Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Review


It took a long while to get to this review, but I’ve finally made it. TMNT was one of the only big 90’s action shows that I had never watched from start to finish. Well, that finally changed and it certainly lives up to the reputation that the 90’s have created. I can see why no other TMNT show can top this one since it would be extremely difficult. This show handled all of the characters and lore perfectly. With solid action scenes, animation, and a great soundtrack, there is a lot to like here and not much to dislike. It can attract any and all action fans.

The show follows 4 Turtle warriors who become humanoid hybrids once they are exposed to a mysterious ooze. They are trained by a rat named Splinter who teaches them how to master hand to hand combat. They live in the shadows since the general public isn’t quite ready to handle them yet. They work to oppose the various gangs that are around like the Purple Dragons and the Foot Clan. The Turtles also obtain several allies over the years and make a lot of enemies as well. With 5+ seasons and a bunch of episodes along the way, you can bet that numerous obstacles stand in the way of world peace.

Let’s talk about the cast. Leonardo is the leader of the group as always and commands the team well. He trains the hardest and takes everything more seriously than his brothers. He is always calm and collected when dealing with the villains. With all of this in mind, surely he is the strongest right? I’d say that he definitely is. Raphael has always been known as the tough turtle, but in this show, he lags behind the others. Leonardo puts up a great fight against the Elite foot ninjas and just has way better showings in general when compared to the others. Leonardo temporarily became very hot headed like Raphael when his power was not enough to save everyone. It was actually a pretty fun phase and one episode in particular showed how changed he was. When two random guys with wings started a brawl in the city, both Raphael and Leonardo wanted to take them both out instead of talking it through. Leonardo became a better Raphael than Raphael. While Raphael was my favorite as a kid, Leonardo is definitely the best turtle this time, at least in this show.

Raphael is still the second best though. He talks a real good game and while he may not be as skilled as Leonardo or Michelangelo, he is still a strong fighter It would have been cool to have seen him get more one on one fights like what Leonardo got so we could get a better picture of just how strong he really is. There’s not much reason to dislike Raph and the guy makes a lot of good points on how the heroes shouldn’t be hiding all the time. It may have gone the X-men route if they had shown themselves to the world since I’m sure that the humans would try to attack them, but it would be good to get out of the sewer more.

Michelangelo is the comical character of the group and proves that natural talent can go a long way in this group. The other turtles train constantly while Mikey sits back and watches comic books, yet he ends up being a better fighter than Raph and Don. One would think that this is just a fluke, but he outshines them consistently. Mikey’s definitely a likable guy and this is probably one of the only TMNT products that can do him justice. It is very easy to badly write this kind of character since the constant jokes can easily get annoying to see. Luckily the writing is on point. The running gag of Raphael hitting Mikey is also voice acted well on Mikey’s part as he always manages to sound shocked no matter how often it happens. You almost feel bad for Mikey since it isn’t always his fault, but the Turtles are always eager to get into a fight.
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Finally we have Donatello. He was always my least favorite member of the group since I always have preferred the fighters. He is written well like the others though and the team definitely does need his expertise on many occasions. Also it is not as if he can’t fight either. He is roughly at the same level as the other Turtles, he just prefers the gadgets angle to being in the fray. His staff is definitely a better weapon than the nun-chucks if you ask me, but it does lose to the twin sai and the sword. His weaponized truck was definitely Donnie’s best idea. Having that thing around was always super handy.

April and Casey are main supporting characters. Their romance could be a little dragged out and unnecessary, but I guess it was handled better than most. Casey makes for a good rival to Raphael, even if he is left in the dust by the end of the series. His beef with the Purple Dragons helped the threat to really hit home. His personality makes Casey a good rival to have around, but a power boost would have helped as well. April is like Lois Lane. She doesn’t have quite as much spunk, but isn’t afraid to get in on the action. She never got to really fight though which is too bad since she does know some mild hand to hand skills. Having a cool crime fighting outfit like in the CGI film would have been cool. She certainly helped the turtles out a lot by giving them a place to stay and providing pizza. The gang would have been sunk without her.

