So help me God, I will get through this mammoth season if it’s the last thing I do!
In this batch of season 3 we’ll have a lot of voice actor substitutions to deal with, as once again Pat Fraley and Barry Gordon couldn’t make it to the recording studio on time and had to be replaced. Still, there’s good news. Baxter-Fly and the Rat King return and none other than Casey Jones makes his debut. And I gotta say, this version of Casey is pretty awesome.
Invasion of the Turtle Snatchers (written by Francis Moss)
Donatello and Rocksteady find themselves abducted by a vacationing alien family who needs their help. It turns out a few thousand years ago they left a “toy” behind on Earth and in a matter of hours it will explode and destroy the planet. While Don tries to save the world, Shredder uses Rocksteady to steal advanced weapons from the aliens.
The elastic-looking animation studio is back. They did more season 3 episodes than I thought, now that I’m going through this season all at once. While their first two efforts (“April Fool” and “Cowabunga Shredhead”) looked a little rough in places, I think they’re finally starting to get the hang of things. Their brutal attention to facial expressions and body language have a charm that’s growing on me and they enhance quite a few seasons, like when April begs for Burne to give her back her old office. Unfortunately, there are also some glaring errors, like Donatello with nunchakus on his belt, Raphael screaming “Cowabunga” in Michaelangelo’s voice or a weird moment where Krang vanishes from his bubble-walker.
And speaking of the bubble-walker, I always wondered why Krang toggled back and forth between it and his robot body over the course of the series (he even bounces back and forth between them in this very episode). The only reason I can think of is because Krang had two toys on the shelves at the time; one with his bubble-walker and one with his robot body. Since the Fred Wolf cartoon was first and foremost an advertisement for the Playmates action figure line, the writers were probably under some mandate to show off both Krang action figures whether it made sense in-context or not.
This particular animation studio drew some weeeeird looking Foot Soldiers.
Oh yeah, and there’s a story in this episode, too. While having two enemies stuck working together to escape a common foe is a bit of a trope, it does at least offer the opportunity to see two characters who never interact beyond cliché quips and one-liners actually share extended dialogues and screentime. Unfortunately, Don and Rocksteady working together ceases to be relevant before the halfway mark and the episode devolves into another “Shredder wants to steal a super weapon” shtick. There’s also a B-plot where April fears she’s going to lose her job to Vernon and has to get a major scoop to impress Burne, but it’s the B-plot for a reason.
In the end, the best thing about “Invasion of the Turtle Snatchers” is all the old sci-fi movie references. From the title (riffing Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to the aliens being named Klaatu, Barada and Nikto (The Day the Earth Stood Still) to the dangerous toy being an ebony monolith (2001: A Space Odyssey).
Camera Bugged (written by Michael and Mark Edends)
Frip the Polarisoid, the universe’s most obnoxious tourist, comes to New York for a sightseeing trip. Unfortunately, his high-tech camcorder doesn’t just take video, but sucks up and entraps anything it films. When the Turtles and Shredder get trapped in the camera, April and Splinter have to find a way to free them.
So upon reassessment, Frip the Polarisoid wasn’t nearly as infuriating as I remember him being. Maybe it was his other episode, “Welcome Back, Polarisoids” that was a lot worse? I can’t remember. But as it is, he’s surprisingly inoffensive in his debut episode and I kind of like the Ed Wynn impression they’ve got going with his voice.
“Camera Bugged” begins as a really typical episode, with the Shredder trying to steal a piece of alien technology so he can destroy the Turtles with it. This feels especially tedious coming directly after “Invasion of the Turtle Snatchers”, where Shredder tried to do the exact same thing.
What saves it is the last act, where the Turtles and Shredder get stuck in the surreal world inside the camera and proceed to engage in a truly bizarre chase scene, where all the backdrops randomly tear and open up into new vistas when they least expect it. I feel a more competent animation studio might have been able to get more out of the idea (as it is, the animation is really listless), but you can tell they were actually trying for something crazy and different in the storyboarding department.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that Pat Fraley does a great Don Knotts impression.
Green with Jealousy (written by Reed and Bruce Shelly)
Shredder and Krang plot to siphon energy from a nuclear submarine to refuel the Technodrome, but they know the Turtles will just interfere as usual. To keep them distracted, Krang has Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Raphael infected with a love potion that makes them so infatuated with Irma they can’t even think about fighting crime.
A love potion episode. Because f--k you, that’s why.
“Green with Jealousy” isn’t so bad at first, as we never have to suffer through the Turtles all putting the moves on Irma. Instead, they spend the episode fighting amongst themselves as to who is going to marry her. But just as soon as we think that bullet’s been dodged, Rocksteady gets hit by the love potion and kidnaps April so he can marry her. It’s all rather annoying and moronic, even by this show’s standards.
