This year, I made a couple of episode choices driven by recent podcasts. In this case, I was inspired by We Have to Stop Talking About TMNT on CBB, the podcast where Shaun Diston tries to explain Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Scott Aukerman. And despite following this podcast and having a degree of familiarity with the original TMNT animated series, this entry in the 2003 reboot left me baffled.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “‘The Christmas Aliens”
Original airdate: December 25, 2004
So, I basically know the Turtles’ deal, even if the last TMNT content I’ve actually experienced is 1992’s Super Nintendo port of TMNT 2: Turtles in Time. Unlike Scott Aukerman, I can remember their names and weapons. But this was… weird.
It definitely feels like they’re aiming at an older audience than the original cartoon, but while being harder-edged and less silly, it also feels more childish. The clever aspects are almost entirely missing. And boy, any charm the first series had is gone. That beautifully stupid and unforgettable theme song (written by Chuck Lorre) is replaced with something entirely generic. And it’s got that early 2000s look where they go way overboard on the shading and the actual character designs are just bad.
Most of the episode focuses on Michaelangelo (party dude), and if you thought you were going to see aliens, I have some bad news for you. No aliens. The titular creatures are a popular holiday toy that are theoretically the source of the plot but really aren’t referenced very often. I want to get through the main story before I focus on the B plot, because that was absolutely incoherent.
So, the party dude is walking around out in the world in a big coat and scarf to hide his turtle-ness. He borrowers a sled and does skate tricks and then he finds a kitten. He names said kitten “Klump” and puts him inside his coat. It should be noted that Michaelangelo (I know that’s not how the artist’s name is spelled, but it’s how the credits spell the turtle’s name) will take a lot of punishment over the course of the episode, occasionally smashing into objects so hard that you will think “surely that kitten is dead now”, but the kitten is fine. Don’t worry about the kitten.
Mike stops at a toy store to describe the toys in the window which do not match up with the art at all, and then he notes that some alien toy is totally sold out despite the presence of one in the window display. And then he sees some guys hijacking a truck full of alien toys, so he sets out to stop the crime, grabbing a conveniently trailing cord as they drive off. He skitches for quite a while and nobody involved remembers that he has a shell and could probably just lay back and be fine. He eventually takes out two of the three thieves. The third calls for backup just as Mike tosses him out of the truck and into the arms of the cops, who think Mike is one of the hijackers.
There’s a police chase which is resolved when Mike turns the chase on its head by turning left, a maneuver completely unavailable to the cops. ACABD. (All Cops Are Bad Drivers). But then he runs into what I assume is the backup and they shoot rockets at him, but he eventually flips their car. Somebody involved thought this was a car chase on the level of Bullitt, but it’s very boring.
While this is happening, we check in on the other turtles, who have an actual headquarters in the sewers in this version. I like when they just lived in the sewers and didn’t have Star Trek doors. Casey Jones and April O’Neil bring in a big tree that Raphael (cool but rude) trims with butterfly knives. This is played as cool but the tree looks the same before and after. Donatello (does machines) is there but contributes nothing to the episode. Then the Turtles bring some friends down to celebrate Christmas, a group that includes an assortment of homeless people and a superhero. Guys, nobody is actually introduced in this entire episode. I don’t know who any of these people are but they seem like established supporting cast.
Casey tries to make April kiss him with mistletoe in a scene that plays out as very gross. Splinter (taught them to be ninja teens) astrally projects to Heaven and gives an Asian man a paper crane. This is not explained. The superhero arm wrestles Casey and Raph and throws them across the room even though that doesn’t match the animation of the arm wrestling at all. It’s very sloppy. A portal opens up and samurai rabbit Usagi Yojimbo appears alongside Gen the rhino and a twelve foot tall man in an Oni mask. I only know Usagi and Gen because I read Stan Sakai’s Usagi comics, because they are also never named or explained here. No idea who the giant man is. They’re all waiting for Mike and it takes a long time but he shows up and then convinces them to bring all the toys to the orphanage. So he did not return that truck to the rightful owner. He’s a hijacker as much as the bad guys!
Watching this, I felt the way I do when I try to play Super Smash Bros. I recognize a bunch of the characters, but nothing happening on the screen makes any sense to me. Oh, also this continues the TMNT tradition of having white men play Japanese characters and employ accents ranging from “offensive” to “holy shit, this came out this century”.
Best Line: “Cowabunga!” – Michaelangelo. Not a great line, but it’s one you hope to hear when you’re watching the Turtles.
Trimming the Tree – Raph literally trims the tree and then everybody decorates it. The superhero guy flies up to but the star on top.
Christmas Dinner – Everybody is assembling in the sewer to eat a dinner crafted by a rat.
Gift Exchange – Splinter gives the Heaven guy a paper crane, which presumably means that the actual paper crane had died and that was its soul. The theology is weird. What if it had been a sinful paper crane and Splinter reached for it in Heaven only to find out that it had been damned to hell. Also, Leonardo (leads) and Usagi give one another swords.
Mistletoe: Don’t make me talk about this.
Celebrity Guests: I think Usagi and Gen count! They’re indie comics superstars!
Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – Man, I don’t know. The Christmas content was pretty light and everything that happened was baffling. But it’s a weird year and the idea of people getting together for a holiday is kind of nice. And I like Usagi a lot, so that was enough to get this to a 4.