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DVD Review: Ninja Turtles - The Next Mutation


Who knew that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had their own live-action television show?! I watched the original animated show regligiously, saw all three live-action films in the theater, the CGI-film on DVD, and throughly enjoyed the second animated series that came out in 2003... but after all that I still had no idea there was a live-action version called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation back in 1997. Well, the first thirteen episodes have just been released on DVD and I wasted no time checking it out. While I say that it has elements I both like and dislike, unfortunately my overall feeling about the show definitely leans toward the dislike.

Before I get into what I liked and what I didn't, let me first give you a quick overview of the series. We have the four ninja turtles as normal (Leo, Mike, Don, and Raph) and their master Splinter, but then we have a new female turtle named Mei Pieh Chi, though for some reason the turtles don't like that name and decide to call her Venus de Milo and she's apparently okay with this. The Shredder appears briefly, but the main villain in this show is a humanoid dragon called... actually I don't remember what he was called, I just know he's constantly called Dragon Lord. And his minions are called The Rank. There are some other new villains as well such as a humanoid ape, a crazy scientist (no, not Baxtor Stockman), and some big game hunter called Bonesteel.

Okay, now lets move on to what I liked about this show. I liked that it seems like they tried to connect this show into the movies. Splinter has the cut on his ear that we see in the first film, and they live in the abandoned subway station that was introduced in the second film.

The turtle costumes are really quite good; they are similar to the ones used in the live-action films, especially in the face articulation. The eyes, nose, and mouth are all very expressive, and the actors in the costumes and the ones controlling the facial expression both seem to mesh really well. It doesn't feel like there are separate people controlling the faces, they all feel like real, living creatures. Their masks all retain the same basic color scheme established in the original cartoon series, where Leo has blue, Raph red, Don purple, and Mike orange. However, in most incarnations their masks are a single strip of fabric that wraps around their head over their eyes, but now they are unique to each turtle. Raph's is the most like the standard mask, but his has a ripped texture. Leo and Don's both cover their entire scalps, with Don's also wrapping under his chin, and Mike's has a wider mask which also wraps under this chin.

Another difference in the costumes are the chest plates. In most ninja turtle incarnations, including the movies, the chest plates are divided up into six fairly rectangular sections, but in this show they are more like overlapping dragon scales or something. I don't know if it helped with costume flexibility or if they were just trying to change it up, but it doesn't really hurt the show at all. The final thing I'll mention about the costumes is that each turtle now has a big round emblem attached to their belts that have the first letter of their name. I'm not really sure why this is done and I think looks pretty silly.

Another change I'd like to mention, for neither better nor worse, is that Mike's nunchuku have been replaced with a pair of tonfa, and I do understand this as nunchuckus are illegal in some states. I think it's a good replacement weapon. Leo, although he clearly owns two swords, typically only uses a single one, and it's definitely not a katana, it's some other kind of sword. It actually looks like it's made of plastic, which is not really a good thing, but for a kids show I can certainly understand.

Okay, now on with the bad. Venus de Milo uses magic, calling it "mystical arts" or something like that, but basically she can use her chi to move objects and literally make herself invisible and other junk like that. It's ridiculous! I mean, she defeated The Shredder by magically making him look at himself and what he has become. WTF?! I don't even know what else to say about that. I think it's one of the stupid things in the series. So okkay, moving on... I hate the Splinter costume. It looks so silly, like a guy dressed in a bad rat Halloween costume. The one from the movie was all animatronic, and surely I can understand why that may not work for a TV series, but the guy doesn't even pretend to be old. He has a walking stick, but never slouches or movies slow or really even acts like a ninja master. He just seems like a totally fake character.

Next, the turtles don't act like ninjas. Remember in the first film when they knock out the lightbulb and then kick butt in total darkness before siliently disappearing back in the sewers? Or when there's a knock at April's door and they instantly vanish silently into hiding spots around her apartment for which they've only been there once before? Well there's none of that here. This is more like the second movie where the pizza guy knocks on the door and the turtles all panic and clumsily try to find hiding spots in an apartment that they've been living in for a while. Yeah, these turtles are more like Teenage Mutant Clown Turtles. Even most of the fight sequences look silly. Once and a while there will be some cool moves to remind you of the first film, but usually they feel like Power Ranger choreography or something.

Then there's the Dragon Lord's sidekick named Wick, who is a small dragon creature that's basically nothing more than a hand puppet. His voice is extremely irritating and what's worse is that he talks ALL THE TIME! Pretty much any scene that has the Dragon Lord also has Wick babbling on. Like Splinter, he doesn't feel like a real character. He feels false, like it's just some guy hiding behind whatever prop and using a hand puppet to entertain five-year olds. They really should have ditched this character all together because it toally brings the series down.

By far the worst thing about this series is the relentless slapstick sound effects. They are two basic kinds, the silly ones like boinks and bonks and clown horns, and then the martial arts ones like in old kung-fu movies. And they use these all the freaking time! You know how when a show starts and they inconspicuously put title credits on screen... well they do a sound effect for each one of those credits. The first time my wife and I were like WTF are those sound effects for, and then we realized they were timed to the credits. They also play the sound effects then the turtles are about to get in their vehicles, and then pretty much any other time any character touches anything or makes any kind of gesture. Was the sound guy getting payed by effect?

Oh yeah, then I have to mention that lame rap song that have for the opening. They really couldn't come up with anything better than that?

This release contains the first 13 episodes of the series on two DVDs. Unfortunately, there are NO extra features. Not a single one. That was quite dissappointing as I realy would have like to see some behind the scenes or even fan interviews and their take on the series, kinda like on the M.A.S.K DVD release. But nope, you get 13 episodes and that's it.

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