And like a lot of episodes, it’s full of discontinuity, rushed gags and plain ole mistakes. The Turtles all dress in sailor suits when they fall for Irma all for the sake of a visual cliché, but why they heck are they in those outfits in the first place (they’re wearing them before they ingest the love potion and they don’t go to the docks until the end of the episode)? I can take Donatello looking into a microscope and gasping, “A love potion!” because sure, why not. But the episode wastes time having Don concoct an antidote when at the end of the episode Rocksteady is cured when the potion just wears off. And what’s up with Irma’s disgust at finding out the Turtles were her secret admirers? Irma’s gimmick is that she’s as horny as she is Jewish and has spent most of her screentime swooning over the Turtles up until now. Then there’s animation errors, like Leonardo talking in Michaelangelo’s voice or Donatello talking in Leonardo’s voice…
And to top it all off, Burne and Krang are voiced by Townsend Coleman instead of Pat Fraley and we’ve already been over the quality of Coleman’s Krang voice. It’s just a mess of an episode.
And yet, holy s--t, it’s the most successful plan Krang has come up with in the series so far. I mean, it actually WORKS. The bad guys WON. The love potion distraction kept the Turtles occupied long enough for Krang and Shredder to siphon the nuclear energy and repower the Technodrome. Season over, right?
No, Bebop and Rocksteady accidentally destroy the battery at the last minute and put the villains back at square one. Because we’ve still got 26 episodes left to go in this season and we can’t advance the storyline YET, now can we?
Return of the Fly (written by Michael Reaves)
Baxter Stockman returns from his chronal displacement and teams up with Shredder to not only get revenge on the Turtles, but steal all the water in the city’s reservoir, too.
This is a pretty great episode that is unfortunately set back by having a pretty lame conflict. Once again, the primary source of suspense comes from April getting kidnapped by Baxter and the Turtles having to track her down. By the time that part of the story is over and done with, all that’s left is the battle at the reservoir and then the end credits.
Still, even without a decent conflict to be overcome in this story, you’d be surprised how entertaining “Return of the Fly” is.
Michael Reaves digs into some underutilized aspects of a few villains that most of the writers didn’t bother to develop. In the case of Baxter-Fly, Reaves illustrates that the villain is still just as intelligent as he was in his human days. When we first see Baxter (intangible due to being phase-sifted out of chronal alignment in his last appearance), he’s known all along how to restore himself to chronal synchronicity, but felt it more strategic to use his intangibility to spy on the Turtles and Shredder for his own gain. We also get the first reappearance of the Rat King and not as an enemy, either. Reaves exploits his toyline designation as “neutral” in this episode and the Rat King helps the Turtles find April with no apparent motive other than his own mysterious designs. Sadly, Rat King’s neutral status wouldn’t be used much after this and he’d become just another typical villain.
Unfortunately, Reaves proves less capable at shilling Playmates toys and we get a really, really bad intro to the Retro Catapult in one completely random, meaningless scene. Basically, Mike walks into Don’s workshop, asks what the new device is, gets catapulted and we never see the Retro Catapult again (at least in this episode). Usually, when you introduce a new weapon or vehicle at the start of the episode that means it’s going to come into play later on. A little thing called foreshadowing. Instead, the scene exists just to scream “NEW TOY” and then get back on track with the plot.
Baxter’s a pretty pitiable villain and you’ve got to feel just a little sorry for him in this episode. Shredder lures him back into his service with the promise of restoring his humanity, but Baxter buzzes out on him in the end, swearing revenge. This also marks the only Baxter-Fly episode not to end with the bug getting shipped off to another dimension or sent out of chronal sync or what have you. I remember feeling a bit disappointed that near the end, Shredder announces that he’s brought Baxter to come work for them, only for Baxter to storm out once Krang makes a fly joke. If the villains in this show needed anything, it would have been a larger cast of underlings as Bebop and Rocksteady really can’t carry all the comic relief villainy on their own. Instead, Baxter becomes a guest villain for the remainder of his appearances.
Also much to my disbelief, there’s a bit of continuity between this and last episode. Krang uses the last of the remaining energy they stole from the nuclear sub to move the Technodrome into position beneath the reservoir. It’d been a while since there was any episode-to-episode continuity in this season (there was a little arc near the beginning where the Shredder stole parts to fix the Technodrome’s AC), so it was a pleasant surprise.
And yeah, Greg Berg voices Donatello and Bebop again instead of Barry Gordon. He’s getting a little better with his Don voice, though.
Casey Jones – Outlaw Hero (written by David Wise)
When a psychotic vigilante named Casey Jones starts terrorizing petty criminals all over New York, the Turtles start taking the blame for his overzealous crime fighting. But while they’re distracted with stopping Casey Jones, Shredder and Krang build their newest weapon: The Foot Super Knucklehead.
