The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Turtles Forever Was Right

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I have been re-watching the 1987 "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" cartoon for the past couple of weeks. I just finished the fourth season last night, and while I plan to keep going, I think I've seen more than enough by this point to write this. I know a lot of people in my generation who grew up with the 1987 Turtles don't like to hear this, but "Turtles Forever" was 100% on the nose. Anyone who disagrees probably hasn't seen the show since before their first pubes grew in.

Let me preface this, I do not hate this show. In fact, I've been enjoying my re-visit to it, even if on a more ironic level. I was six when this show premiered, and like everyone in my generation, I ate this shit up. I had all the toys, I remember being so happy when I received the Technodrome for one of my birthdays. I loved it. I also remember going to see the first movie in theaters and being confused as to why Splinter was always a rat, why Hamato Yoshi was someone else, and wondering where Krang was. I remember reading some of the comics at a comic store and being somewhat shocked at the differences.

Like most people my age, I grew out of it. "Batman the Animated Series" came next and blew it out of the water, and... I always believed the nostalgic cut off is twelve. After that, you (hopefully) become a little more discriminating.

I remember when the 2003 "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" premiered, and many people my age flat out hated it. I checked it out and, to my surprise I liked it. I liked it a lot. It won't make my Top Ten Animated Series list or anything, but it was very good. Great in places, sadly terrible in other places. But when I found out that Peter Laird had much tighter controls over this series than he had with 1987 (where his control was non-existent) it made sense. The 2003 series did feel a lot more like a labor of love than the 1987 series.

Let me describe an episode of the 1987 TMNT series. A new, and powerful macguffin is broadcast to the world by April O'Neil on Channel Six. Shredder and Krang make plans to steal it so they can power up the Technodrome, the turtles fight them, April gets captured, Bebop and Rocksteady act stupid, April is rescued, Shredder does something ineptly stupid and blames Bebop and Rocksteady for it, the turtles all go get pizza. Wait, I think I described just about every episode of the 1987 series. It was very formulaic.

The 1987 series also had no story editor to speak of. They did have an Executive Story Editor, but I did some research and found out that was more about getting whatever toys into the script they wanted to promote. Once again, I'm not saying tight continuity and story arcs are the only way to do a show. But the first episode of season four and the last episode of season three are supposed to take place minutes apart, they were both written by David Wise and even I wondered how he couldn't keep track of his most recent script. I'm not angry about it, don't get me wrong, but I am raising an eyebrow. There is nothing in this show that could make me angry, except for Zack the Fifth Turtle... where's JMS and his truck when we need him?

I've seen people bitch and moan about "Turtles Forever's" treatment of the 1987 series, and as I said, the show is right. In fact, "Turtles Forever was right" became something of a mantra my friend, Pterobat, and I would repeat to each other as we re-watched these episodes, often at the same time. People complain about April being attacked by a giant banana and leprechauns in "Turtles Forever" and while I haven't seen a giant banana yet, does it really matter? The show had all sorts of crazy shit. A giant cheese monster in one episode; a giant plant monster they distracted by having Mikey dress up as a girl flower to seduce it; it had a magnet that can be set to antiques; it had a bunch of alien Elvis clones tickling people with feathers; it had Splinter save the Turtles lives with mothballs and saying "Sometimes if you wish hard enough for something to happen, it just might come true"; I could go on and on and on. Again, this isn't me saying the show sucked for having these things, but don't say the giant banana was out of place. You can't.

I've heard people say the 87 turtles running around without disguises was slander, and... good god, no. They were outside in broad daylight without disguises way more often than they ever wore disguises. Way more often.

I remember when people said Leonardo was always serious, and the 87 turtles were way too pizza obsessed. Um, they were always pizza obsessed in the show, all four of them. In "Corporate Raiders From Dimension X" when business leaders all over the city are being kidnapped, Leonardo has no interest in investigating until he learns the CEO of the world's largest manufacturer of pizza dough was among them. Yes, Leonardo. Never mind they also did an episode where he ran away from home after having a nightmare about Shredder stealing the city's supply of cheese danishes. Okay, he was also an early riser, so "Turtles Forever" was wrong about his waking up and asking "is it noon already?" So, "Turtles Forever" was 99% right.

The show is kooky and extremely stupid. It loves its status quo and makes love to its formula every day. If I'm being rough on it, don't take that as hate. If I hated it, I would have jumped ship on this re-watch before the end of the first season. But I can only take so much of it before I feel like way too many of my brain cells have been murdered and I put on an episode of "Gargoyles" to get them back. I don't think "Turtles Forever" was trying to be mean spirited in its honesty, because, despite everything, it was 87 Donatello and Bebop and Rocksteady who saved all of existence from destruction at the hands of the Utrom Shredder.  But that being said, I am so glad people like Greg Weisman and Bruce Timm matured cartoons well past what this was. And before anyone says anything, I am aware of the Red Sky seasons, I haven't gotten there yet. I admit, I am curious, but I'm not particularly excited about them either.

Oh, and how come the 1987 turtles always called each other by their full names? You'd think the goofy turtles would be all over fun nicknames.


  1. Truth be told, I'm not sure what to make of the quality myself. Usually the problem with 80s animation is that they take themselves seriously and fail. But considering it's suppose to be goofy I'm more inclined to see it as good as opposed to so bad it's good.

    But if it's a guilty pleasure, well my enjoyment in it remains.

