Well, we’re at the penultimate of my TMNT Season 3 review articles and the Fred Wolf series has saved the best for almost-last. And by “best” I mean “two Zach the Fifth Turtle episodes.” There is no God.
On the bright side, we get a Rat King cameo, so there’s that to look forward to. Some other recurring characters, like Don Turtelli and the Neutrinos also show up and there are some surprising nods to continuity, as well (though they create some discontinuity at the same time, as is this show’s way). And if it’s any further consolation, this batch of episodes contains pretty much the last of the truly awful episodes for the season. The next and final season 3 article is essentially all good stuff. But before I can get there, I have to get through this…>
The Turtle Terminator (written by David Bennett Carren and J. Larry Caroll)
Shredder has Irma kidnapped and replaced with a robot doppelganger named the Turtle Terminator. However, whenever the robot hears the word “turtle” it starts blasting everything in sight, including everyone at the Channel 6 Building.
Hoo boy. Way back when I started my season 3 reviews, I mentioned that the animation in this season could get so incompetent that you’re scarcely left with a clue as to what’s happening on screen. Well, this episode is exactly what I had in mind when I said that.
“The Turtle Terminator” appears to have been done by that squash-n-stretch studio, but when I say “done”, I don’t mean “completed”. Because this episode is lousy with unfinished animation. There’s a moment where Irma steps on Shredder’s foot and he’s supposed to be hopping on one leg going “ouch, ouch” etc, but the animation for that scene wasn’t completed. So while the audio track has Shredder hopping and screaming, the “animation” consists of still frames of Bebop, Rocksteady and Irma supposedly reacting to the sight we aren’t seeing (and those still frames are just headshots from earlier animation). The same thing happens again a few minutes later. Rocksteady drops a bunch of paint cans on the Turtles so that Shredder can escape in a driller module. The animation stops and freezes as Shredder starts to close the door to the module and we get a weird still frame of the pile of paint cans as the audio track matches the animation we SHOULD be seeing (the door closing and the driller module tunneling away).
It’s pretty horrible, is what I’m saying.
And yet, there are moments in “The Turtle Terminator” that actually look pretty good. There’s a great multiplane establishing shot of the sewer lair at the start of the episode, for example. Most other studios just do a pan of a background painting, making the multiplane effect used by this studio really stand out. There’s also lots of the super expressive animation typical of this squash-n-stretch studio (sorry, but they go unnamed in the credits) and moments where there are a lot of frames during action sequences. Sure, most of it is really choppy and awkward, but the handful of seconds that look good, look really good (like when the Turtle Terminator turns on Shredder and Krang at the end and chases them off).
The episode’s animation is just this weird combination of awful and decent with a lot of mediocre in-between that really throws you off. It’s just a mess. And to top it all off, Thom Pinto substitutes as Raphael and Greg Berg substitutes as Donatello and Bebop again, so the damn thing doesn’t even *sound* right.
As for the story, well, it’s an Irma spotlight. I hate Irma and the rest of the Channel 6 cast, so naturally this wasn’t my cup of tea. Irma’s bumbling around at the villains’ HQ was kind of amusing, but the gag goes on way too long and crosses over into tediously annoying territory. In a surprise nod to continuity, Burne’s girlfriend Tiffany, last seen at the beginning of the season in “20,000 Leaks Under the City” gets a name drop. We’ll never see her again, but at least the writers are keeping the ancillary character’s love life straight.
The Great Boldini (written by Francis Moss)
When the phony magician Boldini steals a priceless emerald from the museum, the TMNT take the rap. While the Turtles run from the cops, Zach and his friend Caitlin try to steal the emerald back from the real crooks: Don Turtelli and the Rat King.
Great. Zach. Because I’m sure we were all counting the minutes until that little puke showed up again. This time he’s flanked by his own sidekick (a sidekick for the kid sidekick?) in the form of Caitlin. She doesn’t leave much of an impression, honestly, but I’ll take “fades into the scenery” over “makes me want to break things” any day of the week.
