7 Reasons Nickelodeon’s TMNT is the Best Animated Series of the Franchise
I’m sure this is going to cause a lot of controversy, but I’m going to say it anyway: Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best animated series of the entire franchise. Before anyone asks, I have been watching Ninja Turtles cartoons, movies and everything in between since the late 80’s, so I’m speaking from a certain level of experience.
Although there may have been better stories released in comic books and other formats, I am focusing primarily on the animated television shows that we have seen in the franchise since its inception, and I feel confident in saying that it is absolutely the best animated version of the turtles we have ever seen. Before you start filling up the comments with your rage, let’s take a look at some of the reasons that a TMNT fan would find this series more enjoyable than the rest:
- Serialized Plot
Although the original 1987 series could be said to have had an overarching plot, it fell much more in line with a “monster of the week” type of series that relied heavily on puns. The 2003 series was better about this, and some may say that it even surpasses Nickelodeon’s series, but I personally believe that the plot in the latest animated series is much stronger than in any previous iteration.
Nick’s TMNT has a much more serialized plot, with only a few episodes that present the “monster of the week” trope – and then usually only for the sake of nostalgia. Even when they do follow this trope, there’s usually at least one or two aspects of the plot that connect to the overarching story, making it a much stronger and more cohesive series overall. At the very least, it is fair to say that Nick’s Ninja Turtles offers a stronger overarching plot than the original animated series.
- Deep Focus
It might seem silly to think of this show as having deep focus, but consider this: In reference to the events of the first movie (and other sources), the turtles go to a hangout in the woods in order to recuperate before their next battle with Shredder and the Kraang. This is nothing new, but what is new and interesting is how much time they spend focusing on this aspect of the plot.
Unlike in previous versions of the story, Nickelodeon’s TMNT spends a lot more time focusing on this moment on time, as the turtles spend a good eight episodes hiding out and preparing themselves to return to the city. That’s over 3 hours of content, and much of that time is spent exploring both the physical and emotional limitations of each character – something we don’t necessarily get from other interpretations of the story.
- Nostalgia Trip
There are several jokes and references made within the series that directly refer to previous iterations of the TMNT and other sci-fi/geek culture related subjects. While one could argue that there may have been a certain degree of this in a previous series (Turtles Forever, anyone?), I think it’s fair to say that we never saw quite as many various examples of this before.
For instance, the Squirrelanoids are direct references to movies like Alien, while Crognard the Barbarian references old 80’s cartoons such as Thundarr and He-man. In addition, there are several homages to the comics, the original animated series and more. While the 2003 series took a more straightforward approach to nostalgia, Nickelodeon’s TMNT is much more postmodern in its ambitions, and this makes it a lot more fun for both kids and adults.
- New Mutants
There are more than a few familiar mutants in the Ninja Turtles universe, but that didn’t stop creators from introducing some new and interesting mutated creatures in the latest TMNT series. Among fan favorites are the Dream Beavers, Dr. Cluckingsworth and (of course) Ice Cream Kitty. Die hard fans may take issue with these new mutations, but co-creator Kevin Eastman couldn’t be more supportive if he tried; after all, he does voice one of these characters.
The introduction of these new mutants also gave Mikey a new role as the namer of the new creations, which fits perfectly with his laid back and silly attitude. In a way, all of these new mutations have actually made Michelangelo’s character more defined, which is definitely nice to see. Although it’s never been too difficult to define Mikey’s place in the group, it’s nice to see some more character development there. As if that weren’t enough of a reason to love the new mutants, they’re also usually voiced by some pretty iconic voice actors. Speaking of which…
- Voice Acting
For many fans, nothing will ever be able to top the combination of Cam Clarke, Townsend Coleman, Barry Gordon and Rob Paulsen. However, it’s worth noting that this latest iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has seen some pretty star studded contributions. In addition to the co-creator providing his voice, Nick’s TMNT series has seen voice acting from names such as Sean Astin, Jason Biggs, Seth Green, Phil LaMarr, Kevin Michael Richardson, Roseanne Barr, Corey Feldman, Jeffrey Combs, Lewis Black, Diedrich Bader, Robert Englund, Paul Reubens, Danny Trejo – and many more.
This reads like a laundry list of several major voice actors, comedians and serious actors from the past 30 years of American entertainment. It doesn’t hurt that Rob Paulsen has taken on the role of Donatello – and boy, has he really defined that character beyond everyone’s wildest expectations. How could we have expected anything less from the man who has voiced so many iconic and important cartoon characters? He’s a master of the art!
- Fan Service
The entirety of Nickelodeon’s TMNT series is based on fan service. This makes it unlike any previous animated series based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in several important ways. Back in 1987, the original animated series was primarily designed to attract a younger audience, because it was still commonly accepted that adults didn’t like to watch cartoons. Of course, this quickly changed with shows like The Simpsons and Duckman, but it would be a while before adult animation really took off with creations like Family Guy and South Park.
In the case of the 2003 series, it was influenced by Peter Laird and designed to follow the original comic series as closely as possible. This meant that there were only a few references to the original animated series, and although it was intended to be a more serious take on the turtles, it was also primarily designed for a younger audience.
With its lack of influence from the creators and from outdated concepts of the ideal audience for an animated series, the Nickelodeon TMNT series is free to forge its own path and pay homage to the entirety of the franchise – making it more appealing to a wider audience. It’s a series made by the fans, for the fans, and that’s what makes it so great. Instead of being held back by artificial roadblocks, the creators of this series can do (and have done) pretty much anything that they want. The result has been…
- Mass Appeal
Alright, here’s the nail in the coffin that hopefully proves my point. Until now, you could easily argue that each of these points is also fairly represented in the 2003 series. However, this is one thing that cannot be argued: Nick’s TMNT has a much wider appeal than the 2003 series ever had. Sadly, even if the previous animated series was excellent, there just wasn’t enough of an audience to keep it going. The show definitely had a good run, but it didn’t really spark the same kind of response that Nickelodeon’s TMNT has been able to provide for the franchise.
I mean, let’s face it: Thanks to this latest iteration of the Ninja Turtles, Turtle Fever has once again swept the world. TMNT toys are flying off of store shelves and proving to be some of the best selling merchandise in the toy world today. The response has been so huge that the series is greenlit for at least four seasons. As if that weren’t enough, the hysteria over Ninja Turtles lead to the creation of the most expensive (and profitable) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie of all time.
The 2003 series simply wasn’t as appealing to audiences as Nickelodeon’s series. Does that make it better by default? Not necessarily. However, when you consider the factors that have gone into making it such an appealing animated series, it’s not like they’re pandering to the wrong audience here. In fact, they’re giving die hard shellheads exactly what they want, and it just so happens to be drawing in the younger crowd as well. With that in mind, I think it’s fair to say that the mass appeal of Nick’s TMNT says something positive about the overall quality of the show.
What Do You Think?
If you still haven’t given the new series a chance, or you know someone who is holding out, it’s time to take a chance and let everyone know just how great Nickelodeon’s TMNT has been. If you’re still convinced that the 2003 4Kids series or the original animated series is better, let us know why in the comments below. After all, we know that not everybody is going to feel the same way about this issue, and we want to hear from the fans about their favorite versions of the turtles. Here’s hoping we can keep the discussion civil while we take the time to talk about our favorite versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!