reviews, TV

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The lean, mean, green machines are back to take on a wildly magical New York.

When Nickelodeon first acquired the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from co-creator Peter Laird back in 2009, we knew we’d be in for some wild times ahead.

2012 brought us the fantastic series by Ciro Nieli, which was both a brilliant homage to what came before it, forging its own path and testing the waters for unique ideas as the show continued (Mutant Apocalypse is a fantastic arc worth checking out).

In 2014 we saw the first of two films by Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes, and while that had some questionable design choices and ideas (thankfully they fixed the whitewashing of Shredder just barely before release), the two films had the spirit of TMNT in their DNA.  This Turtles fan actually adored the sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows for basically being a live-action version of the 80s cartoon.

This year marks the  first real change Nick is making to the Turtle Soup recipe with Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Developed by Ant Ward and Andy Suriano, Rise takes place during a period when the Turtles aren’t quite the heroes we usually see them being. Right from the start we see a change in leadership: this team is led by Raphael instead of perpetual leader, Leonardo.

Rise’s Raphael (voiced by Owen Benson Miller) is a hulking brute of a mutant, easily towering over his brothers due to his species being a snapping turtle. In fact, all four turtles are represented as different species with unique attributes this time around: Leonardo (voiced by Ben Schwartz)  is a red-eared slider who, while probably the most skilled of the bunch, is aloof and full of himself; box turtle Michelangelo (voiced by Brandon Mychal Smith) is the smallest of the group, and is also a free-spirited artist instead of the normal party dude; and Donatello (voiced by Josh Brener) is a soft-shelled turtle. While Donatello is still the brains of the group, but instead of being nerdy and soft spoken, Rise’s Donnie is proud of his smarts and is much more confident about his abilities.

April O’Neil (voiced by Cat Graham) returns as the Turtles’ human companion– but with a change herself. In a welcome show of diversity, April is now African-American and fights alongside the Turtles as part of the team. The shows eschews the normal first meeting trope; she’s just part of the family from the beginning and she even jumps into the fray before the Turtle boys have had time to react.

Our redesigned Turtle boys with their new weapons

That’s not all that’s been changed in the new series, either. The Turtles’ home is still New York, but just below the surface is a magical city full of all matter of creatures, including the series villain and new addition to the TMNT mythos, Baron Draxum (voiced by John Cena). Rather than being a ninja in the vein of the Shredder, Draxum is described as a, “mutant yokai and alchemist”. When we first meet him, he’s perfecting his mutagen using magical mosquitoes (“Oozequitoes) to create more mutants, when the Turtles and April stumble upon him. The first episode even hints that Draxum may be behind the Turtles’ mutation, further breaking away from the traditional TMNT Daredevil-esque origin.

I love the direction Suriano and Ward have taken the show so far. The series feels fresh, and the energy is through the roof. The character designs, while initially took a bit of getting used to, are wonderfully animated and every scene is beautifully colored. The action scenes are kinetic and engaging. The Turtles officially being different species yet still brothers introduces a theme of them being more of an adopted family that we haven’t seen before. The new dynamic within the team is interesting and I can’t wait to see how the Turtles eventually rise to be the team we’re familiar with. 

Nickelodeon is aiming for a younger demographic this time around, and it shows in the type of humor between the brothers and the episode length– roughly 11 minutes each. The show includes references to popular fads like the game Five Nights at Freddy’s with new villain Albearto, a living mechanical bear that attacks the Turtles.

Older fans will definitely find things to enjoy in this series as well, with characters named in the style of classic villains such as Meat Sweats, a mutant pig and former celebrity chef, and Hypno-Potamus. The Foot are here as well, and I love the new direction of them being much more mystical than sci-fi– they are created out of origami, instead of being straight robots.

From the previews and sneak peak Nickelodeon released back in July, I’m thoroughly on board with the show, and it seems like Nick is too because they’ve already ordered a 2nd season. Fans can rest assured the legacy of the TMNT is in good hands with Suriano and Ward and I can’t wait to see where this show takes us.


Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiered on September 17th, 2018 and airs weekdays at 6:30pm PST on Nickelodeon.


Mike Templeton (@ItsTheRocketeer) is a certified Ninja Turtle Expert and a Professional Puppeteer. Your life is basically safe in his hands.

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