We'll be comparing everything on a few key terms, Animation, Story, Characterization, Action (included in animation) and Music/Sound
Animation comes in 2 parts, stills and action. How are the turtles drawn, and how good is the action? I think in physical appearance, Image/Mirage wins hands down. The turtles are drawn hardcore, they're buff, they're not necessarily mean but they're serious, they got different shades on their bodies even though they're all the same height. It's got some cool screencap material, and juxtaposed sequential shots, like Leo slicing Shredder's head off in mid air, a classic Samurai element. A moment of stillness.
Body heights of other characters match up well with the turtles too. Human characters (be it April, Casey, Shredder or at least his armour) are taller than the turtles, because I remember from my oldest back info from toy boxes, that the bros were 5' 3" or something, and that Mike loved ice cream pizza. Splinter is hunched up and grey, the way one of my toys from the 90s looked like, predating the cartoon by many years. But I think he was meant to look more like a wolf. He still had a rat's snout. All characters were in great physical form, and that's what I loved about it. Colours were bright and everything was in high def, but that’s not necessarily all win, because the picture may have been flatter. They took a lot of liberty drawing things like the crustacean/insect-like subterranean characters from Tales from the Underground, and later did about the same thing with the “Dark Turtles”. New characters.
1987’s Fred Wolf cartoon did have good art, but just not as great as Image/Mirage’s. They did emphasize on muscles. Their colours were awesome too, comparative . Buildings were drawn so cool, April was cooler, and maybe Splinter too. Shredder had less on and this version or the movie version is probably my favourite version of the Shredder, but that’s not to say 2003’s Oroku Saki/Shredder in armour lacked in coolness. Samurai armour is awesome.
Where 2003 made a step UP in animation (art), in both technology and style, Nickelodeon went down. The blocky style of drawing appeals to some people, and since they ARE turtles, those elephant-hoof legs may make some sense. Then again they’re also mutated, badass, action heroes. That’s their appeal. The process of mutation can’t be scientifically explained, because in all versions, it had an alien hand in it. Don’t try to make things realistic in fiction, keep this loophole to make the art better.
The art is also less macho/cool and more childish, and that’s assuming that the target audience had to be children. The anime eyes do not work, at least not for me. Still, I have to ask, what’s wrong with children’s shows with some tough characters? I was heavy into action when I was a kid, I enjoyed it, and I turned out fine. (sure I skinned a couple kittens every now and then, had homosex a lot and terrorized villages, but that had nothing to do with the cartoons I watched)
As far as action sequences go, Nick has the best Aikido/Jiujutsu moves and philosophy. I think I saw a few “Randori”s in the training scenes, usually with Splinter in the middle. That’s when everyone gangs up one dude and the dude has to get out/stay alive.
Nick also has a lot of depth perception, the turtles get up VERY close to the camera, that it’s almost invading on my personal space. The foreground is used excessively whereas Fred Wolf animation was mostly flat, except in the intro and in select scenes where they swing toward the camera, or away, or jump into sewers. I could pick out scenes from 2003’s animation where they had one thing in the foreground while something was happening in the background, like walking away from an explosion, but it wasn’t as emphasized.
2003 still had some cool moves. In the pilot itself, there were fights, sneaking around, and even wind blowing on bandanas, which is an awesome effect. I remember Raph flipping up and out of the public’s view was something that cemented my love of that second cartoon series, at age 19. Unfortunately though, the fight scenes were not AS awesome, they still never used their weapons the way they’re supposed to (Leo would use his lethal blades on people and they would end up getting knocked on to the ground with a few bruises. What are his swords rubber?). But there were a LOT of fights, and every episode was so fast passed, which is something that makes the 2003 cartoon one of the most entertaining shows of all time, both Ninja Turtles and overall.