Time to talk about Bishop. It’s a bold move talking about him before most of the characters, but he was a highlight in the show and easily the best character. I can’t say that I had been expecting him to be so awesome so it was a very pleasant surprise. As you may know, I love seeing the government play a role in any action show where they have to deal with supernatural foes or meta humans. I also like it when they look good and Bishop certainly served the country well. He was actually overpowering the turtles when they fought despite being outnumbered 4-1. I dare say that he is the strongest character with no super powers in the show. He may barely count since he may have a super soldier serum or something like that, but I don’t think it was ever stated officially. Capturing Splinter, Karai, and besting the Turtles is really all the evidence you need. Not to take away from his hand to hand skills though, Bishop was just an exceptional character and it’s hard to do him complete justice on that regard. You really have to see the episodes to really appreciate how awesome he is.

Another character who was a surprise hit was none other than Baxter Stockman. I figured that he would be your average mad scientist. He would talk a good game, but would not be able to back it up in the slightest. Stockman may not have turned out to be some kind of intense hand to hand fighter, but he was a lot more confident than I could have expected. He keeps on talking back to Shredder and showing no respect even after getting his arms and legs ripped off. Even losing his whole body aside from his brain didn’t deter him. It’s pretty crazy that none of this caused him to lose his bark. In the end Shredder could not break him so that was pretty good bragging rights for Stockman.

Hun was essentially Stockman’s main rival so they were polar opposites. Hun was very strong, but not particularly smart. He wasn’t nearly as fun as Stockman though and could never hold his own episode in the same way. He made up for it by having some good fights though. He started out at a level where he could take on multiple turtles at once, but by the end they can all handle him rather easily. Another big villain was Karai. She was a little more noble than the Shredder. She was still a villain of course, but she preferred to take the turtles on in fair hand to hand battles. She was definitely quite skilled and proved to be stronger than the turtles one on one except for Leonardo. He would always have the slight edge over her although it was close.

We can’t go on in the review without talking about the Splinter right? As the sensei to the four turtles, he was definitely a force to be reckoned with. I’d say that Leonardo definitely surpassed him by the end, but Splinter never got too weak. He could hold his own and his age never really got to him. His cane could even be used as a weapon even if it was nowhere near as good as a sword. I still disagree with most of his fist decisions about not going to the human world though. It never made much sense and it still doesn’t. If they are going to be heroes, then they will have to confront the villains at some point won’t they? They gradually begin to make their own decisions though and this is especially the case when Splinter is written out of the show for dozens of episodes at a time. I can’t say that I really missed him to be honest.

Another major character in the mythos is the Shredder. He plays a major role in the series like you’d expect. The show took a big gamble as it decided to make Shredder an alien. The show pulled it off quite well so I had no qualms with it. I don’t care for the design, but at least we never get to see it all that much. When he is in the suit, this version of the Shredder still has the absolute best design. He even gets a robotic voice that makes him even more menacing. Shredder proves to be too powerful for the Turtles most of the time as you’d expect, but he never really got any power ups. As a result, I do think that Leonardo ended up surpassing him. Shredder is my third favorite villain in the series behind Bishop and Tengu Shredder. It should come as no surprise then that most of the episodes with the Shredder as the main villain are highlights. He always has a pretty good plan at the ready and action is constant throughout.
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Tengu Shredder was another surprise hit although we should say that the surprise was very mild. I was expecting him to be pretty good the whole time, but he went above and beyond my expectations. He was essentially the Shredder, but even more intimidating and imposing. If you’re familiar with the show, then you’ll know that this is a pretty difficult feat to accomplish. His power level was also off the charts and if not for the Turtles getting serious upgrades as well, it would have all been over. To put this into perspective, you can’t even compare Tengu Shredder to the rest of the heroes and villains. Even powerful foes like the Shredder and Bishop are still meta humans. Tengu was above that and his physical stats were something out of an anime. It was a treat to watch.

The show did enjoy its array of Shredders so we got another one in the form of Cyber Shredder. He may have had less personality than the other two, but there’s not much to dislike with this guy. Since he is essentially a data clone of the Shredder, he retains the personality and fighting skills of the original with some data enhancements. He was another fine addition to the cast. Going back to more minor villains, I enjoyed the Evil Turtle Bot. His role in the show is tiny and I probably wouldn’t have thought much him if not for playing the video game. The game certainly made me see him in a new light since he was awesome there. He’s a pretty decent minion and actually gave the Turtles some trouble.