    That said, another couple of points for Turtles Forever:
    - Granted it didn't make it to the air or the DVD, 2003 Splinter does berate his turtles (Raph really) for their attitude towards them.
    - And hey, even the Mirage Turtles decide take after them and go for a pizza.

    One good point though I have to say was a missed opportunity though for it was to have both Splinters meeting. Especially since 1987 Splinter was also the counterpart to Yoshi.

    "A giant cheese monster in one episode; a giant plant monster they distracted by having Mikey dress up as a girl flower to seduce it; it had a magnet that can be set to antiques; it had a bunch of alien Elvis clones tickling people with feathers; it had Splinter save the Turtles lives with mothballs and saying "Sometimes if you wish hard enough for something to happen, it just might come true"; I could go on and on and on."

    Is it wrong that I think Shredder acting like Michelangelo tops most of what's listed? :-) I mean yeah he doesn't have dignity, but this one takes the cake.

  2. Yes.

    Greg, you are right.

    I think it's a question of whether honesty means a lack of love or not. I don't believe so, and "Turtles Forever" proves it. It's honest about the differences between both shows, but it's not mean-spirited and it is NOT attacking the old show.

    I love the Fred Wolf show when I do, but gahd, sometimes no ironic detachments can save it. If anything, "Turtles Forever" was generous with how absurd the old show could get.

    But again, not mean-spirited. Not.

  3. That's what I've been trying to tell people. The episodes I managed to see or at least know about, come on man; they seriously didn't think the cartoon was silly to the max?

  4. While "Turtles Forever" got the 80s show right, I will say it went a little overboard with the 80s turtles personalities, or lack there of, and the wisecracks they kept doing every five seconds got annoying, apart from the 4th wall jokes. I read a funny WMG on the movie's tvtropes article that the 80s turtles there are a result of an alternate timeline where the seasonal rot in the show's 4th and 5th seasons never ended and eroded any characteristics to them. Thankfully, 80s Shredder and Krang made up for them.

    1. What do you mean went overboard? I watched dozens of episodes recently. I'm watching "My Brother the Bad Guy" as we speak. They got them EXACTLY right.

    2. I guess I felt it's just that they were supposed to be funny with how they were portrayed, and I thought that at times they were just annoying, though during the fight with the Technodrome in New York, I suppose they were annoying on purpose. Now that I think about it, I mostly found them annoying in that scene.

    3. Now that I think about it, I think that I mostly just felt they were annoying in the fight with the Technodrome on the surface of New York, other points, like when they made that "We have to save April" joke were funny, and I really loved the 4th wall gags.

  5. Although it's not an impression I can back with much hard data--the only season of the original toon I'm actually familiar nowadays is the first one*--the feeling I get from the movie is that they got the tone of the original cartoon, while being only half as successful at capturing its voice. Stuff like having the turtles referring to one another by their shortened nicknames instead of their full names--which, to be fair, may be a detail I only remember being a thing when it actually wasn't--feels like the script version of the voice actor change--and the voice actor change at least has a reason behind it.

    Now, to be fair, it varies a lot between characters. Shredder and Krang feel spot on, as do Bebop and Rocksteady in their limited screen-time. Splinter works. April appears for too short a time for the movie to really capture the inconsistencies of the original, and while I can buy that she'd say the things she says in the movie, I'm not sure she'd say them in that specific way.

    As for the turtles...Raphael and Donatello work: their humor is narrower than it would have been in the cartoon, but that pretty much had to happen given everything else the movie tackled. Leonardo is a non-entity. Michelangelo...he doesn't feel right, for reasons I can't quite express.

    Now, the old toon didn't often treat the four turtles as a collective, which is why most of the moments that ring false to me involve them acting in concert. The noogie jokes. The crying. The decaf joke--all of these aren't only not-very-good-jokes, they feel false--they imply a dynamic that I don't remember being at all present in the original cartoon.

    Going back to April's characterization, that might actually be the overlying problem with trying to recapture the original show: it requires a certain disregard for consistency that isn't really present here. In writing the turtles, the 4Kids writers had some beats they had to hit, some impressions they wanted to give of these characters. I don't think the original writers had that limitation, and the different goals show up in the work.

    * Fortunately, that seems to be where the movie got most of its cues from. You could take away seasons 2-9, and the only real changes to the movie would have been the exclusion of the Irma cameo, and maybe the mutant bananas.

    1. Well, "Turtles Forever" is essentially fan fiction, and no fan fiction ever gets its source material completely, exactly right.

      But much of fanfic is "good enough", to be seen as complimenting the original work, and "Turtles Forever" is still that. Not exactly 100% interchangable with the old show, but captures its spirit.

    2. Well, yes, this is accurate--I just feel there's a tiny slice of middle ground between--"they got it exactly right" and "IT'S ALL WRONG!"

      That said, I think that it's safe to say that even if they'd gotten things righter, there would have still been a contingent of fans who would think it didn't accurately capture the old toon--there's always going to be an element of "it looks like the thing, and sounds like the thing, but it's not the thing, and that makes all the difference in the world."

  6. No, they were not right. There were silly scenes sometimes in the old show but not 100% of the show were silly scenes ( in fact the later seasons were actually dark). Shredder was a competent fighter and the show took itself serious, even if not every plot made sense.

    1. Seemed pretty on the nose to me when I re-watched the show back in 2013.