What ran the action in the Fred Wolf cartoon was the music. When you heard that music, you would know it was a battle, and you’d be excited anyway because it’s fun, and because you wouldn’t have anything to compare it to. The use of weapons, as has been criticized very famously about this cartoon, was minimal. They would CARRY these weapons with them, but unless they were chopping up a statue or a vehicle, or trying to open a door,…. those weapons were supposed to be used a certain WAY, dammit.
Storytelling might be a big factor.
The Image/Mirage cartoon was obviously closer to both the comics and even the movies. The IMAGE comics, that is. But the Nickelodeon drew from it’s own sources, Archie’s owns Wingnut and perhaps Mutagen Man, (or else, he started in the Fred Wolf cartoon). IDW has touched all bases from reprints of the original Eastman/Laird run, (and is in fact directly affiliated with Eastman) to solos and comics inspired by the nick series. So it’s a matter of how good the parent stock is, when talking about closer to the comics. Image/Mirage beats Archie’s hands down. If there was one company/universe I would like to erase, without too much negative impact on all the things I love, it would be Archie’s, and maybe perhaps Hanna Barbera, (but then I’d be missing Johnny Bravo and PPG, and a lot of the stuff on Cartoon Network)
However, for a children’s cartoon, Nickelodeon’s cartoon is pretty Noir, and they got that much right. Many of the mutant trouble makers are quick to be put down before they could cause more trouble. SpyRoach, Mutagen Man and Slash/Spike all faced the consequentialist verdict, (not always carried out). Plus, hallucinogenic mushrooms. Enough said.
In contrast, Archie’s and Nickelodeon both drew inspiration from and paid homage to Fred Wolf. Fred Wolf’s intro had meaner turtles that looked like they did in the Eastman/Laird comic. That intro also gives us a good idea of who the Turtles are and who the enemy is in a matter of seconds, but it leaves so much more. Nickelodeon’s intro is heavily based on the Fred Wolf intro, in fact they basically re-mixed it, but that’s not all it is. It DOES pay tribute to other stuff.
Except for the Green Lantern style dying alien arc, which went on for 3 or 5 episodes, Fred Wolf is generally more episodic than any of the other cartoons. Yes, the same characters like Baxter Stockman will re occur, some elements like “Shredder and his goons are the bad guys” would re occur. The Technodrome or Shredder’s enmity with Splinter were objects and elements you had to know to follow what was going on. If they said “dimension X”, you had to know what was meant by that. But it was a shallow show for kids. What’s gonna happen today? Some thugs broke into a bank, Turtles saved the day. Some ghost came in from ancient Japan, in a vase, Turtles saved the day. I liked the style before there was anything to compare it with, and because many shows at the time would follow that method. But in all forms, Fred Wolf was more childish.
While child friendly, 2003 was more adult oriented, “kick-ass”, fast paced, entertaining and if you were too lazy to read or couldn’t get your hands on the comic, from Fugitoid to City at War to Usagi Yojimbo, the creators revived and immortalized what the Turtles were really about. I started with Fast Forward, that was lame. But 2003 is more serial, save for a few stand alones, but usually connecting in somewhere. It has both several arcs consisting of at least 3 episodes in a single season, and arcs reappearing/continuing spanning multiple seasons. THAT I liked. Only at least a semi-mature mind could keep up. They would recollect a little in case someone hadn’t watched a past episode, and to not create too much confusion (which is one harm for serials vs episodic) but there was never any confusion for me, and if I ever found something boring, it was the stand alones.