Another good minion was the Foot Tech Ninja. They may have been handled rather easily after their initial appearances, but they looked really good during the beginning. You can’t count these warriors out and they made good use of their tech. Even the normal Foot Soldiers are actually pretty cool minions. I could certainly get behind these guys at any rate. It’s important for a show to have good minions since you’ll be seeing them quite often. The best minions were certainly the Foot Elite though. They were able to hold their own against the Turtles and aside from Leonardo, I dare say that they were winning. They certainly didn’t earn the title lightly and since there are four of them, it makes for a fun fight against the four turtles.

Another faction was the Foot Mystics. They were pretty interesting since I remembered their original forms quite well, but wasn’t aware that they had a true form. I couldn’t take them very seriously as villains to be honest and they weren’t as impressive as the rest of the Foot. Their elemental abilities are handy to have though. Leatherhead is another supporting character that I wasn’t fond of. He became a good guy for a good portion of the series, but he always struggled with the dark side. He rarely got around to actually helping the heroes and while he is strong, his lack of hand to hand skills would have likely been exposed if he appeared more often.

The Ninja Tribunal was a powerful group of warriors who were so powerful that it was easy to assume they had entered the wrong show. These guys didn’t fit in with the others as with the whole season, but that didn’t take away from how awesome they were as characters. The group was pretty mean and I certainly wouldn’t trust them, but they were an imposing group. Were they over hyped? Yeah, they didn’t perform quite as well as one would have expected but at least they still did try to put up a fight. Their character designs and special abilities were pretty fun.

Another super group that may have been a bit out of place here was the Justice Force. They are a not very subtle homage of the Justice League and they tackle the threats that no one else would dare oppose. Unfortunately, we never really got to see how they would fare against the Shredder and the gang. Again, it’s almost as if it was a completely different show when these guys would show up. At most they may have met the Shredder very briefly in one of those alternate future kind of episodes, but I can’t really recall that with any certainty. Their version of Superman and Batman were definitely the highlights here. They acted the part well and did a good job when it came time to fight. Batman’s character didn’t actually join the group for a while, but he took the plunge in the end.

One character that I didn’t care for much was Renet. It’s not to much that she was a bad character, but that she always brought along bad episodes. Each episode she appeared in was a very painfully drawn out filler episode where you would just want the plot to return. She didn’t really add anything to the series and you would constantly just wonder what she was even doing in the show. It felt like some kind of crossover for the fans, but I don’t believe she was ever a big character so that didn’t work well. (At least for me)

Cody was a main character in the infamous Fast Forward season. He’s a nice enough kid and you could make a lot of comparisons between him and Chris from Sonic X. It does feel like he was forced into the series to make the Turtles a little more sympathetic since you could now put yourself in the kid’s shoes. It was a nice wrinkle that Cody was rich though. His uncle may have been crooked, but that didn’t stop Cody from trying to save the day. He’s all right, but the character is so generic that it is hard to dislike him. By the same token, you could dislike him because he is so generic. Serling was a much more charismatic supporting character that was introduced in the season. He got a lot of witty dialogue throughout and had some of the best facial expressions. He actually could fight when necessary and even became a suit of armor for Cody towards the end of the show. His attempts at humor usually worked quite well and fleshed out his character.
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The Ancient One is the kind of character that you would expect big things from right? He taught Splinter’s master so he must be super strong? Well, the guy let himself go so now he’s very overweight and prefers to be the crude humor specialist of the show. It’s always sad whenever the guy is on screen and he never fights so that leads me to believe that he is actually not all that tough. It’s a shame, but I guess that’s what happens when you buy into the hype. He was a wasted character and one who luckily didn’t get to appear much.

Viral was a fairly intense villain who appeared in Fast Forward. She had some really potent abilities and it was hard to permanently destroy her since the data could keep on coming back over and over again. She certainly didn’t mess around and while her role was ultimately pretty minor, Viral left a good mark on the show. Another decent group of minor villains were the Dark Turtles. Leonardo’s certainly got the most personality and he came close to turning good even if he ultimately couldn’t make the switch. The other three were comic relief for the most part, but it was still nice to see a team of counterparts to take on the real Turtles.

