DVD REVIEW: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - The Complete Classic Series Collection
A Decade's Worth of "Heroes in a Half Shell" Hits Home Video...
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If you grew up in the 1980s, you no doubt watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Originally created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman (of Heavy Metal fame), the duo essentially created the characters as a spoof of a number of early 1980s comics, including Marvel Comics' Daredevil, Dave Sim's Cerebus, and Frank Miller's Ronin. No doubt the creators were as surprised as anyone when licensing agent Mark Freedman approached the men and sought to create merchandise and collectibles based on the ridiculous concept. What ensued was a toy deal with Playmates and a successful cartoon which aired on CBS and, at the height of the property's popularity, a cartoon on over 125 TV stations daily and a comic selling 125,000+ copies monthly!
Now, thanks to Lionsgate and Fred Wolf Films, an entire decade's worth of cartoon classic awesomeness is available to once again watch and enjoy. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series Collection hit stores today and is sure to please fans of this goofy, action-packed series which was the reason many of us ran home from school every day. Loaded on 23 DVDs, this collection includes all 193 episodes of the original cartoon series as well as a variety of bonus features and comes packaged in an eye-catching case shaped like the Turtle Van.
What's not to love?
For those who have been living in a shell for the last 25 years, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series introduces viewers to four turtles who, when dumped into the sewers of New York City and exposed to a mysterious green ooze, were transformed into four humanoid beings. Later named Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo by their humanoid rat ninja master Yoshi (nicknamed Splinter), the four train to protect themselves as well as take revenge on The Shredder, a former ally-turned-nemesis of their master who is out to get Splinter and his four students. Of course, along the way there are a variety of other characters introduced, including the reporter and ally April O'Neal, the sports fanatic-turned-vigilante Casey Jones and a variety of bad guys needing battling, including the mutant warthog Bebop and rhino Rocksteady, the villainous alien Krang, the mad scientist turned human fly Baxter Stockman, and others.
The 23 disc set is broken into seasons and provides for both the new and old fan alike. Disc 1 includes the entire 5-episode first season which introduces the main characters as well as provides the background, humor and fun that would become a trademark of the series. Disc 2 includes the 13-episode second season, which included now even more humor and wit as well as a more formulaic approach to the weekly episodes, with a specific villain or villains being fought in each. However, all of that soon changed in Season 3 when the cartoon series was picked up and made a daily, bumping the episode count from 13 in Season 2 to 47 in Season 3.
Discs 3-6 include these 47 episodes, which vary in quality and popularity. Of course, more episodes meant the need for more characters and Season 3 saw the introduction of a number of fan-favorites, including the aforementioned Casey Jones as well as the popular Usagi Yojimbo (one of my personal favorites), The Rat King, Metalhead, Don Turtelli, Lotus and Leatherhead among others. Additional characters in the show of course meant additional action figures on the shelves and it was during this time (1989/1990) that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began their reign as one of the most popular properties of all time.
Discs 7-11 include the 39-episodes in Season 4, and mark the series' transition to CBS's Saturday Morning lineup as well as daily episodes. It's during this fourth season the series almost jumps the shark. I say that with love as the show is undeniably one of my favorites of all time, but the fact the show's writers introduce the villains like Jocko the rampaging ape, a mobster named Pinky McFingers and a mysterious lizard-woman named Mona Lisa. A bit lame today, though I'm sure as a 12 year old, I thought they were amazing...
Discs 12-14 include Season 5, which includes 22 episodes. Now geared towards a younger audience, the humor is more juvenile and the "monster of the week" formula is again apparent. Discs 15 and 16 include Season 6, which is even shorter than Season 5 at only 16 episodes. More humor and less action, this season is again geared towards the younger audience who'll no doubt enjoy the goofy characters and childish humor.
Discs 17-20 include Season 7 of the series, which bolsters back up to 27 episodes. A good portion of this season is taken from USA Network's Cartoon Express, which includes the "Vacation in Europe" storyline, which finds the TMNT's and Splinter in - you guessed it - Europe, including France, Italy, Portugal, Norway, and more.
Discs 21-23 include the final three seasons (8, 9 and 10) and are considered by many fans as the "Red Sky episodes" (as the sky was often shown as red instead of the standard blue). In fact, it was as this point in the series that the show became an almost completely different beast, with a number of older characters going missing, a different theme song and title sequence, a new style of art, and a much more action-oriented storyline. Each of the final three seasons include only 8 episodes, many featuring the classic, fan-favorite villains Dregg, Krang, and Shredder.
Considering video and audio quality, the series shows its age but is still enjoyable and entertaining. The video is presented in the show's original 1.33:1 ratio with few compression issues. Colors are bright and fine and animation, while probably considered ancient compared to what we have today, is exactly what you'd expect from a series which began in 1987. Likewise, audio is delivered via Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which delivers dialogue and sound effects as well as the now classic theme music easily. Unfortunately, subtitles aren't included (for those of us who've lost some hearing over the last 25 years).
As for special features, the set includes the same as those originally released on individual season sets: two "Voice Actor Interviews" with Pat Fraley/Krang & Slash and James Avery/Shredder on Disc 11, the "A Ninja-Tastic Look Back" including voice actors Rob Paulsen/Raphael, Cam Clarke/Leonardo, Barry Gordon/Donatello and Townsend Coleman/Michaelangelo on Disc 14. This will impress die-hard fans as each voice actor chats about the show, their careers, and more. Disc 14 also includes two "Character Profiles" for series favorites Usagi Yojimbo and Baxter Stockman This includes origin stories, stats, highlight clips and more. Disc 17-20 each include one part of the four-part "Shellabration" featurette, which includes a look at the toys and merchandise, an interview with creators Eastman and Laird and other crew members, and a look at the impact the TMNT cartoon series and phenomenon had on pop culture as a whole. While the featurette is well-made and informative, there's absolutely no reason to have the four parts on separate discs.
Today, 25 years after originally airing, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon is still a fan-favorite. One of the fondest memories of my and no doubt many a fanboy's childhoods, this series connected us all. No matter where we were from or what we looked like, what we wore or where we lived, we all shared a love for heroes in a half shell. We all wanted to be Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo. We all wanted to be like Casey Jones and Master Splinter, fighting the Foot Clan, Shredder, Krang, Baxter Stockman and the hilarious hoodlums Bebop and Rocksteady. For 10 years we had the opportunity to tune in and escape our seemingly mundane childhood, to become mutant ninja warriors, eating pizza, kicking butt, and yelling - at the top of our lungs - "Turtle Power!"
It's nice to see those days are back again thanks to this impressive DVD set...
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series Collection is available on DVD today wherever fine home video is sold.
For a full list of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle episodes and episode descriptions, click HERE.
- review by Jess C. Horsley