TBT Review: ‘Turtles Forever’
Guess who’s a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise? That’s right… THIS GUY!
While not a fan of every iteration, I have experienced sizable chunks of almost all of it. The 80’s cartoon was huge in my house as a kid. We had a bunch of the toys, episodes on tape, and we had all three of the original movies. I even watched “TMNT: The Next Mutation” (and sadly liked it at the time as I was a kid with apparently extremely low standards) and the early 2000s show which this is technically a finale to. I have a couple of the Archie comics and through the internet have read a few of the original Mirage comics. I hated the recent Michael Bay film and dread the sequel coming out. I’ve watched quite a bit of the new Nick version which is why I’m doing this; to get ready for the new crossover happening on that show on Sunday Aug. 27th. The only TMNT property that seems to have completely passed me by is the CGI film, “TMNT” from 2007. The point of all this being I know my TMNT. I’m by no means the BIGGEST TMNT fan ever, but I’m fairly knowledgeable and care about it. It’s probably the reason turtles are my favorite animal. That and they’re awesome!
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4
So as the (let’s refer to it as the 4kids TMNT show for simplicity) show was winding down and the 25th anniversary looming, the makers decided to make a big TV special to both end their show and celebrate the franchise as a whole. I have to admit the plot they came up with to get both eras of shows together was really clever. The plot is that during a typical adventure fighting Shredder the 80’s Ninja Turtles, Shredder, and the technodrome are all transported to the 4kids TMNT universe. Both teams of turtles team up while the Shredder of the classic series frees the 4kids Shredder to join together, but immediately becomes subordinate to the more serious 4kids Shredder. Learning about the dimension and hoping the technodrome is capable of the 4kids, Shredder decides to use it to destroy the original mirage comic universe thus destroying all of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles multiverse. At first disliking each other both versions of Turtles teams must learn to work together to save the multiverse. That should register with any fan of any of the past series as a great idea for a story. If you aren’t a fan it may not, but then again why would you be watching “Turtles Forever” in the first place? This special is supposed to be a love letter to the franchise and fans of TMNT.
Let’s talk about the special’s greatest achievement, the look. More specifically the way the special uses different styles. The 4kids TMNT tried to look grittier and more anime in the beginning then for the 6th season the series was radically retooled to be brighter and less detailed. This special, while it gets closer to the darker more serious style of its earlier seasons, still uses the post 6th season art style which may disappoint fans of the 4kids series. However, it also completely replicates the older style of the 80’s cartoon. How close is it? It almost feels like they cut out original drawings from the classic show to animate them. There are a FEW shots where their smiles look a bit off, but you’d have to be a big fan like me to even notice that. It really helps sell the core concept that these are different universes meeting. It also helps that I am a bigger fan of older cartoon styles (including painted backgrounds) to modern animated shows. The other nice thing about this is that because the classic series was from the 80’s and 90’s (other than some specific episodes) the actual quality of the animation was not great and characters moved in janky, unpolished ways. They often got the wrong turtle talking with the wrong voice and all sorts of other mistakes. While I may not care for the 4kids TMNT art style, I have to admit they had some stellar animation. So we get to see the classic turtles moving far smoother and gracefully than was ever possible in the old show.
The voice acting is what loses this section a point. Now all of the 4kids actors are back and do as good of a job as they always did. They even manage to pick really excellent choices for the original Mirage comics Turtles. The issue is the classic turtles characters. Now it depends on whom you ask as to why, but the point is that they were unable to get the original voice actors. Yes, no Cam Clarke, Rob Paulsen, Barry Gordon, Townsend Coleman, Pat Fraley, James Avery, Renae Jacobs, or Peter Renaday. Which is SO disappointing as they (at the time the special aired) were all still alive and working. The most common story is that it came down to Union issues. 4kids is a non-union company, meaning they only use non-union actors for their projects while all of the other actors I mentioned in addition to being some of the most prolific voice actors of all-time are also all union. I don’t have time to explain how that works, but it sadly sounds pretty likely. Instead, they had to find sound-a-likes and while the people doing Raphael and Krang are pretty close and the people doing Shredder or Splinter sound alright in short lines, everyone else is not especially great. Now nobody sounds like a bad actor but when you’re a fan like me who knows the voices inside and out it can really bother you. However, this is an issue that could have been minimized if it wasn’t for the portrayal of the characters. Which I will get more into in the next section.
