The TMNT franchise has been alive and (mostly) kicking for more than 25 years...and whether your first exposure was through the comic books, the 1987 animated series, the feature-length films or otherwise, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's iconic green ninjas have enjoyed a plethora of pop culture portrayals. Like many kids of the 1980s, it was tough for me to resist the franchise's charms but I wouldn't consider myself a lifelong fan: I pretty much quit cold turkey when the awful third live-action movie hit theaters. Since then, my only exposure to the franchise has been revisiting bits and pieces on DVD, as well as the flashy but underwhelming 2007 CGI film. So, having never seen an episode of the 2003 animated series, I approached Nickelodeon's new 2012 CGI TV show blindly and with an appropriate level of caution.
It wasn't warranted, because the show's first season knocked my socks off...and if you're not caught up yet, those 24 episodes were divided between three DVD releases: Rise of the Turtles, Enter Shredder and Ultimate Showdown. From the start, this new TMNT cherry-picked the best elements from the original 1987 series and omitted much of what didn't work during later seasons (especially its shift towards an even younger target demographic) while throwing in a few nods to other versions of the franchise as well. This time around, our four heroes felt more like rowdy, competitive brothers than ever before. The laughs were genuine, fights were more intense, continuity was followed and hey, even Splinter seemed more like a tough authority figure than a kindly but frail sensei. Though portions of the season felt a bit overcooked and some of the supporting characters (Dog Pound and Fishface, for starters) left a lot to be desired, it did a terrific job of setting the stage quickly, welcoming new fans while making "seasoned veterans" feel right at home.
Naturally, the series' emphasis on more serialized storytelling means that Season 2 pretty much starts right where the first one left off. Mutagen Mayhem, like Rise of the Turtles, collects the first six episodes in one handy package, though this second season is already past the halfway point by now. Since all six of these episodes were aired on Nickelodeon before you wolfed down Thanksgiving dinner last year, the delay on this measly one-disc collection is more than a little disappointing. I'd have rather waited another month or two for a 12-episode collection...but at this point, I guess we'll have to take what we can get. An episode list and synopsis is below, as well as a brief look at the disc itself.
"The Mutation Situation" - When Shredder finally teams with the Kraang to receive a of mutagen, the Turtles' problems only get worse...even putting their friendship with April at stake. This premiere sets the stage nicely for several episodes (if not the whole season) as our heroes race to find missing canisters of mutagen and, of course, clean up the messes that some of them cause. A man also turns into a giant bat, but not the one you're thinking of.
"Follow the Leader" - When the Turtles face a new army of Robot Foot Soldiers, Karai captures Leonardo and forces him to do battle with these new and improved ninjas that can adapt to his every move. It's not a bad episode by any stretch, but Leonardo's "crisis of confidence" story has been done to death in previous versions of TMNT. Still, it's nice to see Shredder take a back seat to Karai for awhile, as her character's got much more to prove at this point.
"Invasion of the Squirrelanoids" - While tracking mutagen, the Turtles bring a mutated squirrel back to the lair. When it starts multiplying, the Turtles must hunt the squirrel mutants and prevent them escaping into the city. This one's a huge homage to Alien and, for me, the combination worked great. It's got just enough mystery, suspense, humor and grossness to feel like its own entity...but younger audiences may be traumatized by all the squirrel vomiting.
"Mutagen Man Unleashed" - Donatello obsessively experiments with mutagen in a bid to find a cure for April's mutated father. Unfortunately, this puts April in danger from a new threat. The tragic character of Timothy makes a solid return here; as "The Pulverizer" (and later "The Mutagen Man"), his pathetic spiral into an even more mutated monstrosity is as captivating as a car wreck. Also, some guy named Casey Jones makes his first appearance: his fondness for April (and obligatory feud with Donnie) adds a nice dynamic, even though I miss the hockey mask and Clint Eastwood voice.
"Mikey Gets Shellacne" - Michelangelo is tired of being the "runt of the litter"...but when he fools around with some mutagen, he gets a dangerous infection that ends up mutating out of control. Like "Invasion of the Squirrelanoids", this one also veers sharply into gross-out territory but the results aren't quite as satisfying overall. Still, I'd be lying if I said that every close call with Mikey's almost-popped pus pockets didn't have me squirming with suspense. Also, Dog Pound (who, along with Fishface, suffered from an undercooked character design) gets a much-needed "rebirth" as Rahzar.
"Target: April O'Neil" - April tries to resume a normal teenage life, but when Karai starts hunting her again, April realizes she may have put her new friend Casey Jones in danger as well. Though April and Casey seem to make a formidable team, the only thing that bugs me about this episode is how quickly their skills have developed when, not four episodes earlier, several of the Turtles struggled to beat just a handful of the "new and improved" Foot Bots. Still, this outing earns points for a much more layered story and, of course, the way it sets up the next batch of episodes.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio (which the packaging actually gets right this time!), my only nagging complaint about TMNT: Mutagen Mayhem is that the series still hasn't been made available on Blu-Ray. Other than that, this stylish production looks quite good from start to finish, boasting a moody color palette, solid black levels and only a mild amount of banding and aliasing along the way. Image and texture details are also very strong for a standard definition release, as little touches like scuffs and dents on the Turtles' shells and the metallic sheen of Shredder's helmet are nicely rendered. From top to bottom, fans will be happy...but again, pretty please for a Blu-ray release!
DISCLAIMER: These compressed screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also terrific, though it's odd that an optional 2.0 downmix wasn't included. Either way, TMNT regularly features plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) atmospheric touches, from the echoing dampness of sewer life to the steely clang of weapons striking one another. Dialogue is typically anchored up front and crisply recorded, while the sporadic music cues are dynamic but not overpowering. Overall, it's an effective mix that really helps to sell the series' frantic, exciting pace. No optional subtitles are included here, though Closed Captions are at least offered.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the standard menu interface is colorful and easy to navigate. Episodes are divided into several chapters, though selection sub-menus are not present. This one-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with a matching slipcover and a inside cover featuring Rahzar. As always, it's a good presentation that ties in nicely with past volume releases.
Much like Rise of the Turtles
, a series of six "Mutation of a Scene"
comparisons are included, which serve up the initial storyboards, rough composites and final product for selected scenes from each episode. These are worth a look for die-hard fans and those interested in animation, but they don't offer much more than a surface-level glimpse of the series' visuals. Also included is a short Channel 6 Special Report
, "Creatures of the Night", which playfully teases some of the current TMNT
villains from an "Average Joe" perspective. It's fairly well done from a technical standpoint, smartly aping the visual style and presentation of a recent news broadcast. Like the episodes themselves, no subtitles are included.
Like the bulk of TMNT's first season (2012-13), these six episodes serve up plenty of action, humor, suspense and colorful characters. In my eyes, this resurrection of the franchise has already surpassed the 1987 series by several notches and, if we're lucky, won't show any signs of slowing down soon. Paramount's DVD presentation is good, but it just makes me wish for full season Blu-ray collections even more. Even so, fans will be getting another solid A/V presentation, a few minor extras and, of course, about a feature film's worth of content for less than $15. Unless a proper season collection or Blu-ray release is announced in the future, consider Mutagen Mayhem Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.