Nickelodeon’s only had 2 seasons so far, and while the Karai stuff was closely tied together, I feel that it’s more episodic than serial, BUT the single episodes are much more fun than anything else. However, these episodes aren’t necessarily “filler” or “stand alone”. For example, I initially wrote off Metalhead Rewired as filler, but at the end of it, we get a recount of what mutants/aliens are still around and they’re all set free. Little bits and pieces like how Donny gets a blade in his stick, SEEM episodic, but are important in the long run. One thing I think was bad about it, was that to follow the serial part of the first and second seasons was that there was no break there. I could easily recall what happened in each season, roughly, in the 2003 cartoon. Season 1 had the “Shredder Strikes” arc, a “filler” arc about Tales from the Underground, and went back to “Shredder Strikes Back”. IF, like the Dark Phoenix Saga of X Men TAS, 2003 had gone all out with 6 episodes of continuous story, at THAT fast pace, I would have been lost. (I wouldn’t have been, because I’d have had a slight idea, and since I usually read up on episodes before I watch them, but a newcomer would) Nickelodeon’s story from when Karai first comes in, (or actually from Bradford and Xever) might have been too much, and too condensed. At the time, it was easy to follow because I watched it every week, except for between mid season breaks, that took a few months to recover. But if I were to recall them, they’re not drawn into my head as easily.
So, the moral is, serial is more fun than episodic, but you risk losing the audience’s attention if they miss too much. 2003 never had this problem because someone would always fill the viewer in on what’s happened so far, a “previously on the show” style catch-you-up technique. This shouldn’t be too much a problem though, because these days, you have access to episodes you may have missed through other methods, like you could always go online and catch up with what you’ve missed, like if you had a final or a meeting the day it was gonna be on. But you really have to invest your time in Nick, which is GOOD, but annoying when you’ve finally grown up.
What 2003 REALLY screwed up on as far as the story, was the Utrom Shredder. WHAT THE FUCK? You have such a perfect character like THE SHREDDER, and you make him a robotic shell for a criminal alien worm,….. I am sooooooo disappoint. This affects the entire history of the Ninja Turtle mythos, and is probably the worst mistake anyone has ever done.
The Kraang Is given more complexity in Nick, giving them mass telepathic communication and telekinesis. They’ve combined both the Utrom race and Kraang and his rock soldiers into one, but they’re all evil now, unlike the benevolent beings that healed Master Splinter in both the comics and the cartoon. Again, impacting Turtles continuity. However, Turtles Forever has built up a multiverse to separate each creation and make them awesome. It is also too funny. A quick joke every now and then is ok, but what Nick did is in comparison what Teen Titans GO! Is to Teen Titans. Greg Cipes is equal parts amazingly funny and over the top. But at the end of the day, that’s how the Turtles started, and were supposed to be. A spoof, and funny.
The main themes of each version may differ. With Fugitoid’s D’Hoonib, everything became Star Wars, and the Turtles gained all their enemies from outer space, and ancient myth/legend,.. which works if you’re into Sci-Fi. I’m not. Nick gets all their bad guys from Mutagen, which is better. But 2003 and Fred Wolf also deal with the city and it’s bad guys. Sometimes, a theme that is ordinary and seemingly mundane CAN be the best. Like crime. 2003 deals with gangs, a topic that is probably too heavy for kids, but very realistic too.
Taking into consideration the complexity, how hard/easy it is to keep up with, pace and entertainment value, originality and sticking to the original, even characterization, I think the best storytelling is in 2003. Nick doesn’t do bad at all, the stories are fun, continuous, evolving, very original, yet classic, but 2003 is a better show.
The only difference between the four Turtles in Fred Wolf were the colour of their masks, the letters on their belt buckles and the weapons they may or may not draw. They’d usually draw them, at least. But in 2003, they were given a little more depth and individuality than that. The character of each dude was intensified. Raph was a lot tougher, and running off by himself. In fact, aren’t most of the funnest tales start with Raph running away? Donny was always smart, Leo was always the leader, and Mikie was never serious. So after Raph, “characterization” may stop.
Nickelodeon wins the bracket for characterization since they’ve spent a lot of time and detail and height variation, skins, shells, attitudes and personality of each Turtle and even the other characters. Slash was very evil, amazingly done. Even the bad guys have been fleshed out well. Karai of 2003 vs Kelly Hu Karai is a HUGE difference. We wouldn’t know much about Shredder’s adopted daughter who starred in the comic’s ‘City at War’ storyline if it weren’t for 2003. But 2003’s Karai was stiff, and boring. Not to say we didn’t get a glimpse into her past and why she works with Shredder, and she still makes her own choices, to some extent.
