Kids of the 90s were deluged with cartoons to watch, ranging from the latest offerings of DC and Marvel comics to whatever offering Bandai was cooking up or any other number of crazy other toons like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. But there was one cartoon that reigned supreme on networks, in theaters, and, most importantly, on toy store shelves: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While the characters are today reserved for those who grew up with them and little else (although a revival in 2003 certainly tried to put them back in the spotlight…but it didn’t have the same effect as before), those who remember going to the theaters to witness the excellence that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and the subsequent soundtrack that caught on like wildfire) will no doubt remember how amazing that experience was. Sure, the subsequent sequels ranged from dismal to absolute garbage, but they were redeemed (slightly) by a 2007 CGI flick, and those who grew up with the series can still appreciate it, even if there is a high cheese factor involved.
Since their introduction in 1984, The Turtles have established themselves as a true “evergreen” brand and pop culture icons. Twenty-five years later, they’re also being enjoyed by a new generation of fans through their animated TV series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Back to the Sewer, airing Saturday mornings in TheCW4Kids block on The CW Network. From their home in the storm sewers of Manhattan, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael battle petty criminals, evil megalomaniacs, and alien invaders, all while remaining isolated from society at large. The Turtles’ bravery and humor continue to resonate with audiences as the four heroes in a half-shell maintain their status as beloved global icons with no end in sight to their pizza-loving, crime-fighting ways.
Although I was a child of the 90s, I also had very strict parents who forbade such violent cartoons as Turtles and Batman (X-Men and Power Rangers were somehow fine, however). It was because the series got press for being such “violent” shows, but whatever the reason it ultimately didn’t matter—I’d watch the show whenever I could and still managed to get my fill through the toys. The films, however, were completely off limits and by the time I was deemed “old enough” to watch the films I completely lost interest.
It wasn’t until recently I got back into the Turtles a bit and I finally picked up the box set to watch. Needless to say I pretty much share the same opinion of the films as everyone else: awesome, ok, crap (in that order, of course). It’s not a difficult trilogy to peg down and it’s certainly got its fair share of dislike, but while it steadily increases in mediocrity, there’s no denying that the first film isn’t something really special. The puppet suits used were brilliant and looked great; the voices for the Turtles themselves were perfect and despite an incredible amount of camp, it’s still easily one of the darkest and truest adaptations of the original comic book to date.
The sequel, Secret of the Ooze was…well, it was made to cash in on the popularity of the characters. There were blatant product placements, an incredibly awkward concert with Vanilla Ice thrown in for no real conceivable reason and just about everything in regards to the film was a ridiculous concept. The costumes were also a bit shoddy looking…but, I still enjoyed it. It’s a pretty bad film, to be sure, but it’s still a fun outing and well worth it for Turtles fans. The recasting of April was a bit of a bummer, but not as much of a bummer as the next film turned out to be.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, sometimes referred to as Turtles in Time (no relation to the video game of the same name), is without a doubt one of these single worst films in the history of cinema. It’s Batman & Robin level bad (yet I own both films on Blu-ray. Damn box sets…) and there is quite frankly not a single damn thing that is redeeming about it. For one thing they have some of the absolute worst Turtle suits in this one, as they’re slimmed down and look like they’re coated in liver spots. On top of that the animatronics used in the mouths for the Turtles rarely matches what’s coming out of their mouths, so not only do they look ugly but they also don’t even work appropriately. I get that they’re streamlined to work with the actors better, but how the hell hard is it to use the suits from the first film, which were arguably the best? It can’t be that hard…
The final film in this set has nothing to do with the previous three and isn’t even live-action. Rather it’s the 2007 CGI TMNT outing, which aside from being incredibly Shredder-free, is really a fun little action flick. The voice acting in it is great, the action is awesome and there just really isn’t a lot to complain about unless you start to dig into the fact that Shredder wasn’t even the main bad guy. But that was cool because he was alluded to for the sequel…which we’ll apparently never get. I mean, there’s gotta be some kind of market for these films—it’s not as if it did that bad in theaters. Oh well…hopefully we’ll see something come out of the 25th Anniversary for the Turtles (aside from this box set, I mean).
