February 7, 2007
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward is proof positive that a series can improve by becoming more conventional. Compared to the previous adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise (which I dub "TMNT 2003"), this incarnation is less dynamically animated, less somber, less dark, less ambitious. Its plights and perils are firmly in the tone of other Saturday-morning action series, and its characters are never asked to challenge us.
It must be said, however, that TMNT: FF is a much better run-of-the-mill, Saturday-morning action comedy than TMNT 2003 was an action drama. TMNT 2003 aimed high and bombed. TMNT: FF sticks its landing with a lower degree of difficulty.
The series is no great animated accomplishment. At its worst, disposable plots in banal futuristic settings keep the show from being too high-minded. (It must be said, the first two episodes are ghastly.) Even at its best, it never begins to approach the perfect fusion of action and comedy in the five-part pilot to 1989's series.
What it does accomplish is salvaging our heroes as characters. This is mainly due to a sense of camaraderie that helped distinguish the original TMNT from the action heroes of the day. These turtles aren't the green drones and amateurs who infested the previous TMNT series; the returning characters are more sharply written. Whereas TMNT 2003 would have been happy with a weak one-liner or first take, this new series asks for a better line and a second take.
The show also hits on the lightness of being that made the original TMNT animated series more charming than it deserved to be. I know you can love a show where the latest video game release is treated like the opening to Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace; where the present-day horror movie fan is revered like a great historian among future-day film buffs ("Don't have fun, or you're gonna get it!"); where New York hot dogs and their gaseous aftereffects are celebrated as vulgar universal truths ("I can still taste my hot dog!"/"Isn't it great?"/"The gift that keeps on giving.")
TMNT: FF's accomplishments aren't about the big things (like plot and character evolution and such); they're about the little things that make every other scene enjoyable. There's something to be said for that.