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Looking Back: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Part 1: The 1987 Show vs The 2012 Show

Like a lot of kids, one of the shows I grew up on was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Because I was born a year after the original show ended, I had to settle for the 4Kids reboot from the early 2000’s. Eventually, I was given sweet access to the internet and started watching a lot of the classic episodes from the late 80’s online and I thought it was beautiful. It had the perfect balance of corniness and wit to where it never felt too stupid. Combining the one liners of the turtles, Splinter’s words of exposition and April O’ Neil to look at, the show was always a lot of fun.

With the new film out and in honour of the characters’ 30th anniversary, I thought I’d take a look at what the show and the movies had to offer and I thought I would examine both the series from 1987 I watched as a kid and the new series kids are growing up on today. Is it a worthy reboot of the great series? Let’s take a look.

The Theme Song
One of the most iconic things about the classic Ninja Turtles show was that theme song penned by Chuck Lorre (the only good thing he ever did to TV). Because of its chant-like chorus, the fun lyrics and the fast pace of the song, kids like myself got really fucking excited! Every time I heard the song, I would chant along and scream Turtle Power.

It also gave us some development on the   and their personalities as well as some hints as to their origin and their motivations by describing Splinter and Shredder’s impact on them. Looking at it today, sure it might be a tad bit over the top but it still has a lot going for it by using its fast paced fun to give us a look at the Turtles.

1987 TMNT Theme Song

With such a great theme song to live up to, how does this new one do? It sucked. Sure, it develops the characters, sort of, but there’s no fun. The song’s tempo is slowed down, it feels depressing at points and there’s a rap number. Yes, this is a rap song and it just ruins everything. Its obvious they didn’t care to make it fun or catchy. It just seems like they wanted to cash in on what’s in right now, rap while trying to stay as similar as possible to the old theme. The original cartoon had a theme that was able to stand on its own. Power ballads and hair metal were huge when the classic Turtles aired, that doesn’t mean that the theme song was either. Even the theme song from the 4Kids show had a catchy theme that stood out without using the original theme and trends of the time as a crutch.

TMNT 2012 Theme Song

The Turtles Themselves And Other Characters
In the original show, the four turtles were given down to earth and fairly realistic personalities. Leonardo is the leader of the group, Donatello is the smart one, Raphael is kind of a dick and Michaelangelo is the one who likes to party. With all of these contrasting personalities, they play off of each other really well and have fantastic chemistry with one another. They also have some fantastic zingers and one liners that are clever and appropriate for the tone the show has.

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Characters such as Splinter, and Shredder were also developed really well. Shredder’s motivations to stop the Turtles due to a feud with Splinter (once known as Hamato Yoshi) are well portrayed. Splinter’s motivations are also well shown and his influence on the Turtles is large. Splinter’s story of being framed by Oroku Saki (Shredder) and living in the New York sewers before finding the turtles is a tragic but simple one. Its not too convoluted and audiences can still feel sympathy for the rat.

April also is well developed and has a fantastic chemistry with the turtles. In Turtle Tracks, when April and our four heroes meet, the audience instantly notices a terrific bond as April’s confusion as well as sincerity and the Turtles sarcasm and boldness flow well as a unit. She’s a very strong character that doesn’t rely on typical supporting stereotypes to be adored by fans.

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The 2012 Turtles do have some fair chemistry, I will admit, but they seem to lack the heart and the wit that the original Turtles had. It’s as if the writers took the main personalities of the Turtles (which are not only in tact, but also updated decently) and left the charm and wit alone. The humour seems to fall flat and comes off as too childish and at points even mean spirited in the new show. In an episode Donatello gets his ass kicked and the rest of the Turtles, instead of being clever or even supportive of him, just sit there and laugh at him. It just came off as rather rude and the Turtles were acting like they were six years old.

