Not even a week later and we got two new episodes of TMNT! “The Curse of Savanti Romero” and”The Crypt of Dracula” brought us a tale of time travel, monsters, and of course the return of Savanti Romero. These two episodes form the first part of a four part tale, and so gave us a roller coaster ride of events that saw friends turned into vampires, introductions of new allies, and the recruitment by Romero of the classic Universal monsters. Compared to last weeks special, the Monsters arc seems positively light hearted, despite the general dark tone. This tone, however, is more of a campy darkness, rather than the more serious episodes we’ve seen throughout the life of this series.
The tale begins with April and Casey trick-or-treating on Halloween. Where Casey is dressed in his normal “beat up goons” outfit, April is dressed as Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. That’s not really important, it’s just a really cool reference. Who would have thought we’d get a Taxi Driver reference in a TMNT cartoon?
After an unsuccessful trick-or-treat attempt, the duo head off to meet the guys. Halloween happens to be their favorite holiday, since they can actually walk about the city without scaring people. This is a common thread in all TMNT continuities, and it’s good to see the trend continue. It’s still fair to argue why the Turtles need to hide in a world that’s been invaded by aliens twice, and experiences mutant activity on a regular basis, but that’s besides the point. April and Casey don’t make it to the Turtles, because they’re confronted with a city overtaken by monsters. The duo fight off giant wolves, and encounter city goers who have been turned into vampires! It’s not long before Casey is bit, turning into a vampire, and gives chase to April along with all the other monster-fied civilians.
Back in the lair, the Turtles are getting ready for Halloween. Leo is going as the Captain from Space Heroes, Donatello is deciding on which costume (personally, I’d go with Smooth Donatello), Mikey looks like he’s got a zombie thing going on, and Raph is going as himself, taking advantage of the holiday. After Mikey teases Raph for going as a fairy princess one year (they should really have pics of that) Donnie gets a call from April about the situation topside. After a brief scrum where they capture Casey, but April is unfortunately also turned into a vampire, the Turtles are saved at the last second by Renet!
Renet is still kind of a bad time traveler. When checking on Savanti in his prison in the time of dinosaurs, Savanti jumped her, stole her back up time device, and traveled through time recruiting monsters to help him take over the future. The Turtles must now travel through time with Renet, and try to stop Romero’s monster recruitment drive. First stop, ancient Egypt! The rest of the episode reads like a combination history lesson and Indiana Jones film, as the Turtles travel through a Pharaohs tomb, reading hieroglyphics, escaping booby traps, and ultimately coming face to face with the mummified Pharaoh himself. When our heroes inadvertently set off the curse of the Pharaoh, Romero walks in to take advantage of the situation. The ensuing fight scene was a lot of fun. Mikey and Renet team up to keep Savanti occupied, while Leo, Don, and Raph work on trying to stop the Mummy. First, the three use some great teamwork to set up the Mummy for a killing blow by Leo, who cuts his head off! Unfortunately, the Mummy being a supernaturally undead creature, simply summons his head and puts it back on. Next, everyone works together to force the Mummy back in his tomb. Renet levitates the tomb lid onto the Mummy, while Mikey trips him up using his weapons. Leo and Raph seal the deal knocking down a massive statue to crush the Mummy back into the tomb.
This was not the solution they needed however, and the Mummy breaks free of the tomb, leading to him and Romero escaping to a new time period. That time being 1300s Transylvania, the home of none other than Dracula.
First, however, they encounter The Wolf Man and his wolf pack. The Turtles and Renet do their best to fight off the werewolf and his pack (Renet having outfitted the Turtles in sweet monster hunter garb and weapons) but are ultimately saved by the sun rising. Raph got quickly separated from the fight, and surprise, was bitten by none other than Dracula himself! Raph, however, does not immediately turn into a vampire. Why not, you may ask? After all, both Casey and April were bit and turned right away, and they weren’t bit by Dracula. You’d imagine Dracula’s bite would be more powerful. Instead, Raph takes nearly the rest of the episode to turn, and even then we’re told he’s only a neophyte vampire, and won’t fully turn unless he bites someone. It’s inconsistent and ultimately doesn’t make any sense, but Raph’s turning is used as a plot device to lead the Turtles to Esmerelda and her father, and ultimately to Dracula’s castle.
The episode takes a few more twists and turns, as the Turtles are attacked by the Headless Horseman, Esmerelda’s father is seemingly captured by Dracula, and our heroes go to the castle where a couple of revelations are made. First, Esmerelda’s father is actually the Wolf Man, next that Raph is now a vampire thrall under the control of Dracula, and finally, that Savanti has already made his deal, coercing Dracula into his growing monster army.
