Well, it's about time. After the first volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles's third season, Retreat!, I was beginning to think the series had abandoned most of what made it so good in the first place. Truth be told, Retreat! wasn't all bad: fresh off their first major defeat, our four heroes regrouped with Casey Jones and April O'Neil at a remote house in the woods (similar to the first live-action movie) to plan their next move. After a series of increasingly pointless monster-of-the-week outings, the series basically floundered: what should've been maybe a tight two or three-episode arc dragged on more than twice as long. Luckily, the second quarter of Season 3 (titled Return to NYC! for this DVD collection) immediately offers hope that our heroes would be back in action on their home turf.
And they are, after one episode that wraps up their exploits away from home: "Vision Quest" catches up with our heroes as they fine-tune their skills---with help from Splinter's spirit, whose whereabouts are unknown---and learn to work together more fluidly as a team. Their serialized story continues in "Return to New York", in which the re-purposed Party Wagon helps them break into the city that's been overrun by Kraang Droids, look for Splinter, and try to find a new headquarters in the process. From here on out, our heroes search for the mutated Karai, try to dig up some more retro-mutagen, reunite with a few friends from the past...and even deal with two "new" challenges in Rocksteady and Bebop, the mutated versions of Shredder's henchmen Anton Zeck and Ivan Steranko.
It's a decent enough block of episodes, if not slightly less enjoyable than the bulk of the first two seasons. The action is first-rate and the humor is still fairly polished and fits in well, even if some of the drama feels a little forced within the series' kid-friendly atmosphere. And though it's hard to complain about too much goofiness in a series that revolves around five-foot talking turtles, the roster of heroes and villains is becoming more over-the-top each week (which all but doomed the 1987 series). But these seven episodes are undoubtedly more entertaining than those included on the mostly forgettable Retreat!, which wore out its welcome quickly and brought TMNT's serialized momentum to a halt. So while Return to NYC is a small step in the right direction...it's at least a step, and that's more than enough to keep my interest for the third and final Season 3 volume arriving later this year.
Episodes Include: "Vision Quest", "Return to New York", "Serpent Hunt", "The Pig and the Rhino",
"Battle for New York" (Parts 1 and 2), and "Casey Jones vs the Underworld" [View Descriptions]
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, my only nagging complaint about Return to NYC 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 and solid black levels. 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. Aliasing and banding are definitely present (and honestly, they're almost expected on animated DVD releases), but the latter can be especially distracting at times. From top to bottom, fans should still be happy...but again, I know I'm not alone in wishing for a long overdue bump to high definition.
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 isn't included. Either way, TMNT regularly features plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) atmospheric touches, from the spooky echoes of a haunted forest 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 helps to sell the series' frantic, exciting pace. No optional subtitles are included, though Closed Captions are offered.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the 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 interior artwork featuring Rocksteady and Bebop. Oddly enough, though, the slipcover has a pretty glaring misprint: the name of the last DVD volume (Retreat!
) is listed on the back, although the keepcase artwork is correct.
Much like past releases, a handful of "Mutation of a Scene"
comparisons is also included; these present storyboards, rough composites, and finished art for selected scenes from each episode. These are worth a look for die-hard fans and those interested in animation, but they only offer a surface-level breakdown of the visuals. It's really a shame we aren't getting more creative behind-the-scenes stuff by now, because these just aren't cutting it any more.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to impress during this second quarter of Season 3...and though the series as a whole feels like it's starting to paint itself into a corner, this still marks a small step in the right direction after the mostly forgettable last volume. If nothing else, the events during this seven-episode collection will hopefully pay off as the story continues, since a lot of new heroes and villains are introduced or brought back from earlier seasons. Paramount's DVD follows the exact same template as earlier TMNT volumes: the A/V quality is decent enough for standard definition, but the bonus features are still few and far between. Assuming you've made it this far, Return to NYC! should continue to entertain fans of this largely enjoyable reboot. 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.