You also have Splinter who is just there to just spit out a lesson for kids. He doesn’t say or do much and neither does Shredder. It feels like he’s just there to be there. I was also annoyed at how the origin story of their dispute was changed to something so convoluted. I know that the 80’s show was no closer to the original comics but at least it was simpler like the comics. In the comics, Hamato Yoshi is killed by Oroku Saki and Yoshi’s rat escapes to the sewers becoming Splinter. In the original show, Yoshi turns into a rat after being framed by Saki and forced into exile. In this new show, Yoshi is discredited by Saki in front of Yoshi’s wife which leads to a dispute between the two and then Saki murders Yoshi’s family and he exiles to New York, buys 4 turtles and is confronted by droids who are carrying an alien substance that turns him and the turtles into what they are today. Yeah that didn’t need to be as complicated as it is, especially when the show is so immature, why would the writers throw something like that in here? This even makes me think the original show is closer to the comics than this.

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Speaking of being faithful to your source material, let’s look at the plastic April O’ Neil. She lacks the distinct jumpsuit, which I don’t care about as much and she lacks her job as a reporter because she’s a teenage girl… WHAT?!?! Seriously, the jumpsuit I understand since it’s not seen often anyway, but what was the point of making April a sixteen year old girl? Every single Ninja Turtles show and movie had her as an adult, what made these people want to change that when obviously it didn’t harm anyone?! It’s a pointless change and it doesn’t even work that well. It doesn’t affect anything either way! As contradictory as that sounds, it’s true. It wouldn’t have mattered either way. She’s no more relatable as a teen than as an adult so why bother changing that?

The Animation and The Tone
The animation in the 1987 series was awesome. It had this grittier but still colourful look that was able to represent the mood the writers were going for. The show was goofy and dumb but also had some darker moments, especially at night. Take a look at the fight in Hot-Rodding Teenagers From Dimension X in Season 1. The shading is much darker, the grain is more apparent and we see a lot more shadowy images as we see Donatello in danger hanging from the side of a flying hot rod. Even the backgrounds give off a mood of danger.

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While the animation has its grit, it balances it with goofy, exaggerated actions from the characters really well. Take a look at this scene in Mutagen Monster from Season 3 and the exaggeration in the arm and leg movements and facial expressions.

TMNT Mutagen Scene

See? The show really knew how to balance the weird and the dark without leaning too far on either side so that kids could enjoy it and it didn’t come off as too stupid.

In the 2012 series, the animation looks mediocre to say the best. It looks like any other CG animated show on Nickelodeon, vibrant, over exaggerated and looks like it came out of a game for Gamecube. Just like Barnyard, Jimmy Neutron and others like it. Considering the work done on 2007’s TMNT and the fact that the animation looks so familiar, it just comes off as boring.

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The animation also looks way too polished and glossy. There are even points where the characters look like either dolls or as if they came out of a video game. Take a look at this picture of April O’ Neil and tell me she doesn’t look like a doll based on glossy and plastic she looks.

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As well as this comparison between Donkey Kong and a villain from the season 1 episode Monkey Brains.

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The animation just strikes me the wrong way. CG animation isn’t the problem, its just how it was used and how bland it looked compared to something like TMNT.

So Which Show Do I Prefer?image

In the end, I prefer the original 1987 show for obvious reasons. It’s a much smarter series than its successor because of the charming and loveable  characters, the wit in the humour, some memorable music and the excellent animation that still holds up. Its an excellent series that still holds up its fantastic legacy today.

About The Author
Chris Ranta
Chris Ranta

I’m a fan of cinema and have been since a young age. I love to write analysis and discuss the film making process to give myself a better appreciation for it. My favourite genres of film are dark comedy and cult films. I also happen to like long walks on the beach if that helps…

2 Comments
  • July 28, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    I never really felt the 80s TMNT series aged well. It was obviously more entertaining when I was a child. Good stuff though, bro.

  • Chris Ranta
    July 28, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Compared to other shows, especially stuff from the last ten years, I feel it’s aging pretty well. I agree, it can be corny and dumb but I feel it’s doing okay, especially for kids. Can’t be worse than The Next Mutation though haha

    Chris

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