Currently in the middle of its third season, the 2012 animated reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has maintained a relatively high level of quality during the past few years. Essentially, it cherry-picks the best elements from the original 1987 series and omits much of what didn't work during later seasons (especially the franchise's 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 feel more like rowdy, competitive brothers than ever before. The laughs are genuine, fights more intense, continuity is followed and hey, even Splinter seems more like a tough authority figure than a kindly but frail sensei. Though portions of the first two seasons felt a bit overcooked and some of the supporting characters leave a little to be desired, this new TMNT has done a terrific job of welcoming new fans while making "seasoned veterans" feel right at home. The first two seasons were divided into six chronological volumes, and DVD Talk has covered the first four including Rise of the Turtles, Enter Shredder, Ultimate Showdown, and Mutagen Mayhem. The second season continued with The Good, the Bad, and Casey Jones and Showdown in Dimension X, which ended with the Turtles' hard-fought defeat at the hands of The Kraang. Worse yet, Splinter disappeared.
Naturally, the series' renewed emphasis on serialized storytelling means that Season 3 basically starts right where the second one left off. In nice little nod to the 1990 live-action movie, the four Turtles (including an injured Leonardo, now voiced by Seth Green) and April retreat to her family's farmhouse to regroup and plan their next moves. There's a distinct change of pace during these next few episodes: adjusting to life outside the city (and without Splinter's guidance), new threats, and even little things like regularly going outside during the daytime. Oddly enough, there's also less focus: like most shows, TMNT employs a revolving door of writers, and it's more evident than ever here as the majority of episodes border on "monster of the week" outings. Normally I don't mind such diversions---and, with the benefit of hindsight, Retreat! might feel like a refreshing change of pace---but this wandering focus makes a few episodes bleed together for the wrong reasons. Less than halfway in, and I was already itching for our gang to head back to the sewers; it's kind of like The Walking Dead's second season, except with ninjas.
Of course, their Retreat! won't last forever: as Season 3 continues with the next batch of episodes (which should arrive on DVD in June or July), our heroes will return to New York for their inevitable rematch with The Kraang, Shredder, and company. We'll even get re-acquainted with a familiar rhino and warthog from the original series. But for now, these episodes represent a waiting game for our heroes, so it's no surprise that this collection follows suit. As always, Paramount's DVD serves up a great A/V presentation but the extras leave a lot to be desired.
Episodes Include: "Within the Woods", "A Foot Too Big", "Buried Secrets", "The Croaking",
"In Dreams", "Race With the Demon", and "Eyes of the Chimera" [View Descriptions]
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, my only nagging complaint about TMNT: Retreat! 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, 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 wasn'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 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 interior cover artwork. As always, it's a good presentation that fits in nicely with past volumes.
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 (2012) breaks its winning streak with this first batch of episodes from the third and current season. There's an immediate change of pace this time around, and not necessarily for the better: this handful of "monster of the week" outings grows repetitive after three our four episodes, and basically flounders the rest of the way. There's still a terrific mixture of humor, action, and heart on display here, while the series' ambitious visual design continues to strike the right balance between "over-the-top goofiness" and "dark and creepy"...but story-wise, it falls flat. As a whole, Paramount's DVD package feels no better or worse than past installments, serving up a strong A/V presentation, an almost complete lack of extras, and no Blu-ray option. This is the weakest collection of episodes yet, but Retreat! should still be tough to resist if you've come this far already. Mildly 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.