First written as superhero parodies in a single issue, self-published comic book, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began generating interest from third parties because of their perceived potential as conduits to sell toys. Playmates eventually agreed to create action figures if a television deal was acquired, and out of that frantic search for airtime came a five-part miniseries. After a few successful airings, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got a syndication deal, and over the next few years, the Heroes in a Half Shell became some of the most famous and lucrative characters in the world, thanks largely to the incredible simplicity of the idea and execution.
For some reason, many of us (myself often included) equate complexity with quality, but frequently, the correlation doesn’t hold water. Sometimes a basic show that knows exactly what it wants to be is preferable to a hot, confused mess, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proves that. It knows exactly what it wants to be at all times: a show about mutant amphibians battling goofy, borderline incompetent bad guys hellbent on destroying them. In fact, its basic premise and even the personality of its characters are actually written (by Chuck Lorre) into the show’s theme song, allowing fans to always know which turtle they will personally identify with. Donatello is the one who builds machines, just as Leonardo leads, and while the series does inch an overarching plot forward, it primarily does so in order to add the occasional supporting character to its extensive bag of tricks.
And what a network of supporting characters it has by the end. From the diabolical Shredder to his mutated henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady, TMNT boasts an embarrassment of goofy, larger than life riches including my personal favorite Krang. A hideous warlord brain from Dimension X, he moves around via either a robotic body or a walker and never bothers hiding his complete contempt for everyone he’s stupidly chosen to associate with. He’s the perfect pushback against Shredder, and he probably offers the best laughs per minute of screen time ratio of anyone associated with the show.
In the sixteen years since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ended its initial CBS/ syndication run, time has not been overly kind to the animation. A lot of progress has been made in depicting both fight scenes and visually dense backgrounds, and unfortunately, some of the bonus features aren’t exactly shining examples of picture quality either. They were all created as part of the original releases, and no real work has been done updating them for this specific set.
That being said, some of the content itself is definitely still worth a look. “A Shellerbration Of A Fan-Nomenon Sensation” offers interviews with some of the series’ most obsessive, devoted fanatics who credit the show with altering their lives in some fundamental way. “The Turtles: A Ninjatastic Look Back” features interviews with the four main cast members as they discuss how they got their roles, the universal shock each felt at the show actually taking off and the pride they still feel over how many lives were impacted by the cartoon. During the show’s run, each would set aside time during the holidays to call dozens of sick children in the hospital, and to this day, they still get letters from those kids thanking them for the call.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series Collection also boasts plenty of bonus features devoted to individual characters. The most interesting are the “Under The Shell” spots, some of which delve into how the actors came up with the voices. James Avery, best known for Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, seems to have enjoyed the hell out of his time as Shredder, and if for nothing else, these clips are worth watching to hear Pat Fraley talk about people asking him to call up their children and scream at them while doing the Krang voice.
At this point, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is far bigger than one show. Its influence has stretched to live action movies, animated movies, comic books, new television shows and plenty of other content. That entire legacy, however, traces its way back to the millions of children who fell in love with the Classic Series between 1987 and 1996. Over ten seasons, creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird churned out one of the most vibrant, chaotic and gleefully over the top animated programs on television, and while it doesn’t offer any profound insights on life or layered character development, this set does come inside a visually appealing, brilliantly fun Turtle Van with a detached roof that houses all twenty-three DVDs.
Don’t even pretend like this wouldn’t be the perfect accessory for the end table by your television.
Distributor: Lions Gate
Release Date: 11/13/2012
Starring: Pat Fraley, James Avery, Cam Clarke, Townsend Coleman, Bary Gordon, Rob Paulsen
Directed by: Various
Created by: Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman
Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, the NBA and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.
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