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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are one of those franchises that find itself in company with Transformers and Power Rangers in terms of the sheer diversity of its incarnations. From its humble roots as a parody of 80's comic designs all the way to the head-scratching and generally fan displeasing big budget 2014 live-action reboot, the Turtles have continued to endure in one fashion or another. Those unfamiliar with Eastman and Laird's original comic creations would easily be shocked at the biting cynicism and intense violence of the original series. For a child growing up in the late 80s, I never new the Turtles existed until 1987 with the launch of a very colorful, very friendly Saturday morning cartoon from an earlier incarnation of Fred Wolf Films. Alongside "The Real Ghostbusters," the Turtles cemented themselves as must-see pre-teen TV and the obsession stretched from the small screen to my toy box, the comic book based on the cartoon and culminating in the original three live-action incarnations.
Smartly piggybacking on Michael Bay produced 2014 film, Lionsgate serves up "10 fan-favorite episodes" in the form of the "Cowabunga Classics" release. For most cartoon series', 10 episodes would be quality representation of the product, but little did I realize until a few years back, "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" stayed on the air well past 1991 when I finally parted ways. In fact, the series lasted ten seasons, although from what I've watched of the shows latter years, the younger version of myself got off the ship before it started to sink. "Cowabunga Classics" appears to be aware of this fact and offers one episode from seasons one, two, four and seven, and three each from seasons three and five. Not surprisingly, the best episodes are the earlier ones.
Unlike some cartoons, particularly super-hero cartoons, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" cared little for continuing plot threads. Each episode was generally a one-off, leaving an open spot for new viewers to jump right in. Unfortunately, I feel this approach really highlights the casual disdain the series had for its viewers; characters come and go and even voice actors change back and forth. When you haven't hit double digits in the age department, it's forgivable if not unnoticed, but watching it well into adulthood, and frankly, it's hard not to be embarrassed at having been so fanatical at the show in the first place. I had really read the "Turtles Forever" TV movie, which brought the '87 Turtles alongside the newer Nickelodeon Turtles of the 00's (and even brought in the no-nonsense original Eastman and Laird comic incarnations for the final act), the riot act for treating the '87 Turtles as imbeciles. Revisiting the series here finally and I'm not ashamed to admit, "Turtles Forever" was dead right.
Episodes like Cowabunga Shredhead highlight the stupidity, or more accurately, child-like humor of the show; Shredder gets his mind swapped with Michelangelo and hilarity ensues. Fans of the more recent incarnations are going to be left baffled as to why anyone holds this series as sacred cow and rightfully so; once you start to tread the water of the season five and seven episodes, all bets are off. The show is loud, confused and at the end of the day, serving one purpose: selling toys. Still I firmly remember some iconic Turtles moments, but none are to be had with this poor excuse for a "best of." Where's Usagi Yojimbo? Where's a solid Casey Jones episode? In the end, "Cowabunga Classics" feels less a "best of" and more ten random episodes tossed together by someone in marketing to make a quick buck off the 2014 film. Capitalism at its finest; just don't let yourself feed the machine this time around. THE DVD
The 1.33:1 OAR transfer is acceptable but definitely showing its age. Colors aren't necessarily vibrant and detail is firmly average. There's a bit of artificating and minor edge enhancement, even in the older episodes. The show looks better than it ever did on its original run, but that's not saying much.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track is quite clear and balanced, but there is no dynamic range at all, keeping in step with the show's Saturday morning roots.
Extras include an artist interview and interview piece with TMNT fans, as well as a brief featurette "The Turtles: A Ninjatastic Look Back."
Nowhere near resembling a "best of," "Cowabunga Classics" is a disappointing mish-mash of truly so-so episodes from a so-so TV series. The only real target audience is a parent wanting to introduce their kids to the original series on the cheap; even in this case, I have to say give it a pass as the best the series has to offer is nowhere to be seen. Skip It.