Buckle up, people, because this is about to get complicated.
You all probably remember that at the end of the first episode of season 4, “Plan 6 from Outer Space”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles won a free European vacation. You’ll also probably remember that they never went on that vacation and the rest of the season 4 episodes proceeded without ever mentioning it again.
Well, the European Vacation episodes were produced, 13 of them, and they aired in parts of Europe and in Japan in the proper sequence with the rest of season 4. However, for some reason, I don’t know what, America did not initially broadcast these episodes. We eventually received them, but during season 7, where they aired on the USA Network (a cable network) while the proper season 7 episodes aired on CBS (a broadcast network). So that’s why these season 4 episodes are officially cataloged as season 7 episodes.
To make matters even more confusing, there is no logical layout to this European vacation the characters go on. Their path across the continent is full of weird backtracking and the dates are all out of whack (the first episode takes place in July, the third episode takes place in winter, the rest of the episodes take place during either Spring or Summer; how long were they in Europe!?).
TMNT fan “Danetello” tried to put together a more coherent sequence of episodes, you can read that along with his rationalizations here. I’m an American, and you can probably gauge my knowledge of European geography from that statement alone, so I’m going to take his word on most of it. Regardless, I’ll be reviewing these episodes in their official catalog order, as little sense as it makes.
Anyhow, this intro has been long enough, but I think it should also be noted that many of the characters have different voice actors during this arc. Raphael is voiced by Hal Rayle rather than Rob Paulsen through most if not all the episodes, Jim Cummings plays the Shredder and not James Avery in almost all the episodes, and Greg Berg plays Donatello instead of Barry Gordon in one of the episodes. And again, I DON’T KNOW WHY.
The European Vacation “miniseries”, “side-season” or whatever you want to call it is a total mess. But we’ve got to do it, so let’s get started…
“Tower of Power” (written by Michael Edens)
The Turtles and Splinter arrive in Paris to begin their European vacation, while at the same time April and the Channel Six crew arrive to cover the Bastille Day ceremonies. Bad luck for both groups, as Shredder and Krang plan to turn the Eiffel Tower into a giant electromagnet to pull the Technodrome free from Dimension X.
I’ll cop to admitting that I haven’t seen the European Vacation episodes of TMNT since they were originally broadcast on USA, and that was so long ago I don’t remember jack about them, anyway. So I’m sort of excited to revisit these episodes, but a bit apprehensive, too. Especially after watching this first installment.
It’s a pretty typical TMNT story in itself; nothing too stupid about the plot or the jokes or anything like that. Yet there are these baffling oddities that proceed to confound me. So, we see the Turtles travel from New York to Paris via a small fishing vessel; we watch them board the ship and everything. Yet, when they arrive in Paris… they’re driving around in the Turtle Van? What? I’d be tempted to think they loaded it onto the ship, but there was a joke about how small the boat was and we even saw them arrive at the docks with nothing but the clothes on their backs. How the hell did the van get there?
The animation is pretty bad, with the usual cel-layering errors and bandana miscolorings that were typical of Seasons 3 and 4 (but actually got better in seasons 5 and forward). I will say that there actually seems to be some effort expended on trying to get the neighborhoods and areas around landmarks to look right. The whole theme of these episodes is a tour of Europe, so it makes sense the layout artists and background painters would actually look at photos of Paris and the Eiffel Tower and at least TRY to get the landscapes correct. Notre Dame actually looks pretty wonderful, as a matter of fact.
Regarding the voices, this first episode features Hal Rayle and Jim Cummings as Raph and Shredder, respectively. Rayle tries his best to imitate Paulsen, and you can tell he’s doing the best he can, but it nevertheless sounds off, WAY off at times, and it will never cease to distract. Cummings as Shredder, on the other hand, I actually like. He doesn’t sound like he’s laboring to do an impression of Avery, but is instead doing his own thing with the Shredder. As a result, Shredder is still a bit goofy, but he sounds MUCH more menacing and evil. Avery will always be the best, but Cummings wasn’t bad.