What follows is a lengthy fight scene that gives us two really interesting character beats. First, Vampire Raph is particularly preoccupied with turning Michelangelo into a vampire. Of all his brothers, he chooses Mikey to focus on, and it gives us insight into who he cares about the most. That, or he just really delights in Mikey’s scared reactions. Second, Donnie has a literal crisis of faith. He is given an artifact by Renet to combat Dracula, but Dracula informs him that it only works if Donnie believes in it. Donnie, of course, through many iterations of the Turtles is not the one who relies on faith. His is a scientific mind and he relies on what he can test and prove. His struggle to believe in something not visually present is a great bit of character development. In this time period, faith would mean religion. But for Donatello personally, it means imbuing the artifact with the faith he has in his family. It’s a small but important moment.
Ultimately, Savanti and his monsters escape to the next time period, taking Raph with him. The Turtles time jump, following them to 1818 Germany and Frankenstein’s Castle. Altogether, “The Curse of Savanti Romero” and “The Crypt of Dracula” have proven to be a fun romp through Halloween themed time. As with all time travel stories, there are some inconsistencies. The conceit of the arc is that Renet’s time staff has limited charges, and so she can’t use the staff to fight or else risk stranding her and the Turtles in their current time period. The staff is acting as a deus ex machina in both directions actually, as she’s been able to levitate the Mummy’s tomb lid, create force fields to defend against Romero, but not able to do those things when the Turtles ask her. She even mentions that there is no place to recharge the staff for several millennia. But if that is the case, why not use one of the remaining time charges to jump to her time, where she can charge the staff? Then she could travel to every time period, stopping Romero long before he ever confronts each monster. Why not jump to the point in time where she gets jumped by Romero in the first place, stopping herself from visiting the Cretaceous period? She literally cannot run out of time.
Essentially the episodes just tell us not to worry about these things. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. “The Crypt of Dracula” even begins with an old school movie title screen. It invites us to grab some popcorn and enjoy. For this style of story, that’s fine. It’s great that the show is able to do so many different styles of story telling. The last two weeks are a clear microcosm of that. The fact that you can watch an episode arc like “Raphael: Mutant Apocalypse” and then watch this movie monster arc shows that the creators have pretty free reign to tell the stories they want to tell.
“The Curse of Savanti Romero” and “The Crypt of Dracula” show off Tales of the TMNT’s fun side. It’s a lighthearted story arc that still has stakes, as the Turtles must rescue their brother, their friends, and New York City as a whole. By all accounts, these episodes are safe, falling back on an interesting concept, and the well animated fight scenes the show is known for. It’s a welcome palette cleanser from the serious tone of last week’s epic special, which is probably the best aspect of the Tales season.
I want to take a moment here to get ahead of what will no doubt be a firestorm in the comments. I’m giving this week’s episodes a higher rating than “Raphael: Mutant Apocalypse.” I’d like to explain my reasoning for this. Do I think that “The Curse of Savanti Romero” and “The Crypt of Dracula” are a better story than “Raphael: Mutant Apocalypse?” No. In fact, in last weeks review, I stated that taken by itself, “Raphael: Mutant Apocalypse” is a solid 9. I really liked that Tale. It’s a solid Turtles story, and I appreciate the creative team’s decision to take that risk and tell that story. As some people said in the comments of that article, it respects its audience, no matter what their age is, and chooses to tell a story with serious themes. It should be, and was, congratulated for that.
My issue, if you want to call it that, was that “Mutant Apocalypse” didn’t really feel like it fit with the series as a whole. I don’t think they did a great job of explaining how the world got there. Maybe the details of the Mutagen Bomb weren’t necessary to the plot of the story, but they are necessary for an audience. The episode is such a tonal, visual, and character departure, that the lack of exposition was jarring. Ultimately, I feel they succeeded in telling the story they wanted to, but at the cost of ostracizing the audience. Maybe that was done deliberately, but I still think it takes away from it’s place in the series as a whole.
Meanwhile, the monster episodes do fit. These are the heroes as we know them, starting off in a familiar place, fighting alongside familiar friends. Is it safe? Absolutely, and that limits the score that I’m giving these episodes. But it was smart for Nickelodeon to air these episodes in this order. We got taken by surprise last week, and now we’re welcomed back in to familiar arms with a fun adventure.