THE CARTOON "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 11 a.m. on Nickelodeon

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Fifteen years ago, Master Splinter (Hoon Lee) was coming back from the store with his new pets, minding his own business, when he saw something -- possibly a robbery -- in progress. He intervened, was hit by a canister containing green slime mutagen, which instantly morphed him into a tall, slender rat, while his pets -- four little turtles -- turned into four mutant ninja turtles. Just another day in the big city -- New York, to be exact.

But the boys, who have been in the sewer all these years, want to get out to see the world. Master Splinter reluctantly agrees, on two conditions -- don't talk to strangers, and do not use the restrooms. "They're filthy." The boys are Leonardo (voiced by Jason Biggs), Raphael (Sean Astin), Donatello (Rob Paulsen) and Michelangelo (Greg Cipes). There are two developments during this morning's hour premiere that will not surprise fans: They get in trouble, and they will find a pizza.

MY SAY After three series, one of them live-action, a few films, several dozen video games, toy lines, merchandise, theme-park attractions, food tie-ins and concert tours, these four turtles on a half shell don't really need an introduction. (Do they? Nah.) Even most of the 11- or 12-years-olds tuning in this morning will know some of the turtle back story. But what they won't have seen, at least on TV, is what the boys look like when rendered in crisp, sharp, computer-generated imagery.

In this new series, they almost seem to jump off the screen; they have depth and dimension, and vivid colors proliferate. This new series retains its trademark humor, and trademark violence, too -- although mutant alien cyborgs with pink mobile brains take the brunt of the beatings. Somehow you suspect they deserve it, too.

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BOTTOM LINE Cowabunga! A hit is born -- or reborn.