As for the rest of the episode, like I said, it’s fairly typical and bland so there’s not much to say. I do want to remark that these European Vacation episodes don’t seem to be going for any sort of educational content. I had expected that these episodes were done to teach kids about different cultures and international history. Nah. The Turtles are just fighting a big magnet with the occasional excursion to the Louvre. Though I guess I did learn that Bastille Day is July 14th. I don’t know the significance of it, since they left that part out, but I’ll never forget the date.
Ahhh, reminds me of studying for my high school history exams.
“Rust Never Sleeps” (written by Lee Schneider and Matthew Malach)
With the Rust Encruster, Shredder and Krang take Paris hostage, threatening to turn the Eiffel Tower and other monuments into crumbling wrecks. The Turtles and April race to stop them while also visiting the best tourist destinations in the City of Lights.
Remember what I said earlier about some of these episodes being “baffling” and “confounding”? Well, this is a prime example.
What I honestly think happened here was that the story editor provided a summary for a “Paris episode” to the writing staff and received two pitches. For whatever reason, they decided to use BOTH pitches as full scripts for the European Vacation arc. So as a result, we have two nigh-identical but slightly different first episodes of the storyline that are pretty much incompatible with each other. It is the only way I can explain this.
So in this episode, the Turtles act like they’ve just arrived in Paris and visit all the same sites they visited in “Tower of Power” for what appears to be the first time. They marvel at the sewers of Paris, tour the Louvre and make jokes about the Mona Lisa, and the entire episode ends with a showdown at the Eiffel Tower. Even the Shredder acts like he has only just now learned that the Turtles are in Paris. The Turtles also send April a post card, telling her where they are, and Burne sends April from New York to Paris to cover a story.
“Rust Never Sleeps” is essentially an alternate version of “Tower of Power”, not a follow-up, as it offers a different explanation of how all the characters arrived in Paris for the first time to start their European Vacation. It is absolutely bizarre.
Beyond that weirdness, there isn’t anything too memorable about “Rust Never Sleeps”. Half the episode is spent on Shredder charging up the Rust Encruster, delaying the action until just about the last act. As with “Tower of Power”, the Eiffel Tower is the centerpiece of the story and comes in danger during the finale (and again, the Turtles act like they’re visiting the tower for the first time). The animation is just as bad as in “Tower of Power”, too.
Some stuff makes no sense, as Shredder is paralyzed when his armor is rusted, yet his armor does not connect at any joints, so he ought to be fine, right? And there’s this crazy scene at the end where Shredder makes a pun about “seeing STARS” and then proceeds to throw ninja stars at the Turtles… except the animators didn’t draw ninja stars, they drew a pair of Turtle Communicators. He throws Turtle Communicators at them. WHAT?
So which of the two Paris episodes is better? Honestly, “Rust Never Sleeps” is a pretty lateral move from “Tower of Power”; neither is much better than the other. “Tower of Power” actually shows the Turtles travelling from New York to Paris, so it feels like a more natural continuation from “Plan 6 from Outer Space”, but “Rust Never Sleeps” is one of the few European Vacation episodes to have James Avery in it, so that might give it an edge for some fans.
Either way, it is baffling and confounding that something like this could happen. I cannot think of any other cartoon show that had two alternate versions of the same episode back-to-back.
“A Real Snow Job” (written by Misty Taggart)
The Turtles visit the Austrian Alps to join April and Irma on a ski trip. What they don’t know is that Krang and Shredder are already there and they plan to melt the Alpine glaciers, thereby flooding Austria and Switzerland.
Just because I can already hear some of you tittering: No, there is nothing sexual about this episode’s title. The phrase “snow job” is some outdated American slang that means to “con” or “scam” somebody. It has nothing to do with fellatio, but the fact that it sounds like “blow job” is probably why nobody uses it anymore. Except G.I. Joe. That brand is singlehandedly keeping the phrase “Snow Job” alive, much to the confusion of many a child.