Overall the four Turtles films are very hit and miss and together they still form a very mediocre package overall, but if you grew up with the film or are just fans of the dudes in shells then you really don’t have a lot to lose by checking these films out for the first, second, third, fourth or twentieth time. Except for the third film…you can really just skip that one. Recommended.
Well hell—Warner certainly starts the presentation for this box set off right, as all four films are housed inside of a pizza style cardboard case (same thickness and rigidity as a pizza box too…much to my dismay, however, as the FedEx driver didn’t exactly treat this box set like a pizza delivery guy as mine arrived with the front, top and left side crushed). Immediately off the bat the set wins points for presentation (which is good because it won’t win much for the content of the discs) and inside we get a smattering of goodies as well. The rear cover comes off and tucks inside fairly well (the content underneath is film credits, as well as a nice little greasy pizza stain) where we find the Turtles beanie that’s included (mine already sported a hole in it—gotta love cheap pack-ins), an advertisement for other Turtles merchandise, a replica of the comic book adaptation of the original Turtles flick (completely in black and white), a piece of paper describing the disc contents, eight postcards featuring characters from the films and a reproduction sketch with a reproduction signature on it as well (at least it doesn’t look original). Overall a nice little box set that could’ve just been the usual boring fair, but spruced up nicely by the folks at Warner Home Video.
Video for all four films arrive in the form of a VC-1 encoded transfer. The first film looks the best out of the first three surprisingly; while the amount of grain that is on the print is a bit ghastly, the amount of detail underneath it all is really surprising. It definitely could look better, no doubt, but for its age it’s an amazing looking film. The second film seems to sport the same level of grain but with some DNR, so a lot of it looks a lot softer than the first film, with some of the detail washed away. The third film looks better than the second film, but it’s such a crap film that it doesn’t matter; the detail level is still pretty high, although that shot of the big bad guy falling into the ocean still looks as slipshod and ridiculous as ever. TMNT sports the same transfer as the previous Blu-ray release, so the soft looking transfer for the CGI film is still here, but it still looks good. Slightly disappointed it’s still so soft, but hey…I’ll live with it.
Audio for all four films is a TrueHD 5.1 mix and, as expected, improves with each film. Some of the sound effects sound tinny and dated at times, but overall the first three films are pretty solid. TMNT sports the loudest and most surround filled audio mixes of the four films, which is to be expected, and really offers the most enjoyment. Still, they all sound good and you can even hear Vanilla Ice in TrueHD 5.1…a first, I think.
Extras…well, here’s where the set really gets disappointing. The only available extras for the first three films are Theatrical Trailer (1:28, SD) and Sneak Peek: Wii Game (1:04, 1080p) for the first, Theatrical Trailer (2:16, SD) for the second, and Theatrical Trailer (2:03, SD) for the third. Yup…all we get for the 25th Anniversary for some of the most popular 90s films ever are theatrical trailers; no retrospective, no commentary…nada. Very, very disappointing and really quite unforgiveable. Surely there must be someone to interview about these films.
Extras for TMNT are the same as the last release because…well, it’s the exact same pressing as the last disc, it just has different disc art (a note I didn’t mention earlier: each film sports a different style of pizza on the disc art). Disappointing? Eh, not really, the mixture of commentary, deleted scenes, storyboards, and other random featurettes is still pretty solid for what is a simple film.
Overall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Film Collection on Blu-ray is presented exceptionally well…but with very mixed results on the Blu-ray end of things. Recommended for those who want the films on Blu-ray, but with no new extras it’s a very hard set to sell; I love the packaging but little else about this set (although that first films transfer is still pretty impressive to me…the amount of detail you see on the turtle outfits is really quite remarkable). Still, if we didn’t get special features for the 25th Anniversary, it’s hard to conceive that we’ll get anything else down the line so we may as well take what we can get…even if the only extras are reproduction sketches and comics.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Film Collection arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on August 11th.