This episode is awesome.
Casey Jones only made, I want to say, 4 or 5 appearances in the old cartoon and that ought to be a crime. David Wise clearly read the Mirage comic Casey first (appearing in Raphael (microseries) #1) and elected to exaggerate his warped, ultra-violent “Dirty Harry”-wannabe behavior. The result is a Casey Jones not too dissimilar from his initial appearance in the original Mirage TMNT comics (where he was shown watching “Dirty Harry” movies), but cranked up to an 11. And god damn, is it funny. Pat Fraley plays him with a Clint Eastwood impression with Casey snarling “lawwwww breakeeeeerrr” at everyone he meets. My favorite part comes when Casey starts wailing on a bum for “loitering” on a park bench at night. He’s absolutely insane and it’s great.
I had the Casey Jones action figure when I was a kid (it also doubled as a Jason Voorhees toy, I’ll confess) and I always got psyched when one of my action figures appeared in an episode of the show. Little kids are easy to please like that. But Casey Jones’s cameos were even more exciting because he was recognizable beyond just the toyline. Being in two of the live action movies gave him some additional media exposure as a member of the primary cast, so when he showed up in the cartoon from time to time it felt, I dunno, like a big deal or something.
The Foot Knucklehead, which originally appeared as a smaller nuisance in the season 2 episode “Enter the Fly”, returns with an upgrade for this story. Season 3 has been demonstrably awful about advertising vehicles and accessories from the toyline, but this episode actually develops its story around the Foot Knucklehead toy-shilling and its presence feels more natural. It manages to compliment the other plot, in which the Turtles try to get Casey to understand the difference between petty crimes and crimes that actually warrant hardcore violence, by giving the two opposing forces a reason to team up. It’s definitely one of the more well-balanced scripts in the season.
If you’ve been watching along with me, you’ve probably noticed by now that Mike has all but given up completely on his nunchakus. They’re always shown on his belt and on a few occasions the animators will draw him drawing them and twirling them, but I cannot recall the last time we’ve seen him club anything with them. The writers appear to be experimenting with substitutes already, as in this episode he awkwardly uses what looks like a lasso as his weapon. He’ll eventually get saddled with the grappling hook as his permanent replacement later in this season, I believe.
This is another of my top picks for season 3, but it’s actually not my favorite Casey Jones episode. No, that one’ll be in the next batch of episodes I review.
Mutagen Monster (written by Michael and Mark Edens)
When two trains carrying hazardous chemicals collide near a stockyard, the resulting mixture creates a mutagen that fuses the nearby cattle into the gargantuan Mutagen Monster. Shredder intends to take control of the Mutagen Monster, but all the Turtles want to do is restore it to normal before it wrecks the city.
How many cow puns can you make in 22 minutes? Whatever your answer is, it can’t be even remotely as many as this episode.
The Edens brothers write a pretty dull script with a very simple premise: Mutant cow rampages in city, the Turtles try to stop it. While a lot of episodes could be confused with too many plotlines going on at once, “Mutagen Monster” is the other end of the spectrum; not even remotely enough plot to fill 22 minutes. Add commercials and it’s half an hour of the Turtles trying to catch a giant bull while making cow jokes. It gets pretty damn tedious.
Shredder’s plot to take control of the Mutagen Monster with a high tech nose-ring doesn’t come into play until, like, the 19 minute mark. And once he gets the ring in the monster’s nose, the Turtles de-mutate it immediately. So all that was pointless. There are also some weird plot holes, too. Like at the beginning, the Mutagen Monster is shown to be a fusion of two cows, but when it’s cured at the end, four cows are shown walking away. Also, Donatello enhances an atom smasher at a college campus to de-mutate the Mutagen Monster, but Michaelangelo is caught in the blast that restore the giant cow to normal. So how come Mikey wasn’t turned back into a normal turtle?
All that and Greg Berg fills in for Don and Bebop. AGAIN.
At the very least, this is another episode that establishes how rare and hard to make mutagen is. “Invasion of the Punk Frogs” previously got the point across, but this one reinforces it as Shredder causes the trains to collide so he can steal the components to make mutagen as Krang is all out. Explains why Krang doesn’t make an army of mutants, at any rate. A shame that one of the rare instances in the show that a mutant villain is created (there really weren’t that many), it’s a one-off mindless monster.
And on that low note, we end this week’s visit to Nostalgia Land. Next time, we’ll get Casey Jones’s greatest episode, a Rat King cameo, lots of Playmates vehicle and accessory action, the first appearance of Lotus Blossom, my favorite incarnation of Leatherhead and… a clip show. There’s always gotta be a clip show.
You can find the majority of these episodes on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Original Series (Volume 4) DVD.