Published on July 16, 2019
September 12, 1997
TMNT: The Next Mutation
TMNTs are back and this time they have a fifth turtle to join in with the fun and frolics as they take on the rubber-faced Dragon Lord...
"The Next Mutation not only erased the Super Shredder but also got rid of
April O’Neil and Casey Jones. They continued to distinguish themselves by eradicating the mythos that the Turtles were biological siblings."
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” is a charmless attempt at injecting new life into a brand that had outstayed its welcome thanks to the box office critical panning of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III”. The 1993 movie was a moderate success financially, making twice its production budget, but its returns were barely half that of the previous film and one-fifth of the 1990 cult classic, forcing the studio to re-evaluate the future of the series, eventually shelving the project mid-production indefinitely.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” timeline is set somewhere between the second and third movies. It isn’t identified but it’s evident that the loveable foam-suited monsters are very much still in the same abandoned train station used in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze”.
The Next Mutation’s two-hour pilot focuses on the introduction of a new Turtle named Venus de Milo, performed by Nicole Parker, Leslie Sponberg and voiced by Lalainia Lindbjerg. Venus is sent to New York City by her Chinese Shinobi master Chung after Splinter becomes trapped in a Dream Realm while meditating. Once the four Turtles (Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael) join forces with Venus the five superheroes defeat the Shredder and his Foot Soldiers, rescue Splinter and we meet the big bad of future episodes, Dragon Lord, who vows to kill and eat the Turtles in order to absorb their mutant powers.
The pilot’s follow up episode, “The Staff of Bu-Ki”, continues themes set up in the two hour pilot but branches off into the realms of the obscure with 16 solo story arcs that include a plot in which a blind man is evicted from his apartment and accidentally has his walking stick swapped for a ‘bio-disrupter rod’. A second notably bad plot follows the development of an experimental potion for the treatment of the Dragon Lord’s headache and another bonkers storyline has Donatello committing high-tech jewellery robberies while in a hypnotic state, the trigger word being ‘banana’. The wonders of disbelief lead up to another two-hour story arc titled “Unchain My Heart”.
The series that aired from 1997 to 1998 on FOX Kids concludes with “Who Needs Her”. By this point viewing figures for the show were at an all-time low and since FOX didn’t own the brand they didn’t profit from airing the show as much as they did by airing a series they owned the rights to, so they put together a clip-based episode that focused around the Turtles’ memories of Venus, who left the Turtles to study ancient Shinobi scrolls in an attempt to learn Shinobi magic and destroy vampires. The story arc summarises the events of earlier episodes and was the second of its type to use stock footage to fill out an entire story, the first being “Like Brothers.”
“Who Needs Her” ends with the Turtles indeed valuing Venus as a member of their family. After the Turtles reunite they plan their next big adventure, which like the third theatrical movie was the final nail in The Next Mutation’s coffin. During the show’s run the production company tried to tap into the “Power Rangers in Space” success with two crossover episodes “Save Our Ship” and “Shell Shocked”. Much like The Next Mutation the episodes devalued the TMNT’s brand even further. The crossover episodes additionally used different suits and different voice actors for the Turtles.
The Turtles also exhibit the ability to reflect and bounce around energy balls at will. While this ability was used in The Next Mutation it was Venus de Milo who had mastered the technique, not the other Turtles. The plot focuses on the Power Rangers’ nemesis Astronema, portrayed by Melody Perkins, taking a detour to New York City, where she turns the Turtles into her obedient slaves to destroy the Rangers. Both episodes are flawed and struggle to bring anything new to the table other than bending the TMNT mythology even further.
Earlier episodes in The Next Mutation not only erased the Super Shredder but also got rid of April O’Neil and Casey Jones. They continued to distinguish themselves by eradicating the mythos that the Turtles were biological siblings. The short-lived show not only gave viewers truly horrible foam suits but the Turtles’ mouths also moved entirely out of sync. There were the odd plus points that included the overall look of Splinter, who moved far better and was more flexible here than in the movies, but specific set designs also had potential. The introduction of vehicles made a nice change but the way they were executed was truly awful. Having a bobbing head Turtle whose mouth fails to move speeding through New York City muttering truly bizarre connotations was, and still is, horrifying. Not even Linda Blair (“The Exorcist”) managed to give me night terrors quite like The Next Mutation did.
“TMNT The Next Mutation” is a slice of pop culture that time forgot and for good reasons. It’s astonishing how anyone thought commissioning further episodes after the two hour pilot was a good idea. Shout Factory did a decent job with its transfer and it’s nice to have the crossover episodes as bonus features, but even at $5.97 it’s a steep price to pay.