When Viacom acquired rights to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the well-worn kids concept hatched as a graphic novel in the mid-1980s, the plan wasn’t hard to anticipate: a Paramount movie and an eventual animated series to invigorate Nickelodeon’s boy appeal. Still, the actual show, premiering with an hourlong episode in the Saturday-morning block, is a handsomely produced effort, with a strong vocal cast, considerable humor and scads of high-spirited action. If the goal was to introduce the Turtles to a new generation — amphibious mission accomplished.
The premiere retells, in economical fashion, the Turtles’ origins — how an unidentified vial mutated them, and then how their master, Splinter (voiced by Hoon Lee), trained them in the ninja arts.
As created in comic form by Peter Eastman and Kevin Laird, Splinter also named them after Renaissance painters — Leonardo (Jason Biggs), Raphael (Sean Astin), Donatello (Rob Paulsen) and Michelangelo (Greg Cipes) — and kept them safely hidden in the sewers until their teens.
Much of this new version, written by Joshua Stern and J.R. Ventimilia, involves the quartet’s exultation in finally being exposed to the outside world (that first bite of pizza? Cowabunga!), as well as their fractious, squabbling relationships, fighting as individuals as opposed to being a cohesive team.
Mostly, one has to admire the computer-generated look — creating an anime-type feel in a slick, colorful, almost-3D package. Weapons whirl, feet fly and slimy monsters abound. It’s loud, silly, rambunctious — in short, just what most 9-year-old boys were born to like.
“Turtles” reflects an escalating battle to reach those boys, especially with Disney looking to capitalize on Marvel and “The Avengers” across its TV properties, and Cartoon Network leveraging DC Comics characters.
Although Nickelodeon has at times appeared mismatched and misguided in that skirmish, with this “Turtles” revival, the channel can’t be accused of hiding in its corporate shell.