Don Turtelli makes a third and final appearance in the series. I’m not sure why they wrote him out of the show after this episode, as the writers would continue to introduce other recurring mob boss and gangster characters such as Pinky McFingers and Big Louie that could have just as easily been Turtelli in any of their scripts. Heck, Turtelli was himself an inexplicable replacement for the previous mob boss villain, Tony “The Butcher” Vivaldi. So instead of getting one well-developed gangster villain in the show, we get four interchangeable and uninteresting gangster villains. “Quantity over quality” at its finest.
Of course, with the return of Don Turtelli comes his gimmick: Tickling people as a form of torture. I’ve commented on this before, but it just seems kind of gross and creepy now that I’m an adult and the internet has taught me that “getting tied up, blindfolded and tickled with feathers” is a fetish. It’s especially unsettling when he commits his tickling crimes on children, as in this episode. Gah. Just talking about it makes me feel dirty. Let’s move on.
The Rat King! Hooray! I love that guy! Sadly, Wise kind of shoehorns him in for no discernible reason and he actually adds little to the story. As a matter of fact, once he sets the climate controls in the museum to “indoor blizzard” (yep), he completely vanishes from the story like he was never in it at all. No comeuppance, no being defeated, not even a reference as to “where’d the Rat King go?” He just up and disappears. I get the feeling he was a late addition to the script and the ending wasn’t rewritten to account for his involvement. Another case of Wise putting too many plots into one episode and not developing them properly, but I’ll let this one slide. It’s the Rat King, after all.
The Missing Map (written by David Wise)
While visiting the Turtles, Zach’s brother Walt steals a map to the lair as well as a document that could reinstate Splinter as leader of the Foot Clan. Shredder immediately zeroes in on the teenager and Zach gets kidnapped and taken to the Technodrome in the chaos.
Two Zach episodes in a row. Boy, aren’t we lucky. Coming immediately after “The Great Boldini”, it sure seems like Zach is taking everybody he knows down to the TMNT’s “secret” lair. First Caitlin, now Walt, who next? Mom and dad?
The decision to bring back Walt (who had a small role in “Zach, the Fifth Turtle”) was a rather dubious one, but I guess Wise felt he could wring a story out of the kid. Walt’s voiced this time around by Townsend Coleman (he was voiced by Cam Clarke in his first appearance) and he’s just as bratty and cruel as before; again, making it very odd that Zach and the Turtles would invite him down to their secret lair. He eventually helps to undo the damage he causes and apologizes, leading to him being named “the Sixth Turtle”, because Lord knows we needed another one of those. Makes you wonder why Caitlin wasn’t named an honorary Turtle like Zach and Walt? I guess girls don’t count.
Wise fills this script with callbacks to older episodes which range from random to neat. The TMNT’s scrapbook (where the map and documents are kept) contains mementos from earlier adventures, like a photo of Frip the Polarizoid and a calling card from Lotus Blossom. Perhaps a bit too random of a callback, though, is the inexplicable use of the Techno Rovers in place of the Driller Modules. In case you don’t recall, the Techno Rovers were the tanks used way back in season 1 and haven’t been utilized since. How a vehicle with no roof or drillbit can tunnel through the Earth’s crust, I’ve no idea.
Wise also fills this one up with too many subplots, a setback of his writing I’ve harked on before (earlier in this article, as a matter of fact). Along with the map to the lair, Walt also steals a document that could exonerate Splinter of the attempted murder charge that got him banished from the Foot Clan during his Hamato Yoshi days. Exactly what was in that document is never stated. In fact, the document plays no part in the episode whatsoever and isn’t even mentioned at the end when the map is recovered by Raphael.
