For anyone growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero) Turtles were the best thing since sliced pizza. Each week kids tuned in to watch the antics of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo as they battled the evil forces of Shredder and Krang.
Sadly those kids grew up and soon realised there were other things going on in the world besides the Turtles, such as Power Rangers, iDevices and of course the opposite sex. Thankfully, all of those distractions were short lived, so when a Turtles revival came a calling during the ’00s those kids-turned-adults were ready for a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
However, the ’00s incarnation of the Turtles – affectionately dubbed Turtles 2K3 by fans – was quite different from its ‘80s counterpart. Instead of light-hearted kiddie fodder, the new take on the Turtles steered closer in tone to the original comics created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
Kicking off in 2003, Turtles 2K3 was a half-hour animated show produced by 4Kids Entertainment and Mirage Studios. The series ran for seven seasons, comprising 156 episodes and concluded in 2009 with the TV movie Turtles Forever.
Like the previous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, Turtles 2K3 focused on four mutated turtles, their sensei/father Splinter (a humanoid rat), their human friend April O’Neil and their enemy Shredder. However, unlike the previous Turtles show many comic book characters also appeared on a regular basis, including Casey Jones, the Utroms, Baxter Stockman and the Triceratons.
Throughout the course of the series, the Turtles found themselves battling bad guys in the past, present and the future, as well as in different dimensions and even in space! Jeez, if the Turtles weren’t fighting somebody, somewhere, then clearly it was a slow day for the Heroes in a Half-Shell.
The inclusion of fan-favourite characters and the use of exotic locations helped the show to establish itself as a completely different take on the source material, but one of the key strengths of the Turtles 2K3 series were the Turtles themselves. Each character had their own personalities which made them stand out from their brothers, yet together they formed the perfect family unit. No matter if they were separated by time, dimensional rifts or Raphael’s bad attitude, Leo, Don, Raph, Mikey and Splinter were the driving force behind the show’s success.
Season One of Turtles 2K3 introduced many of the characters who would remain a mainstay of the series. From April, Casey and Splinter through to Shredder, evil genius Baxter Stockman and Shredder’s right hand goon Hun. The first season also demonstrated that this new version of the Turtles was a little more adult in tone than the previous version, with storylines that built up into an ongoing story arc.
A breakout star of the first season was the Shredder. In the early episodes of Season One, the Shredder made a few appearances sans armour, yet he was just as deadly regardless of his attire. Leading the Foot Clan, controlling rival gang the Purple Dragons and (regularly) maiming lacky Baxter Stockman, gave Shredder a strong presence even though he wasn’t always standing toe-to-toe with the Turtles.
As the first season progressed the Turtles found themselves increasingly at odds with Shredder culminating in a rooftop battle leading to the apparent death of Shredder. Although at first it seemed as if Shredder had been beheaded by Leonardo there was in fact a lot more going on with the metal-faced menace than the Turtles realised and his ‘death’ was merely a short setback. Meanwhile with Shredder temporarily out of the picture, the Turtles started to learn a little more about their mysterious origins, including their connection to the alien race known as the Utroms.
Season Two / Season Three
With Season Two there came more revelations, more characters – including Leatherhead, the Triceratons and the Fugitoid – and yet more butt-kicking action. The biggest reveal of the second season was the discovery that Shredder was an evil Utrom named Ch’rell – the Utrom who indirectly created the Turtles. The second season also saw the introduction of Karai, the Shredder’s adopted daughter, who made her debut in the ‘City at War’ story arc.
As the show continued into Season Three the action still largely focused on the Turtles’ adventures in New York, with occasional stories taking place in other dimensions or realities. The three-part season three story, Space Invaders, which was followed by the three-part story Worlds Collide, also brought an epic war to Earth, with the alien Triceratons invading the planet in search of the Fugitoid.
Oh, and epic was certainly the correct word to describe Season Three of Turtles 2K3 as during a rather interesting five-part story, Leo, Mikey, Raph and Don were separated from each other and sent to different time zones and realities. The third season also introduced Agent Bishop – a secret government agent who worked to protect the planet from extra-terrestrial threats… even if that included the Turtles.
