids Shredder has the same device in his body as Krang’s that can make him a giant, giving him the sudden advantage. There’s a part in there where he gets the four Mirage Turtles in his hand and starts to slowly crush them. The final deleted scene shows that by doing this, the world of Turtle Prime begins to become devoured by the white nothingness. Before completely vanishing, Shredder lets go and comes to realize that if he kills the original four, he’ll cease to exist as well. Again, very meta. Kairi begs him to stop and see his error, but after a moment of thought, Shredder refuses. If it means destroying everything, then so be it.
Ultimately, Shredder is vaporized in a big team effort with a big assist from Bebop and Rocksteady being completely incompetent. The world returns to normal and we see that the 4Kids world has done the same. Bebop and Rocksteady are tied up and although 80’s Shredder is allowing his world’s Turtles to hitch a ride with him, he still threatens to get them with the “giggle ray” Krang invented.
The Mirage guys have already slunk off Batman-style, but their Leonardo referred to the others as “bros”, which the colorful eight take as a sign of acceptance. The 4Kids guys and 80’s guys shake hands, also referring to each other as brothers. They say goodbye to each other and the viewers by switching battle cries (“IT’S NINJA TIME!” and “TURTLE POWER!”). They each vanish back to their home worlds and we pan up to see this all being watched by the original crew.
Again, it’s a scene that’s even better when looked at in a meta context. The four agree that they’ll miss those “wannabes”, showing that despite their hardcore and gritty nature, they accept and respect what their franchise has become. Michelangelo even gives some love to the 80’s Turtles’ lettered belt buckles. They decide to go get some pizza and jump around rooftops, ending the scene with the same narration that ends the first issue of their comic.
“We are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We strike hard… and fade away… into the night.”
They freeze-frame into a pose is that looks exactly like the first comic’s opening splash page, spelled out as it fades into the real world, where Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are putting the finishing touches on the image. Looking across the table, we see pages of original art from the first issue and a stack of comics that’s obscured enough not to get them in trouble, though you can see Captain America’s shield in there. They go off themselves to get some pizza and wonder to each other if their Ninja Turtle concept will even sell.
But the multiverse moves on. While all those properties have bitten the dust, there’s already a new animated series, rumblings about a new movie and a new, fantastic comic series that I can’t recommend enough. Despite being an open mixture of Teen Titans, X-Men and Daredevil with added weirdness, the concept of four turtle brothers fighting crime together will always be unique and strong enough to keep people interested.
Is the animated movie perfect? Not really, but it comes close. The voices still chafe, the “shell” puns hurt and the characterizations of the 80’s Turtles make me wonder if I can even call this movie a “love letter”. Those are just chips in the paint on what’s a most excellent swansong to two long-running cartoons.
The best part? 80’s Michelangelo didn’t have his stupid goddamn grappling hook. HATED that thing.
Next time we’ll be playing a game of “Good Idea/Bad Idea” with a war between popular cinematic cyborgs.