This past weekend, Nickelodeon aired a very special episode of its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon wherein the modern incarnation of the characters met their counterparts from the original 1987 cartoon. As a fan of both the classic and Nickelodeon Turtles, I’d been looking forward to this event since I first heard about it months ago and it was an awesome experience to hear the classic voice actors back in action for the first time since the original cartoon ended in 1996 (or actually 1995, as Rob Paulsen left the show before the final season).
For those of you who don’t know this, there was a similar event to this back in 2009, named Turtles Forever, where the TMNT from the largely forgotten 2003 cartoon met the ’87 Turtles. I mention this because this new crossover event is very similar to that TV movie in a lot of ways; in some ways it is much better than Turtles Forever but I do believe it falls short in other ways. In this new crossover event, the classic Krang is trying to destroy both the realities of the modern and 80’s Turtles, so both sets of TMNT team up to stop him.
First and foremost, the best part about this is the voice actors returning to the classic characters. Due to the fact that the 2003 show was non-union, the classic Turtles were recast by inferior sound-alikes in the Turtles Forever movie, which seriously hurt the event. This time, we have Barry Gordon back as Donatello, Townsend Coleman’s Michelangelo, Cam Clarke as Leonardo, Pat Fraley as Krang and the amazing Rob Paulsen pulling double duty as both the classic Raphael and the modern Donatello. Just hearing those guys together again was enough to make it all worth it, but there was also a huge dose of loving nostalgia for the old show, including classic catchphrases like “Cowabunga” and “Turtle Power”, down to one of the classic TMNT popping the cap off of a fire hydrant, which nicely referenced the classic side-scrolling TMNT games. They also, for the most part, wrote the characters properly. They felt like the old gang. For fans of the present cartoon, this should be no surprise, as there are many many references to the classic toon throughout the series, but for those of you not into the new show, there’s plenty of classic Turtle fun to watch.
The Bad (or moreso just a little disappointing)
To me, the whole thing seemed rushed. The entire plotline felt crammed into the 22 minutes, whereas Turtles Forever felt like an “event”, this felt like just an “episode”. I don’t know if it needed to fill out a complete TV movie like Turtles Forever, but at least a two-parter would have given the chance for some breathing room instead of the whirlwind we got. I also have a small complaint about the writing in the portrayal of the classic Raphael, which isn’t done poorly at all, but he is hard to get a full picture of without breaking the fourth wall, which was a hallmark of the old toon, particularly for Raph. Finally, on the ridiculously nerdy end of things, this episode introduced a variety of continuity errors into the old cartoon. For one, this established that the classic Krang was banished by the present Kraang to 2-D Earth, yet Krang comes and goes from Dimension X many times in the old cartoon. Also, Krang isn’t technically a Kraang (or Utrom for that matter) he, according to the old show, was a being who had a body, but lost it; his species actually looked kind of like 18 foot tall lizards. Also, the 1987 Turtles had an almost identical adventure in Turtles Forever, yet this seemed to be all new to both sets of Turtles.
The artwork for the episode had some positives and some negatives. The 3-D models of the classic Turtles looked fantastic and were easily the best part of the artwork. It seemed a little strange for them to be so shrouded in darkness, but since that's the look of the Nickelodeon show, it was more than appropriate. The 3-D Krang was okay, he seemed a little off to me, maybe he was too fat or something, but it certainly wasn't terrible. The 2-D animation was less successful. As an owner of several animation cells of the original show, I have a great deal of love and adoration for the look of the old cartoon, but since hand-drawn animation is practically a dead art, it's hard to hold anything against Nickelodeon for the computer 2-D artwork. Finally, towards the end of the episode, both Donatellos entered the original Mirage TMNT universe, which, in my opinion, was only somewhat successful. Whereas for the other 2 dimensions, the characters adopted that universe's art style (3-D became 2-D and 2-D became 3-D), in the comic book world, there was a 2-D Donnie and a 3-D Donnie running around a black and white comic book world. I believe this was a noble effort and nicely included the artwork of the original comic, but it felt a little inconsistent and, personally, I preferred how Turtles Forever did this, by having the Mirage Turtles animated in a black and white, Eastman-and-Laird-looking, universe.
Overall, the episode is really something special and very much a love letter to the classic show and to long-time TMNT fans. Even though it felt a bit rushed, the good thing about it just being a singular episode is that it feels like there is room for more. After all, this is actually the second time the classic Turtles appeared in this new toon (there was a cameo in a previous season), and, from what I understand, another crossover event is on the way which features the classic Shredder as well as Bebop and Rocksteady.