Season Three of Turtles 2K3 concluded with Exodus, a two-part story which saw the Turtles finally defeat Ch’rell (aka the Utrom Shredder) – although perhaps ‘finally’ and ‘defeat’ are not quite the correct words. Ch’rell inevitably made a comeback.
Season Four / Season Five
For the fourth season of the show the opening titles were slightly reworked to make reference to the fact that Shredder was no longer the chief villain and with a spot opened up for a new bad guy, it was up to Karai to take up the mantle.
The fourth season also largely focused on Leonardo’s ‘attitude problem’ which had developed as a result of the Turtles’ last battle with Ch’rell. During the fight with Shredder the Turtles were almost defeated, which was something Leonardo took personally, so he was sent away to work on his demons. Meanwhile, Agent Bishop and his new sidekick Baxter Stockman created an outbreak of mutations in New York, which the Turtles had to stop.
Season Four concluded with the episode Ninja Tribunal which saw the Turtles come face-to-face with a group of ancient warriors who looked a heck of a lot like Shredder. The story was designed to set up the story arc for Season Five.
Comprising 12 episodes (the shortest and weakest season of Turtles 2K3’s entire run), the fifth season saw the Turtles head to Japan to learn about the impending resurrection of the Shredder.
The original Shredder!
Thanks to a handy flashback episode, the Turtles (and the audience) discovered the Utrom known as Ch’rell had merely adopted the persona of the original Shredder (Oroku Saki). This new (original) Shredder was a whole different ball game.
Season Six / Season Seven
The sixth season, known as the Fast Forward season saw the Turtles and Splinter transported to the future, where new adventures and new villains awaited them. Teaming up with Cody Jones – a relative of April and Casey – the Turtles fought new bad guys such as Darius Dunn, Jammerhead, Viral and Sh’okanabo. The Turtles were also given a makeover, with new weapons and reworked character designs.
Season Six ran for 26 episodes and concluded with Zixxth Sense. Although the season was left open-ended, allowing the Turtles to remain in the future for additional seasons should the need arise, the show’s seventh and final season saw the Turtles returned to present day New York.
Airing between 2008 and 2009, Season Seven (aka Back To The Sewers) saw the Turtles transported back to their own time period to conclude their TV adventures. Once again the Turtles were given a slight makeover and once again they were pitted against the Shredder!
Yep, ol’ Shred-head was back, but this time it was in the form of the deadly Cyber Shredder, who was neither the Utrom Shredder (Season One to Three), the Karai Shredder (Season Four) or the original Shredder (Season Five). Instead, this Shredder was the combination of Viral, a villain from Season Six, and the computer ‘back-up’ memories of Ch’rell (the Utrom Shredder).
Yeah, it’s getting really confusing now – I know!
Season Seven was another short season, comprising just 13 episodes and concluded with Wedding Bells and Bytes – the wedding of Casey Jones and April O’Neil. After 155 episodes, the Turtles’ TV adventures came to an end, but when the final episode aired in 2009 it wasn’t quite the end for Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael.
To conclude the ‘00s run of the Turtles, an animated spin-off movie, Turtles Forever was released in 2009. Turtles Forever was a great way to end what was already an excellent ‘toon and it was the perfect tie in with the then Turtles’ 25th anniversary celebrations (which also took place in 2009).
The feature-length story featured appearances from the ‘80s version of the Turtles, an appearance from the original comic book version of the Turtles, and various references to a quarter century of Turtles mythology. Turtles Forever also established the Turtles multiverse, allowing every past version of the Turtles to co-exist with the ‘00s version.
As Turtles movies went, Turtles Forever was awesome. It also brought an end to a great era of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
To date, there have been four Turtles cartoons, one live-action TV show, six live-action movies, countless comics, an endless supply of toys, a concert tour and so much more, yet the ’00s ‘toon remains one of the best representations of the Turtles – EVER! Now if only Netflix would pick up the show for streaming.
This post originally appeared on the Honcho-SFX blog.