So the teaser for the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles project from the IP’s new owners at Nickelodeon (and thus Paramount) just dropped. It’s not too far from what I expect from the guy who ruined Green Hornet to be honest. And because it’s a teaser there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. The internet is going crazy discussing race-swapped April, which is certainly no surprise, I’m not a fan of the Turtles designs…and is Splinter sporting an afro? Is that cultural appropriation since he’s Japanese? Or did they turn Sho Nuff into a rat? See, the problem with teasers is you don’t really learn a lot. We get a look at the style of what’s coming and not much else. We don’t know the quality of the final work but we can at least tell the quality of the adaptation and frankly…I’m not impressed.
However, even I on occasion have to take advantage of what’s hot to form a discussion topic, so how do I do that with barely nothing to go on and little new to add to the conversation? Even if I got this out the day the teaser dropped I’d have been late to the part with my posting schedule even if I’m on time. Instead, I want to use this teaser as a model to discuss a related topic: why Nickelodeon has not done a very good job adapting this franchise, and the adaptation seems to get worse with each incarnation…which is also worth discussing in this article. Let’s start by looking at the teaser and I’ll go over each of the issues. I’ll save April for the end so those of you sick of that topic by now can just scroll to the final paragraph but I do plan to expand a bit on that as related to the idea that Nickelodeon might have sounded good in theory to sell the franchise to, but may not actually be a good idea in practice.
Okay, we have celebrity casting, Seth Rogen’s humor, the animation style stolen from Into The Spider-Verse (still need to finally watch a non-glitchy copy of that so I can review it), and for some reason Donatello is voiced by a girl (or an adult woman, not sure) while the others are voiced by guys, possibly also teens. Not complaining; it’s just an odd choice for my favorite Turtle, thus making it stand out for me even more when it sounds like his voice hasn’t cracked yet. Overall it just doesn’t work for me, but none of Nickelodeon’s projects have worked for me…and it’s not like we’ve had time to breathe between projects.
The original cartoon, after moving from syndication to CBS, left the air in 1996. A year later Saban offered their live-action mistake loosely inspired by the theatrical movies. After that there wasn’t another Turtles show until 2003, which aired under different names until 2009. From there another large break occurred and then we got the first Nickelodeon show. At least when the franchise changed in the 1990s it was a new company with a new take…a rather bad one nobody is really a fan of. That breathing room between the Saban and 4Kids shows allowed the franchise to start fresh on TV (the comics still went on under various publishers and are a different topic–they’ll have their chance in “Yesterday’s” Comic and a follow-up article if it comes to me) and give a new generation their own Turtles. The 4Kids show is also my favorite, for those of you in the anime community who forget they weren’t an anime dubbing company but a US kids entertainment company. From there it wasn’t until 2012, another huge break, that Nickelodeon began their first series.
I did a review when it first came out and I had issues with it. Donatello’s egghead shape was too on the nose and his attraction to April, now de-aged for some reason, was weird. I wasn’t a fan of the animation style either not because it was computer generated. I rather enjoy the TMNT movie. I have heard that the writing was quite good but I just haven’t been interested in giving it a look. Maybe someday I will.
Then a year after the series ended Nick couldn’t just let it breathe and wait for the next generation. Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out in 2018, ran for two years plus a movie on Netflix because Paramount+ wasn’t ready, and now this is coming in 2023. It’s only a year gap, and that never ends well for this franchise. I did a review of this and while Nickelodeon’s first cartoon wasn’t for me the second was rather terrible. Practically the whole first season dropped at the same time on demand and their website and the pacing was terrible, April deaged even further and the race-swap began along with an attitude change, the animation was okay while I had mixed feeling on the art style, and it hit what I now see in this teaser is the first big problem with Nickelodeon’s Teenage Ninjas…they focus on the wrong thing.
The best versions focused on the Ninja while the worst focus on the Teenage. The original cartoon and the comics all focused on the ninjas. They were trained from “birth” in the art of ninjutsu and even the “party dude” Michelangelo knew when to go into ninja mode. They were competent because they had been trained for so long. They were still teenagers and that shouldn’t be forgotten but their ninja skills shouldn’t be weak like we see in the teaser or in Rise, which given that version of Splinter was fat and lazy I’m surprised they learned any fighting or stealth skills. Nickelodeon really does focus on the ninjas. From what I can tell the first Nick show had a balance between them, and so did the live-action movies (I haven’t seen the Bay-produced one mind you), even the mediocre third one.
“But we want to see them BECOME the amazing ninja heroes…”
What were they doing the last fifteen years, watching Naruto? The kids from the Three Ninjas never made it past twelve as far as I can tell and they were still better ninjas than the last two Nickelodeon versions, including this teaser. They had less years of training and only occasionally visited their grandfather to get training. The Ninja Turtles are supposed to have been raised as ninjas from the moment the mutation affected them. They should already be good ninjas. Watching them goof up to this level just doesn’t feel right.