Khan is one of those characters that will make you take a step back and wonder where the writers were going with him. When he first appeared, Khan got a lot of hype since he murdered the Turtles in the future. Well, after his initial appearance, Khan was treated as a lightweight. The heroes didn’t have to pay any special attention to him and just wrecked him as they would any other villain. I feel like the writers maybe forgot that plot or had to shelve it due to backstage drama and as a result, we skipped Khan’s entire character arc. It’s too bad since the character had a lot of potential and could have been one of the best if handled right.

Usagi was treated as a hype character and you could also say that he was a guest star since he has his own comic series to think about. Unfortunately, I definitely didn’t care much for his character. I’d say that his skills were drastically overplayed to make him appear to be an even match for Leonardo. His advice was never all that good and once Leonardo went into his toughness phase after not being strong enough to save the day, Usagi didn’t do much to help. He was called in to try and calm Leonardo down, but it didn’t work at all and Usagi was always more about talking than acting. The character was just irritating whenever he’d appear.

That was a lot of characters eh? Well, now lets look at the show as a whole. The first season really started the show off on a strong note and you could make a strong case for it being the best season. Shredder Strikes Back, Return to New York, and The Shredder Strikes were all fantastic multi part events. I dare say that Shredder Strikes Back Part 1 is the definitive episode from the entire series. It’s my personal favorite because just about the whole episode is one large fight and it shows why Leonardo is the leader of the gang. I don’t believe that any of the other 3 Turtles would have been able to last very long here.

The next season started off with the weakest big event of the series. The intergalactic space war just wasn’t very interesting and since it was 5 whole episodes…it dragged on a great deal. Luckily, the season picked up again once they made it back home since we got to see more of Bishop and the Shredder. This season spent a lot of time with the Tournament at the end and had a good amount of stand alone episodes as well. It had less stand out episodes than season 1, but when you consider the consistent quality of the show, it’s not as if it was much of a change. Season 1 was more epic, but you could really appreciate season 2 because of how the tight continuity kept expanding the show.

Season 3 is probably the weakest season. Granted, you can have a very different experience when actually watching the episodes as opposed to remembering them from afar. That being said, the only 5-6 episodes were about the Space Invaders once again and that had to be the worst plot. Let me explain why this plot just didn’t work. I didn’t really care about the Dinosaurs or the resistance organization that they were fighting. I just wanted the Turtles to head back to Earth so they could have some good hand to hand fights with the villains. That’s really all that I wanted and this space business just didn’t do it for me. The villains simply weren’t as interesting as the Foot or even dare I say, the Purple Dragons. We did get a pretty nice climax where Shredder, Bishop, and the Aliens all got to play their final gambit. Bishop once again got the last laugh I’d say, but all of the characters got a good amount of hype there. Usagi got to appear here so that was too bad though.

Season 4 was pretty exciting. For starters, this season changed the status quo much more than any other previous season. Leonardo blamed himself for what happened on the fated missile and became a hot head like Raphael. He was more dark and brooding and stopped being the calm and collected leader that he used to be. This made for a lot of great dialogue and it also helped Leonardo keep his place at the top of the food chain. While later seasons started to mess up the power levels a bit, this one could not since it was a part of the plot. The final episode of the season was especially exciting as it directly led into the next big adventure with Tengu Shredder. It was a really bold and epic way to close out the season. This saga also had Leonardo infiltrate the Foot headquarters and basically beat up every single person there. These were the kind of highlights that were lacking in season 3.
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Season 5 took a very different approach to the show and it worked well. While the first four seasons were your standard action adventure, I dare say that season 5 was more like an anime. The Turtles had to come together to stop an evil menace and to do this, they would have to learn how to wield super powers. Michelangelo got some great speed and really won out here since his ability was the only one that was lethally dangerous from the get go. The others also got some useful abilities and from there they worked to stop Tengu Shredder. They may not have had a lot of luck in the end since the Tribunal was overwhelmed, but the whole season had a feeling of danger and unease. Something was always happening here and it certainly had the fastest pacing out of all the seasons. Of course, at 12 episodes that was probably a given. Even the 12 episodes part seems like a homage to anime in general. Everyone suddenly got so crazy powerful and the fights were so good that this season really could have been a contender for the best in another title. As it stands, the short length does keep it back ever so gently.

