Executive Produced by Haim Saban & Lance H. Robbins
Starring Michael Dobson, Jason Gray-Stanford, Matt Hill, Kirby Morrow, and Lalainia Lindbjerg
Fresh off the heels (or shells) of a successful movie franchise and long-running cartoon series, the late ‘90s brings us a new entry in the wildly successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. With such a strong pedigree, how did this show only get one season? Once you’re done reading, you’ll ask how did it even get through one season.
Loosely taking place after the successful live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies of the early ‘90s, the one-season Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation series premiered on the Fox Kids children programming block in 1997. The show introduces a fifth turtle to the group, a female turtle who becomes known as Venus (who isn’t a Renaissance artist, if anyone is keeping count). Unlike the male Turtles, Venus is a shinobi and not a ninja. Despite “ninja” and “shinobi” usually being interchangeable terms, a shinobi in this series is more of a wizard mystic with some martial arts training, weirdly mixing Japanese wording with vaguely Chinese concepts.
Making quick work of the Turtles’ usual foes – Shredder and the Foot Clan – in the pilot, the series focuses instead on the Dragon Lord and his Dragon army, an evil species previously imprisoned in a dream dimension. Once freed, the Dragons now wish to eat the Turtles to gain the power of their mutated blood. There’s also some more monster-of-the-week stuff with a gangster gorilla, prize hunter, and also vampires. Yes, vampires.
If that doesn’t grab your interest, you might want to turn around now. It’s all downhill from here. The series forgoes some of the usual Ninja Turtles concepts in order to clunkily add new ones no one had been asking for. No longer are the Turtles actually competent ninja warriors, instead often being shown up even by only Venue alone in their first meeting. No longer are they a story about brotherhood and family as they admit to not actually being brothers, perhaps in some possible set up for romantic rivalry with their new not-sister that never happens. The forced mysticism feels like someone shoving a square into a round hole. This series feels more in common with the cartoon series than the movies, with their over-reliance on horrible puns and slapstick humor over actual drama and storytelling. But sadly it doesn’t even have the rose-tinted nostalgia goggles that help the original cartoon so much.
But surely at least the fights are good, right? They are the Ninja Turtles, after all, right? Nope. The suit work and animatronics pale in comparison to the live-action work in the films. Sure, it’s a children’s TV show instead of a feature film, but this is just laughably bad. The actual eye slits for the suit actors are always visible. The mouths and eyes have little movement. In the first episode even, you can see the human face inside Raphael’s head when riding his motorcycle. It’s eerily hilarious. The shortcuts in the suit designs don’t help the fight choreography either. Perhaps with the show focusing less on being about martial arts heroes, they skimped on that front. Given that they are, again, the NINJA Turtles, it’s a poor choice.
We have hammed up, cheesy performances from all the actors to the point of distraction, badly-forced mysticism concepts, one-note villains, laughable suits and fight scenes. Honestly, hamfisting in a new female Turtle is probably the least offensive thing the show does. Did I mention she fights with metal balls?
If you’re a Turtles fan, you are probably well aware enough to dodge this black hole in the Turtles mythos. If you’re just getting into the worlds that are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’m glad to do this public service in telling you to stay away.
The Video and Audio
The series is in standard 4×3 aspect ratio of the time, and the audio is basic stereo. The video quality is occasionally good enough to see the poor designs of the costumes, seeing holes and human faces through the Turtles’ own mouths. Grainier footage might actually have been better.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This four-disc set comes in a single standard DVD case with a card stock slip case. There are two bonus features: a music video and the two episodes of Power Rangers in Space that the Turtles appeared in. The music video is just the opening song “performed” by the Turtles, with kids dancing around.
Sadly, the two episodes of Power Rangers in Space are probably the best episodes in this entire collection. This is the fourth Power Rangers series (after Mighty Morphin’, Zeo, and Turbo), with a team of Rangers that travel through space and occasionally visit Earth. To get some traction for the new Ninja Turtles show, the Turtles appeared in a couple of episodes after being manipulated by the show’s big bad to fight the Rangers. Power Rangers in Space is just a better show. The Turtles still suffered the poor suits from their show, but the choreography seems sharper. Oddly, the Turtles didn’t all have the same voices, which are probably better.
Overall (Not an Average)
I’m super late on this review because I struggled with starting to watch the series. There’s not really anything Shout Factory could do to make this series an enjoyable revisit. I watched it as a kid and knew that this series is a pale entry into the franchise I had been growing up with and enjoying. Even alongside its live-action superhero contemporaries with the Power Rangers, Beetleborgs, and VR Troopers of the day, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation is a ridiculously poor series that should be neglected by the ages.