Why Wise even opted to include it is bewildering for a number of reasons. Chiefly among them is the fact that the Foot Clan is just a bunch of robots now, so who cares? The Turtles make a big ado about the document at the beginning of the episode, thinking that Shredder would do anything to get it from Splinter (lest he lose command of the Foot Clan). But, I reiterate, who the heck are they going to show it to? There are no more human members of the Foot Clan anymore, or if there are we never see them. It’s almost as if halfway through the episode, Wise realized “wait, this is stupid” and promptly ignores the whole “Foot Clan evidence” thing, which is why it doesn’t get mentioned at the end.
The episode’s also rather ugly to look at. It appears to have been done by a Japanese studio (they spell the “animation” wall scroll right, which is a usual giveaway), but not by the good Japanese studio that’s done the better looking episodes from this season. The framerate is choppy and it’s full of bandana coloring errors and voices applied to the wrong characters.
There also seems to have been a scene that got cut from the script for either time or animation costs, but a reference to it was left in. Shredder is seen wandering around the sewers, looking for Walt before the story transitions to one of the other subplots. When next we see Shredder, he’s given up on finding Walt, citing “an oil spill” as having set him back. WHAT oil spill? A glob of goo falls on his head while he’s traipsing around the tunnels, sure, but nothing approaching an “oil spill.”
Wise does this all the time and you’ll notice it in other cartoons he writes for. There’s a Transformers episode, “The Key to Vector Sigma, Part 1”, where Optimus Prime is wandering around the depths of Cybertron and mentions a “blast” caused by Megatron to slow him down. But no such thing happens in the episode.
Apparently, Wise was a writer who didn’t believe in second drafts. That’s okay. I hear Shakespeare was the same way.
The Gang’s All Here (written by James A. Davis)
When Michelangelo gets poisoned by some anti-mutagen, he’s transformed into a human teenager. With his new disguise, he helps April infiltrate Bebop and Rocksteady’s old gang so they can stop them from stealing an electronics shipment.
Apparently, anti-mutagen works however the writer wants it to work. In “Shredder & Splintered” and “Splinter No More” it was supposed to revert all mutants back to their original form (as the name would imply). In “Michelangelo’s Birthday”, it had the weird effect of inflating the Turtles into balloons. And in this episode it turns Michelangelo into a human being. Is it really “anti” mutagen if it mutates him into a completely different creature? And odd that Splinter wasn’t even remotely tempted to eat one of the “cookies that will turn you into a human”, but I guess he got the desire to be normal again out of his system in “Splinter No More”.
Writer James A. Davis just doesn’t seem to have a very strong grasp on this universe or its characters. In addition to the whole anti-mutagen thing, the episode erroneously claims that the TMNT’s “ninja powers” come from their mutation and Michelangelo loses all martial arts abilities once he becomes human. I’m kind of left wondering if Davis thought that the Turtles were humans before mutating and got their “ninja powers” from the mutagen? The script really seems to point to Davis having not read the series bible before writing the thing.
And speaking of the script, “The Gang’s All Here” really feels like two scripts crammed together. There’s a story about Michelangelo adapting to human life and a story about April trying to infiltrate Bebop and Rocksteady’s old gang. Either one could have carried an entire episode on its own, but when combined the result is two half-formed ideas that never meet their full potential. Heck, the title of the episode is dedicated to the less interesting of the two plots and gives no hint of the main focus (Mikey becoming human).
As for the gang, they’re an unexpected callback to season 1, but a callback that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. When last seen, Shredder was keeping them locked up in cages within the Technodrome, experimenting on them with mutagen (“Shredder & Splintered”). When the Technodrome gets sucked into Dimension X, they’re never heard from again. Until now, that is. I guess at some point off screen during that episode the Shredder… de-mutated them and let them all go free? They don’t seem to recognize Bebop and Rocksteady’s mutant forms and none of the members are drawn with the same character models as the gang members seen in season 1, so perhaps these are just different members who weren’t in the Technodrome at all? Heck if I know. But they’ll appear again in a later episode, “Once Upon a Time Machine”, so we still haven’t seen the last of them.
