Years after the Turtle crazy died with the original 1987 series, 4Kids and Mirage rebooted the series in 2003. With a mature art style and direction that followed the comics more closely, the results were ultimately mixed. Despite lasting seven years, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 has become a weird bastard child stuck between the original and 2012 Nickelodeon reboot that’s rarely mentioned, if remembered.
Immediately noticeable is the art style. These Turtles are meant to be ninja warriors, and look the part with their taller, leaner, muscular ascetics. Along with their appearance is the humor, or lack there of. While there’s an occasional joke, this is a more straight forward show. The Turtles embody the same characterization they always have since their creation; Leonardo is the leader, working too hard to improve, Donatello is focused on his inventions, etc. The biggest question with each iteration is, which version of Splinter is this? The Hamato Yoshi turned rat a la the original series or the pet turned martial art expert a la the first movie? Sadly it’s the latter. While it’s my least favorite version, as it makes little sense (I know, I know, shutup), it’s a minor squabble.
While mainstays like April, Casey, and Leatherhead make appearances, other offbeat or rarely animated characters are always used; Professor Honeycut/Fugitoid, Miyamoto Usagi (Usagi Yojimbo), Hun, Karai, Renet, and the Triceratons are all present. While some make brief appearances, others influence the series with drastic alterations, none more so than the Utroms. The Utroms (the pink brain creatures, the same race Krang hails from) are peaceful, rather than the warring, planet conquering race they are typically portrayed as. With this comes the biggest change to the series. While Shredder is the Turtles ultimate villain here, he’s secretly a Utrom war criminal named Ch’rell. This twist was handled exceptionally well, making the series standout from its predecessors.
This series is essentially three shows in one, as it had a few different overhauls throughout its run. The first four seasons focused on the typical Turtle action, centering in New York, facing against the Foot Clan while introducing some alien influences. The 5th seasons (regardless of which one you call the 5th, as there’s some confusion with that), everything changed. First there’s the Fast Forward season, where the Turtles found themselves 100 years in the future, working alongside ally Cody Jones, the descendant of April and Casey. This featured new character designs, with the Turtles wearing futuristic gear, as well as a demographic change. Next is the Lost Episodes or Ninja Tribunal. Here the Turtles were in New York, being trained by an ancient group to battle Shredder. This used the original art style. Final, season 7, Back to the Sewers, saw the Turtles back in NY with yet another design.
Though the series had some ups and downs, it ended on a high note with Turtles Forever. The TV movie united this version of the Turtles with their 1987 counterparts, featuring the original voice actors, and the black and white comic versions. It was a strong end and worth watching, even if you haven’t seen the rest of the series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 was a fine series that continued the Turtles legacy. While it’s not often mentioned, it’s definitely worth watching for any Turtles fan, except Fast Forward, might be a bit too cartoony for some.
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In addition to THN’s Saturday Morning Cartoons and Nerd at the Movies, Tony writes for his own site, thecredhulk.com, about comics, video games, movies, TV and more, six days a week. You can follow his updates on Facebook or Twitter. Drop by and tell ‘em hi.