Season 6 brought another twist to the show. It was the Fast Forward season and took a more toyetic approach to the show. It suddenly felt more like a Saturday Morning Cartoon and as such, every character suddenly had futuristic equipment at their disposal. It was a radical switch as the entire cast was switched out for a new one with the exclusion of the main 4 turtles. I thought it was fun enough. On its own, it was still good enough to get a 7, but you couldn’t really compare it to the older seasons. It was fun, but not as epic or action packed as what had come before. The Bounty Hunter Zixx was a decent addition to the cast though. He always had the upper hand on the turtles and was good at getting people to lower their guards.

Finally, we have the Back to the Sewers season. The appeal of this last installment was obvious as the Turtles finally got to go home and relax. Unfortunately, duty called as Splinter was split across the Digital World and Cyber Shredder wanted to break out of there and head to the real world. The Turtles had to move fast and activate all of their Tron gear in order to escape. Because of this, it still had some Fast Forward elements while bringing back the old cast. It was like a fusion of the two and it was a fun enough season. The new designs may have taken a bit of getting used too, but they were still pretty solid. I definitely preferred the old ones as they made for far better fights, but this will still beat most of the modern animated titles.

At 7 seasons long, the show had a lot of time to introduce characters and get you used to the lore. This is part of what made the series so successful. There were a lot of hypothetical match ups that you could spend time thinking about since they hadn’t happened in the show yet. I really wanted to see Shredder fight Bishop or to have any of those two go up against the Justice Force. The two aspects of the show rarely ever met up which is a shame, but I like to think that the series was saving that just in case it ever wanted to do a really big crossover episode. To an extent, the rocket finale was the closest that we got, but I wanted more.

TMNT lasted long enough where the show got to try out a bunch of different genres and we had a lot of action scenes. IT’s worth mentioning that even episodes without a big villain or a lot of fights could still be good because of the solid writing. It was just a well written show and the characters were portrayed in an accurate fashion. My only gripe was the noticeable lack of pizza in the show. TMNT goes hand in hand with pizza. That’s how it is and that’s how it’s always been. I’m sure that the show could have included pizza in more scenes if they wanted to do so. It just makes sense to add that into a Ninja Turtles show. Still, it’s a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme of things.

One of the best parts of TMNT was definitely the soundtrack. It had a lot of really great tunes and these were themes that you could only hear in the 90’s. As one of the only 90’s shows that I had barely watched from the action genre, this show brought about a lot of nostalgia. I really do miss this style and just watching one episode will remind you of what you are missing. Naturally, the animation is also very sharp. The designs are very wholesome and you can feel every blow during the fights. The impacts had power. The animation style switched a bit towards and the end and it was definitely a step down. It still looked better than the current ninja turtles show, but the glory days were long gone by then. Luckily, that was at the very end so pretty much all of the really epic Shredder episodes had already aired. The show has a similar feel to other big cartoons like Justice League and not only does it age well, but it clobbers a lot of the currently airing shows.

I’m not even typically a huge TMNT fan, but the show was just really solid. Even if you may not have thought the characters were great before, they are solid in this show. A good show can do wonders for a franchise and this show is evidence of that. The recent movies certainly haven’t helped and the current TMNT show looks rather choppy. I’d definitely take another season or this title over that. After all, an element that this show has over those is its tight continuity. You could actually compare it to something like Young Justice as it keeps building and building off of its plot lines. Everything is connected and the more episodes you watch, the more all of the plots start to intertwine. It makes everything feel that much more important. For example, the illuminati guys started showing up very early on in the series and the show kept you guessing as to their true identities for a very long time. While the twist on who they actually were was a little underwhelming, it was always awesome to see those guys apear. They were strong, mysterious, and had everything that you could want in a shadow group who operates behind the scenes.
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Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a great show. It’s one of the lost gems of a legendary era for television and I finally got to check it out from start to finish. It had quite a lot of episodes and a high amount of replay value so it’s the kind of show where you can easily re-watch some episodes of at any point. I’d highly recommend this to any blog reader who hasn’t checked it out yet. I don’t expect any of the other Ninja Turtle shows to match this one. From what I’ve seen of the only others, it’s not even a close fight. This one simply can’t be topped and that means that the 90’s (Well, technically early 2000s, but it feels like the 90s so I may as well stick with that) has scored another big win! If I ever do watch another TMNT show to completion, I’ll try not to constantly compare it to this one every episode, but it’ll be tough.

Overall 8/10

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