Reviews: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003

TMNT (2003): Quite Possibly the Best American Action 'Toon You've Never Watched

TMNT adaptations, although generally enjoyable, are usually characterized by two things: being lighter and fluffier than the original, and ignoring huge gobs of the source material in favor of original characters and stories. The 2003 cartoon—produced by 4Kids under the direction of turtles fan Lloyd Goldfine, with supervision by turtles co-creator Peter Laird—on the other hand, takes the most memorable of the Mirage stories and characters and remixes them into a more coherent, logical and better-flowing whole, with a smattering of new ideas to spice things up. It is also one of the best western action 'toons around.

The original comics stood out for several reasons; among them, the down-to-Earth atmosphere and the way it averted Status Quo Is God: The turtles were always moving around. Villains appeared once or twice before their final fate. Characters grew older and wiser, marrying, having children, moving on and carrying on. These qualities are adapted more or less faithfully here, and while the show uses many of the tropes associated with American action cartoons, it stands out among its brethren in several important ways. The turtles, although heroic, are not altruistic—their outlook is more Han Solo than Superman; they have little trouble with killing or revenge. Refreshingly, reality ensuing as often as not during the course of their adventures. Casey and April have that rarest of things: a stable, loving relationship that doesn’t take away from the characters as individuals. The regular villains are interesting without sacrificing their villainy or motivations, and are for the most part not overused. Tons of less-prominent villains keep things fresh. The plotting is also excellent—quite reminiscent of Gargoyles, with whom it shares a couple of writers: lots of subplots, tons of recurring characters.

Still, TMNT is far from perfect. Animation quality takes several hits after the third season. The acting, while generally good, is not great. The sixth season radically changes everything, and is an experiment that fails just as much as it succeeds. Its seventh season reverts the status quo and is more traditional, but is also uninspired—enjoyable, but nothing special. Even so, the series worth your while, particularly since the whole series can be seen for free in 4Kids’ web site. Go watch.