My thoughts on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) and TMNT (2003)

So I’ve been watching a lot of Ninja Turtles lately.  A lot.  Of Ninja.  Turtles.  This goes a little bit outside the scope of my blog, but the show started out as a comic book, so not too far.

Let me start by saying that I love the Ninja Turtles.  I love every aspect I’ve seen of them – yes, I even liked the half-assed 2014 movie (not the best I’ve seen, but not nearly as awful as some people say it is).  I vaguely remember watching the 1987 show as a child and being so enthralled by it that it cemented itself into my mind as one of my favorite shows of all time.  Ever since then, anything that carried the name “Ninja Turtles” has, by association, been at least worth a watch.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 care of Turtlepedia
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 care of Turtlepedia

With my current trend of recapturing (rereading or re-watching) my childhood, I decided to give my old favorite a go, and oh boy did it not disappoint.

The very first episode of the 1987 Ninja Turtles series includes not only a classic flashback origin story, but an echo-y announcement as to who the team is.  Not to mention a granny bag lady with a tommy gun in her shopping cart.  1987 did not play.

I was continually surprised by how self-aware the show was.  Comments were made regularly about the show and the plot, sometimes even poking fun at story progression.  For example:  Michelangelo questioning why he and his brothers have to follow a dinosaur as it peacefully tramps around downtown New York, and Raphael responding “because it wouldn’t be much of an episode if we didn’t.”  Another: Krang handing Shredder a convenient device to control a robot from the future, and Shredder questions how Krang has these things just lying around.  Krang’s response is “we have to keep the story moving” and the subject is dropped.

TMNT 2003 Care of TMNT Wiki
TMNT 2003 Care of TMNT Wiki

Weeks later I graduated from 1987 to 2003 (skipping the anime show for the sake of another, later piece of my childhood), and was once again not disappointed.  TMNT 2003 had all the makings of any cartoon show in the early 00’s – violence, edgy-ness, and an animation style that poured all of the budget into the action and none into the backgrounds.  The theme song was a wreck, but I forgave that in lieu of character development which, regrettably, the 1987 show lacked.

This show got away with so much, from showing a man taser-tortured to death to (bloodlessly) beheading the Shredder.  The plots were dark and intense, but often left dropped ends.  For example: Splinter saying that Leonardo, whose spirit was recently broken in an unfair battle with all of Shredder’s forces, needed the love and support of all of his brothers to heal, and only Raphael helping – the others caught up in a minor subplot about Michelangelo and a forest monster.

Overall, both shows have their strong points but neither are perfect.  I find it’s best to take each in turn – remember the time when the show was made and take that into account.  Both are worth a good re-watch, especially for any dedicated fan of the franchise.  Despite how ridiculous Ninja Turtles are, it’s still a precious piece of my early development that I will always love, no matter how many new shows or reboots it gets.


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