As one final aside, the fourth live-action TMNT feature film that got scrapped in the development stage would have included a subplot in which Michelangelo gains the ability to transform into a human being. A coincidence, I’m sure.
The Grybyx (written by Michael Reaves)
When Kala’s pet grybyx escapes from Dimension X, it uses its psychokinetic powers to wreak havoc on New York. The Turtles and Neutrinos try to recapture it, but Shredder and Krang plan to use the critter’s powers to raise the Technodrome.
You know a cartoon is fresh out of ideas when it resorts to bland movie parodies. In this case: Gremlins. Michael Reaves works some funny dialogue into the episode, but the base plot is pretty weak. He warps some of the “rules” behind the Gremlin films, from feeding the grybyx to getting it wet and it’s all pretty standard stuff. One of Reaves’s weaker scripts and he was usually one of the show’s better writers.
The Michelangelo/Kala thing is once again in full swing, but as with every other Neutrino guest appearance, it doesn’t go anywhere beyond awkward flirting and blushing between the two. If you’re going to introduce a romance into a series, at least try and develop it a little, guys. It’s the same shtick in every Neutrino episode.
The squash-n-stretch animation studio handles this one, and as usual, that invites the same old pros and cons. Their background art is some of the best in the show (some of the time, anyway), as they paint one of best-looking sewers we’ve seen. Other moments are crude as hell (puffs of smoke when a Foot Soldier explodes) and there are plenty of errors, from voices mismatched to the wrong character to an awkward bit where Bebop throw a pistol into the air and the grybyx proceeds to catch a rifle. Still, there’s a short but sweet moment where Shredder and Leo square off in the sewers and the animation on their battle is really well done (though looped to pad it out).
Anyway, even by Neutrino episode standards, this one wasn’t very good. Really bland and forgettable stuff with a phoned in script. It would be remade almost completely for a future Neutrinos episode, “Four Turtles and a Baby”, just a season later. Was there no depth to which this cartoon wouldn’t sink?
Mister Ogg Goes to Town (written by David Wise)
After Krang opens a portal to Dimension Z, he releases Mr. Ogg, an obnoxious midget with god-like powers. Krang and Shredder trick the little nuisance into attacking the Turtles while they try to steal a tanker of oil.
Déjà vu, anybody? This is basically the exact same set-up as the previous episode: “unassuming creature from another dimension comes to Earth and uses its super powers to wreak havoc on the city.” Except this time instead of a Gremlins parody, we’ve got a Peewee Herman parody. What was that I was saying about the depths this show would sink to…?
The Mr. Mxyzptlk archetype is hardly new and a LOT of cartoons and comics have knocked the character off. Wise’s Mr. Ogg is a pretty wholesale ripoff and man is he annoying. I mean, I don’t mind when a show does the cliché well, but this isn’t one of those occasions. Wise can’t even seem to think of a lot of interesting things for Ogg to do with his powers; halfway through the episode, he just starts transmuting everything into ice cream because Wise apparently ran out of imagination.
Donatello’s pandimensional portal generator from “Usagi Yojimbo” makes a comeback in this episode as a convenient means of dispatching Ogg at the end. What doesn’t make sense at the end, though, is that Krang and Shredder succeed in stealing a tanker of crude oil, but claim the substance is useless for powering the Technodrome unless they can use Ogg to transmute it into liquid hydrogen. Granted, I don’t think they’ve stolen oil before in the series as a fuel source, but they’ve tried to steal just about everything ELSE that I can’t believe they’re unable to use oil as a means for powering the Technodrome. It’s not like liquid hydrogen is the ONLY thing capable of powering the base, as has already been demonstrated all season long.
So yeah, we end this batch of episodes on a pretty sour note. All things considered, this was the worst bunch I’ve had to review for this season in a while. Luckily, the next five episodes that conclude season 3 are pretty good. We’ll have the return of Baxter Stockman, a visit to an alternate future and an epic 3-part finale to look forward to. Season 3 is nearly behind us. Just one more article to go.
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