Also, “Tower of Power” took place in July and this episode takes place “in the middle of winter”, as April states. Either this episode was aired way out of chronological sequence or the Turtles won one HELL of a European vacation.
Anyway, this is another simple episode dotted with milestones of incoherency. Like, throughout the third act, the Turtles are racing to get to the Shredder’s ozone-destroying power station, but they’re having trouble driving through blizzards and avalanches in the Turtle Van. They persevere, however, and eventually arrive… in the Turtle Blimp? What? Where did THAT come from? And how did they sneak a whole blimp across the Atlantic, anyway?
The cel photography in this episode is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. By that I mean that throughout the episode, you can see the cel sheet edges; these big black vertical lines appearing in the picture. Also some bad bandana miscolorings; Leonardo making a bold declaration to the audience with a purple bandana, that sort of thing.
There’s also no given reason as to WHY Krang and Shredder want to flood Austria and Switzerland. How will that free the Technodrome? Do they plan to use the threat of destroying the ozone layer to coerce the Earth’s governments into surrendering? It is never specified. They’re just destroying the ozone layer for the hell of it. I thought only Captain Planet villains stooped that low.
I’ll concede that there is a surprise twist at the very end of the episode that was pretty funny. It’s the only worthwhile thing about this story, so I won’t ruin it for you. It’s kind of a load of crap and conveniently facilitates the solution to the conflict, but a genuine surprise in one of these TMNT episodes is hard to come by so I’ll take it.
Incidentally, this is the last episode in the European Vacation arc to feature James Avery. Just thought I’d let you know.
“Venice on the Half-Shell” (written by Misty Taggart)
Krang needs lots of cash to buy parts to fix the Technodrome, and to get it, he plans to use his Hydro Fluxor device to flood Venice. Then when the citizens evacuate, the city’s ancient treasures will be easy pickings for Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady. Of course, the Turtles have chosen Venice as the next leg of their journey.
Everything I know about Venice, I learned from Don’t Look Now. Evidently, Venice has a psychic midget serial killer problem. Godspeed, Venice.
The continuity of the season continues to bewilder me, as this episode opens up with April still in Paris, but Irma is back in New York. April is dispatched by Burne to Venice to cover the Mardi Gras and Irma is sent across the Atlantic once again to assist her. Whether you place this episode where it sits in the catalog order or try to finagle it into something reasonable, there’s no way for it to make sense. Most of these episodes don’t.
This is the most inefficient European Vacation I’ve ever heard of.
Krang’s plot to flood Venice feels especially lackluster coming after “A Real Snow Job”, where he endeavored to flood Switzerland and Austria. Also, I’m pretty sure he’s tried to flood New York at least once in the past. Maybe he should stop coming back to this scheme; it clearly isn’t getting him anywhere.
Other weird shit that doesn’t make any sense includes the effects of the Hydro Fluxor when it malfunctions. As it goes haywire, Krang warns that the machine affects the gravitational pull of the moon, hence how it can raise the tide and cause floods, thus without power regulation it could consequently destroy all of Venice before Shredder can steal its treasures. Okay, that sounds like a serious dilemma. But then the machine causes gargoyles to come to life and attack April and Irma. Krang somehow failed to mention that side effect.
The Turtle Van’s rarely seen hydrofoil modification from “20,000 Leaks Under the City” also makes a comeback. Considering most of this episode involves boat chases through canals, that was actually a pretty good pull on the writer Misty Taggart’s part. The Turtles act like they’ve never seen Don’s “new” upgrade before, sure, but I doubt the audience remembered the Turtle Van could do that, either.
“Artless” (written by Doug Molitor)
Dob and Vikum, a pair of alien wasps (rich do-nothings, not insects) come to Italy to rob it of all its great art masterpieces. Their crime-spree becomes personal for the Turtles, as the two thieves target works by the TMNT’s Renaissance namesakes.
Hey, now no one can ever say that Jesus hasn’t appeared in a TMNT cartoon:
Albeit via Leonardo’s Last Supper, but still. It’s-a Jesus!
