Thirty two years ago Mirage Studios first introduced American audiences to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The “heroes on the half shell” were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. In the years since their creation, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo (and their rodent sensei Splinter) have gone on to become a worldwide phenomenon with various incarnations on both the silver screen and the small screen. Some have been hugely popular such as the original 1987 animated series (perhaps the franchise’s most successful incarnation) and the 1990 big screen adaptation of the comic book. That incarnation even spawned three sequels. Other incarnations have not been so successful, such as the 2014 big screen reboot and its new sequel Out of the Shadows. They are not the franchise’s only lesser installments. In 1997 Saban tried its hand at its own take on the everyone’s favorite reptile heroes in the form of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. That incarnation ultimately proved to be a bust for the company. It only lasted one season and a total of twenty-eight episodes. Now thanks to Shout! Factory fans of this short-lived series can own it for themselves on DVD. That is because Shout! Factory released the series in its entirety early this past May. While the series was obviously one of the least successful of the TMNT franchise it still is a good addition to any hardcore TMNT fan’s collection. That is because it serves as a historical document of sorts showing everything that was done right and wrong with the series. In examining those pros and cons in whole audiences will agree that while it might not be the best of the TMNT franchise’s installments it also is not its worst. That (dis)honor still goes to Paramount and Nickelodeon’s 2014 big screen take on the turtles. Keeping that in mind, this installment proves once more to be a worthwhile addition to any TMNT fan’s collection if only for historical purposes.
Saban’s 1997 live-action take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is by no means the franchise’s best incarnation. In all fairness it is also not the franchise’s worst incarnation either. Keeping that in mind, it is a welcome (and important) addition to any TMNT fan’s collection. That is because it shows through its twenty-eight total episodes that Saban, with all of its successes, was not invincible at the time of the series’ run. That is not entirely the fault of the people at Saban, though. In examining for instance the timing of the series’ debut it had a lot working against it. The series was meant to follow the events of the franchise’s original cinematic trilogy. The problem is that that trilogy wrapped in 1993 with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. Saban’s live action series didn’t start until four years later in 1997, which was also only a year after the original animated series came to its own end. When the story lines presented in each are taken into consideration and the timing of their beginnings and endings, they worked wholly against Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. Had Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation come earlier—perhaps during the animated series’ run as an alternate universe series of sorts—then it might have had more of a fighting chance. But because of the timing of its debut and its plot line it is clear why it failed in the long run. That is just one important part of the show that should be noted in examining what the series in whole. the series’ writing, in the bigger picture of its presentation, played its own integral part in the series’ failure. The same can be said of the look and the feel of the series.
The timing of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation’s debut is a big part of what might have made the series’ run so short. The timing of its release, when considered alongside the events of the franchises cinematic trilogy and its animated series, put a rather large nail in the series’ proverbial coffin. The series’ writing is just as problematic as the timing of its release. The series’ writers opened this series by introducing its key villain—Dragon Lord–early on. The problem is that he wasn’t the series’ only villain starting out. The writers incorporated Shredder into the story, too. However, they wasted very little time taking him out of the story, too. The way in which they wrote him out was rather anticlimactic to say the very least, too. It almost leaves one asking why he was even used in the overall story considering how little impact his elimination had on the series’ overall story. It could be argued that in so randomly eliminating Shredder, the writers were just throwing something out there just to see if it would work and make the series in whole anywhere near feasible. While the overall story did work, it still ended up being relatively lackluster at best. The same thing happened when the writers behind the TMNT animated series tried to keep that series going after the turtles eliminated Shredder. They introduced a new villain—an alien from another world—but it just didn’t work, which ultimately led to the series’ end in Season Ten. The same sort of mindset led to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III’s failure, too. With Shredder out of the way at the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II it was as if the writers were asking where to go from there. One can only assume that someone just said, “hey, let’s send them back in time on a quest and see how audiences react.” While the end result was entertaining in its own right, it is still obvious that the movie’s writers struggled to come up with something to keep the movie (and the franchise) going. This, again, goes back to the obvious practice of the writers behind Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. It is as if, again, the writers went into the series blindly and just threw in what they could as the series advanced.