Kelly Hu is much more interesting. Let me commend the entire voice cast of the show btw. Nick’s Karai is much more entertaining. She’s bad, and she loves being bad. She kicks ass, she plays around with Leo, she’s better than him but isn’t in a hurry to win, she maintains her allegiance to Shredder and…. She’s just awesome. Kelly Hu can actually fight, too. Plus she’s voiced other ninja/kunoichi before.
The only bad thing about Nick’s characters is that Shredder doesn’t do enough. The only two times Shredder has fought might be at the docks when the Turtle bros were going to bazooka him, and at the end of Worm Quake, when Splinter was lured into a trap and poisoned. Shredder is such a great (and honourable) villain. WHY don’t people utilize him?
Cementing characters as sensitive or aggressive might be risky in that, once you confirm them too thoroughly, there’s no room for change. Raph is the easiest Turtle to work with,because his emotions are all on the surface, with the second being either Mikie or Leo. Mikie maybe more complicated, hiding his real pain or insecurity under all those jokes. Donny is reserved and could be interpreted in several ways.
Each cartoon has it’s own unique characters too, be it Bebop and Rocksteady, Hun, Agent Bishop and the Guardians, or Snakeweed, Fishface, and the AWESOME Newtralizer. There’s a difference between the show’s protagonists being children and the show being childish as well. The Turtles were supposed to be 15 when they reached the surface and fought the Purple Dragons. Although Casey Jones doesn’t work as a kid, everyone else sure as hell do. Nick’s Splinter maybe a little too straight.
To me, the theme song is always the HOOK. I may decide to watch or not watch a cartoon by judging it’s theme song. Fred Wolf has such an intense intro, that drove my adrenaline through the roof before I even knew what the cartoon was about. Like I said, nick remixes this already existing intro. Not as awesome, not original. Did 2003 manage to beat or at least live up to the Fred Wolf theme? I think I was impressed by the intensity of it, the Turtles were jumping over rooftops and racing through the sewers, Shredder would make an appearance, each season might have it’s updated Intro, and it was ok. Back to the Sewer and Fast Forward didn’t do as well with Intros as it originally did. Fast Forward was crap.
I still think the better intro belonged to Fred Wolf.
Fred Wolf’s score throughout the rest of the episode was awesome too. It had a funny theme for characters like Irma or Vernon, then it had suspicion scene music. You’d know it was a battle scene or a rescue with the type of music too, with a small “heroes in the half shell” to announce the day’s victory. And then there was the theme of the lair, whenever you switched over to Dimesnsion X or the Technodrome. I LOVED the music. It was almost a Power Rangers technique as when Zedd would appear. Each type of music would set the setting really well.
2003’s music SUCKS. If there was one thing,… make that 2 things I could hate that cartoon on, and probably the only 2 things in it that I disliked, it would be Utrom Shredder and the fact that the music is usually so loud it blots out the damn voices. HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO LISTEN TO A CONVERSATION THAT MIGHT BE IMPORTANT TO THE PLOT, when the music is a) TOO LOUD and b) NEVER STOPS?
I haven’t noticed Nick’s music as much, meaning it probably doesn’t play to win or lose in the music dept. this puts it in the middle ground, a step below Fred Wolf, but still a step above 2003.
So which do you think is the best out of all 3 cartoons? I’ve given art and story to 2003’s Image/Mirage, my favourite version, Fred Wolf takes Music+Intro and Nickelodeon has the best characterization, and original characters. Action can be tied between 2003 and Nick, but I think Nick would win it, because of their usage of actual martial arts techniques and usage of space. Nick has the worst art though, and 2003 has the worst music. You can show me where I’m wrong and point out what I have missed to notice.