Entertainment Value – 2.5
In high school I attempted to get into the 4kids show, but eventually realized it just wasn’t for me and I moved on. Then I was in my second year of college when the special aired and despite it all I was still incredibly excited. Overall I do like the special, but there is one gaping problem with it for any fan of my age. Remember when you were a kid and adults who didn’t like the show didn’t watch it but still wanted to pass judgment on it? They would say stuff like, “all the turtles have the same personality! You can’t tell them apart!” Despite the fact that their unique personalities is one of the defining features of the show and franchise in particular. The 80s turtles here act like all of those criticisms. They spend the entire time laughing at their own jokes and never taking anything seriously. For Michelangelo and Raphael (to a lesser extent) it’s still keeping in character, but for Donatello and Leonardo it feels like they’ve been replaced. It even gets to the point that it honestly feels like the makers of 4kids TMNT hated the classic cartoon. It could be that while they tried so hard to remain close to the original mirage comics, the show never reached the levels of pop culture dominance that the classic show did. Plus remember that big season 6 change in style I mentioned earlier, it also came with the network forcing a bunch of changes on the show like sending the turtles to the future, giving them a little kid sidekick, and all around trying to be more like the old show.
I could understand how the 4kids show would build up some resentment towards the classic series. However, the entire point of this special was to celebrate the franchise as a whole. There’s even a scene where they open up portals to all of the universes which are represented with just about every version of TMNT throughout the years (except “Next Mutation” because NOBODY likes that show). I feel as though this could have been a chance to bring the fans of the different shows together, but instead it probably did more to divide us. If you try to read through the comment sections of the videos or message boards it often feels like a war between the fans of both shows. God help you if you like both. Speaking for myself, it really felt awful to see our heroes be constantly made fun of. The biggest kick in the nuts was when the 4kids Raphael pushes the 80’s turtles out of the way of being crushed by the 4kids Shredder and the classic turtles immediately start crying and thanking him over and over. There’s a rumor the makers of the show originally wanted to do an entire season with the crossover and the idea of an entire season of them trying to make the classic show look bad in comparison makes me glad it didn’t happen. Heck, while it’s sad not to hear the original voice actors I’d rather not hear them if they were going to be forced to act like pale versions of their old characters.
There were a few things they actually got right. The 80s Raphael constantly breaking the 4th wall was right out of the old show. All of the 80s turtles did it at some point, but Raphael was the Jedi master of it. They even build a pretty great running gag into it with a villain eventually getting fed up saying, “Who do you keep talking to, there’s NO ONE THERE!!” The music is pretty good too, but even that is messed up by rights issues. They couldn’t have the original 80s music so they do their best to capture the style, but it’s so generic sounding that it kind of ruins the effect.
Rewatchability – 4
Despite a lot of my problems with the special, I can’t lie that I’ve watched it multiple times. What keeps pulling me back? I can’t quite put my finger on it but maybe it is the cinematics type stuff like the animation that causes me to re-watch. Maybe it’s just the novelty of both versions together. I don’t know, but as a result it makes me want to re-watch every once in a while, but with no desire to actually own it. One, it’s easily available on YouTube and two, the DVD is awful. The special was made in widescreen and featured a longer cut, but the airings on TV and DVD have all been the shorter (aired) version in full frame. So if you want to see the extended cut or even just the entire picture, then you have to go the YouTube route.
Great idea for a special with fantastic animation. However, fans of the 80s Turtles will probably be disappointed by their portrayal in the series. While a love for the franchise runs through most of the special, it sadly doesn't come across for the classic series which is especially sad as it's the main draw for most older fans. Viewers unfamiliar with the franchise would probably do better to watch either the classic series or the 4kids before to get a foundation. Otherwise I can't imagine any of this will make much sense to you. With any luck the current Nick show's crossover will fix a lot of these problems. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.