The timing of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation and its writing are both key elements that worked against the series in its short run on FOX Kids from 1997 – 1998. They are not the only elements that should be considered in examining what the series got right and what it got wrong. The look and the feel of the series are just as important to note as the timing of its run and its writing. The look of the series will be examined first. The costumes and the sets that were used in Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation are a stark contrast to those used by Saban’s Power Rangers franchise at the time. That series had come a long way in terms of its look from the days of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Some of the camp was still there in terms of its look. But that look had also clearly evolved to a point since those days, too. By comparison Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation took audiences back to the days of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers thanks to the campy look of its sets and costumes. No effort was made by the people at Saban to make this series look anything like the franchise’s original cinematic trilogy, which again this series was supposed to be linked. Even the look of Shredder’s outfit barely made him look menacing. He looked more like one of the then WWF’s costumed bad guys than any truly menacing villain. That is thanks to the design of his outfit. Even the look of the turtles was a complete change of pace from their look on the big screen and its previous small screen incarnation. This is again even with the series’ alleged connection to the franchise’s cinematic trilogy. The only part of the series that really bore any similarity (and that term is used very loosely here) to that trilogy is that of the turtles’ subway lair. It is obvious that whoever designed their lair for this series did in fact make a concerted effort to connect the two universes. Sadly it is about the only thing that actually connects the two universes in terms of the series’ look. The rest of the sets and costumes are more akin to the MMPR series than anything seen on the big screen or any other TMNT incarnations. By relation, the feel of the series is linked just as directly to MMPR as its look.
The look of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation is an undeniably important part of the series’ life span. That is because of how starkly it stands out from that of the rest of the offerings in the TMNT universes and even from that of Saban’s Power Rangers universes at the time. The series’ feel is just as important to note as its look. That is because its feel stands out just as starkly as its look. The feel includes the series’ cinematography and the acting. The cinematography throws back to the days of MMPR just as much as the costumes and sets that were used throughout this series. That is evident in the scene transitions, the angles used within given scenes, and even the speed of the shot changes within the scenes, too. The transitions from the general scenes to those of the dragons’ lair are key examples of that throwback look. MMPR used very similar transitions when its scenes transitioned from Angel Grove to Rita (and later Zedd’s) moon base. That is something that was gradually phased out as the Power Rangers franchise evolved over time. The acting on the part of both Shredder and Dragon Lord plays its own part in the series’ feel. The same can be said of those that brought Leo, Raph, Donnie, Mikey, and even Venus to life. The camp in their collective work gives the series a fun, cheesy feel that interestingly enough will keep audiences entertained because of that cheese factor. Again it is all a noticeable throwback to the days of MMPR. Again in comparing this to the feel presented in the likes of Power Rangers in Space, the current installment of Saban’s Power Rangers franchise at the time, it is a completely different feel. Good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. In all fairness it likely played its own part in the series’ downfall since few programs if any had that same campy feel at the time. So that probably hurt the series even more. Between that and the show’s equally campy look, it becomes even more evident why the series’ combined look and feel might have hurt the series more than it helped. That is especially considering the time at which the series was on television. Speaking of the time at which the series debuted, it plays its own part in the series’ problems. The writing behind the series plays its own part in the series, too. Each element plays its own part in the series’ short run. That goes without saying. All things considered it becomes wholly clear why Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation is one of the least successful entries in the TMNT universe. But when it is compared to those other entries in it still is not the franchise’s worst installment. Keeping that in mind, it is still a welcome and important addition to any TMNT fan’s home collection if only for its historical value.
Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation is hardly the best offering in the TMNT universe. It is not the franchise’s worst offering, either. That (dis) honor belongs, to this day, to Paramount and Nickelodeon Studios’ 2016 big screen reboot of the original cinematic franchise. Given, this series had (and has) a lot working against it. But still in comparison to other offerings from the TMNT universe it could have been a lot worse. Considering all of this it is still a welcome addition to any true TMNT fan’s collection whether for entertainment or for historical value. It is available exclusively via Wal-Mart and can be ordered online via Wal-Mart at http://www.walmart.com/ip/Ninja-Turtles-The-Next-Mutation-The-Complete-Series/51301759. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online now at:
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