“Was that a mutant… banana?”
Justin’s rating: Four turtles to the third power
Justin’s review: Like a lot of kids who grew up in the late ’80s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a big part of my cartoon diet. It was weird, it was cool, and it tried hard to be funny like your dad cracking puns when your friends came over. But I can’t say that the Turtles really grew up with me. After seeing the first and second movies in the early 1990s, I moved on and put them largely from my attention. As such, I’ve only been vaguely aware that there have been other TMNT cartoon series, no doubt meaning a lot more to successive generations than my own.
That said, I found my interest piqued when I discovered that there was a 2009 TV movie called Turtles Forever that featured a cartoon cross-over from not one, not two, but three entries in the franchise. How can you not want to watch that — even if you have moved on?
Watching this gave me a serious crash-course in how bizarre the Turtles of my childhood were. I mean, we were supposed to fear a guy who was basically Cobra Commander with more bladed accessories and a snorting, simpering brain from another dimension while cheering on four wise-cracking reptiles who had a penchant for pizza rather than bugs. All I really remembered before seeing this movie was that the ’87 series had one of my great childhood crushes (She of the Yellow Jumpsuit) and one of the best theme songs of all time.
At the start of Turtles Forever, the ’87 Shredder gets in way over his head when he plays around with cracking open dimensions, ultimately summoning the far more lethal and ruthless ’03 Shredder. This monkeying around also brings together both the old and the new shows’ Turtles, which reluctantly work together even though their styles — and art animation — are very, very different from each other. The ’03 Turtles are larger, more serious, and more dedicated to being stealthy heroes, while the ’87 gang is used to fighting mutant goofballs and joking at every turn. But both groups are in for a huge shock when they eventually go to “Turtle Prime” — the dimension that features the original ’84 black-and-white comic book Turtles.
While the plot is serviceable in bringing together these three dimensions, establishing a credible threat, and giving everyone all the fanservice they could want, I am of mixed feelings as of the end result. I really think that the writers leaned too much on the “’87 Turtles are an annoying joke” to make the then-current series seem more admirable (which totally reminds me of another cartoon crossover…). It’s just not that exciting of a story, and I think that’s because it’s more of a writing exercise than anything else. It’s officially endorsed fanfiction, with about the same quality level.
Above all of this is the fact that nine years before Into the Spider-Verse came out, Turtles Forever had much of the same beats. It’s actually uncanny how much of Spider-Verse ends up (unintentionally?) copying Turtles Forever, from the multiverse angle (they actually call it the “Turtle-Verse” here), to the multi-installation crossovers, to a black & white character narrating in film noir fashion, to the dimension-collapsing finale.
I mean, this is nowhere near as good as Spider-Verse, but you could easily fill out a bingo card with all of the similarities.
In any case, Turtles Forever already seems dated, what with more series and movies coming out since 2009. But it was kind of nice to see my old ’87 Turtles back in action one last time, even if I’m way too old to shout “COWABUNGA!” and make nunchucks out of my kitchen towels.