The episode’s dedication to artwork only goes so far, though. While Michelangelo’s David’s buttocks make it into the episode in all their radiant glory:
David’s wang is airbrushed out:
Saturday mornings just weren’t ready for marble phalluses, I guess.
Other stolen works include the Statue of St. George by Donatello, Michelangelo’s ceiling at the Sistine Chapel, and Raphael’s most famous mural, The School of Athens. To try and save that last one, the Turtles actually disguise themselves as monks and infiltrate the Vatican. It’s like a Dan Brown novel, except marginally less stupid.
But I’ll be perfectly honest, here. This episode is GREAT. It’s easily the best of the European Vacation episodes, sure, but it’s a great episode in and of itself. The idea of the Turtles having to protect the works of their namesakes offers a fun hook, as they’re always one step behind the aliens trying to steal them, while also slyly educating kids with some art history, too.
The animation, as well, is surprisingly solid. The background artists do a bang-up job in rendering all the landscapes and architecture of Florence, Rome and Vatican City, as well as the works of art that are stolen (save the omission of Little David, of course). Character animation is highly, um, animated and there’s an elastic, overly cartooned quality to the episode that gives it a lot of pep. It’s mostly competent, too, with glaring errors few and far between (April does a newscast about the Statue of St. George being stolen while standing in front of the statue).
The way they beat the invincible aliens and convince them to return the artwork is especially clever. There’s sort of a fakeout, as you think they’re going for a usual “destroy their machine” ploy but then come up with something far more intelligent in the last few seconds.
All in all, “Artless” is a good episode that unfortunately keeps some lousy company this season (or “side-season”, whatever). I’d recommend it. There’s even some snappy gags whereas most of the European Vacation episodes so far have featured a lot of bland, corny dialogue.
“Ring of Fire” (written by Michael Edens)
The Turtles hit Lisbon, Portugal for the Running of the Bulls! Of course, Shredder and Krang are there, too. The villains plan to use Portugal’s unique sand to make lenses for their new heat ray, but they’ll have to deface a cathedral first.
Funny thing about these European Vacation episodes is that they’re obligated to be visually accurate. Well, to an extent, I mean. While they aren’t too overtly educational, I gather the point of this arc was to teach kids very simple facts about Europe’s countries and capital cities. As a byproduct of aiming for “accuracy”, we get to see things in this show that would normally be considered “no-nos”.
I already mentioned Jesus popping up via The Last Supper, but this episode also features a cathedral as the centerpiece for the final act, complete with crosses and other holy odds and ends. Normally, crosses are verboten in kid’s cartoons. Even when they go into graveyards!
Now, contrary to what I said about “visual accuracy” a moment ago, I think the artists may have made a mistake with the aforementioned cathedral. The most famous cathedral in Lisbon is St. Mary Major. The cathedral they drew, however, is most certainly not that one. Unless there’s another cathedral in Lisbon I don’t know about, I think the artists just drew a generic Catholic church, unaware that they probably should have drawn something more specific.
As for the episode, it’s really dull and boring. Nothing glaringly bad about it, but it’s as typical as they get.
The only real standout factoid regarding this episode is that it has the most substitute voice actors of any installment in the series. Fill-in actors Hal Rayle, Jim Cummings and Greg Berg all appear in this episode, so nearly half the characters sound “wrong”. This is also the last episode wherein Greg Berg subs for Barry Gordon, I think, so if you liked his performance for any reason then I guess you ought to savor it while you can. He was never terrible, but his Donatello always sounded too soft-spoken for my liking.
Alright, that’s the first half of the European Vacation episodes. “Artless” aside, these have been pretty dire. There’s this weird element to the episodes, as they’re filled with all sorts of continuity, animation and logic errors, yet they also try to strive for some sort of real world accuracy as they render each location they spotlight. The background artwork in this season is some of the show’s all-time best, yet just about everything else is pretty much horrible.
Next time, we’ll be visiting London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Oslo, Athens and “the Orient Express”. Whatever that means.