Nickelodeon messes too much with Turtle history. The 2003 series made the Utrom more integral to the Turtles’ history than the comics did, simply blaming the ooze on their tests to go home. They did new things but still stuck rather close to the original comics, sometimes reusing actual moments but in a way that still made it fresh to fans who read the comics and new viewers who didn’t weren’t lost in the process. The Krang just wasn’t the same, though I totally admit bias here. Rise didn’t even bother and just went for a more comedic bend that again focused on the Teenage rather than the Ninja, while also just being a big mutant fight. Also they changed Raphael into the leader rather than Leonardo, though I don’t know if this changed as the show went on. Apparently New York was just fine with all the strange mutations suddenly appearing out of nowhere. I don’t care about the old joke about jaded New Yorkers, even they have limits. My dad’s from New York and it isn’t moving to Connecticut that would make him take notice of the crazed hippo magician.
Okay, we have to do this part now. Those of you sick of the April O’Neil debate leave now or scroll to the final paragraph. Everyone else…hang on to your shells.
Yeah, April in the teaser is black…again. I’m not sure if she’s an adult now, or why Nick has insisted she be a teen or barely teen in the previous versions. Fans hated Zack, the “fifth turtle” kid who was a Turtle fan. Their first April was the daughter of a scientist and the ninja teens had to protect her. The re-imagined version is a black girl with the same kind of sass Hollywood seems to think all black girl teens are born with, like it comes with the combination of darker melanin and the second X chromosome. Hollywood is stupid and seems more and more to buy into every stereotype that comes down the pike lately. This also goes to their defenders if you’ve followed the people who are defending the darkened April.
First off you can’t use the “best actor for the job” line anymore because she’s not an actor. She’s a character that was designed probably before the actor was chosen. Then they chose an actor, probably based on the current idea that you can only voice a character of your own race/gender…insert turtle voice actor joke here, to fit that character. That’s how it’s usually done except in productions where they draw the character to match the celebrity, only if they were a talking canary or something. So the idea of black April in both this and Rise was deliberate.
First off everybody is wrong about April’s origins. April was not originally a reporter. That’s something the Fred Wolf did for whatever reason they had. In the comics and 2003 series April was a lab assistant. In fact her debut episode of the 2003 series, “A Better Mousetrap”, is a near correct adaptation of the second issue, which was her actual debut. Making de-aged April the daughter of a scientist and into science herself I guess is a balance but I still don’t understand kid April. It’s not like kids didn’t accept either the lab assistant or reporter in the past.
More in-depth researchers than myself have also countered a claim that April was always meant to be black in the comics. Why? Her big hair apparently….because nobody today has ever seen anything from the 1980s outside of old movies or TV shows, but given modern works based on or set in the 80s I question even that. I don’t remember the 80s being so neon. Big hair, or a perm that April gets in her next comic appearance, was kind of normal back then, not something exclusive to black women. In other words more racial stereotyping. Look, if you think a woman is black because of her hair or believe black women only have one hair style per generation…you’re the racist. Stereotypes are bullcrap and nothing about her hair indicates “black”.
According to TMNTopedia, the Ninja Turtle fan wiki, April was NAMED for a bi-racial woman named April Fisher, the late wife of co-creator Kevin Eastman, but the first idea prior to her actual appearance would have been to make her Asian, probably Japanese. I don’t know if they realized that was more racial stereotyping or just couldn’t draw a Japanese woman at the time (Shredder was only unmasked for a few panels), but they eventually decided on a woman of Irish heritage–which you’d think was obvious given her last name is O’Neil, a typically Irish name:
Irish names tend to vary widely in their spelling and overall form. The original Gaelic form of the name O’Neil is Ó Néill, which means descendant of Niall, a personal name of Irish origin, thought to mean “champion.”
Could a black woman end up with that name? Maybe, but unless they’re mixed race somewhere in their history, and Hollywood would never have a black person with a white ancestor in 2023, I kind of doubt it. We did have a half-Irish half-Chinese Li-San O’Rourke from Atari Force but that’s an exception. April however has never been depicted as half anything, even after the race swap in Rise. TMNTopedia also states “However, the concept was never realized and April ended up being portrayed as a white-looking woman in most published Mirage TMNT works, with the exception of a few more racially ambiguous appearances such as in issue #4 and issue #32 (especially its colorized second printing)”, so coloring errors are to blame.
Also, while this is has been added to the list of race-swapped redheads, April O’Neil isn’t supposed to be a redhead any more than she’s supposed to be a news reporter. Her hair is usually some shade of brown or even black. Red was the color used in the first cartoon. Apparently David Wise based her look on Fujiko from the Lupin series, who would use a reporter disguise. I couldn’t find out why he went with a reporter or why the more reddish hair, sometimes colored brown in tie-in comics. TMNTopedia describes her hair color as “Auburn”, somewhere between brown and red, which sounds accurate. So adjust your television set, people. She’s not a redhead.
Hello to those of you who bypassed all that. The point is Nickelodeon doesn’t seem all that interested in keeping Turtle lore straight or giving the shows time to rest and wait for the next generation. IDW, the current comic creators, have gotten a lot of the backstory wrong as well, but like the 2003 series they managed to keep the characters on track before going in their own direction. Nickelodeon just seems to care about the marketing and not the characters and their history, which is a shame and why nothing in this teaser surprised me or impressed me. It’s more of the same nonsense, but this time by the guy who thought this was a good Green Hornet adaptation.
Yeah, you knew this was going to be a problem before the teaser.