Here we are, in part 3 of my look-back at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, prior to their new film coming out in a few weeks. And coincidentally, films are the last thing we’re going to talk about. So, on that note, and because I’m cheesy… TURTLE POWER!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
As the Ninja Turtles rapidly grew from underground comic to global phenomenon, a film was released in 1990 as an independent film. It would become the 2nd highest grossing independent film of all time, as well as a titanic hit with fans of both the cartoon and the original comics. With amazing effects by Jim Henson’s Workshop, the film adapted several stories and elements from the original comics (like Splinter and the Turtles’ origins, Raph’s first meeting with Casey Jones, the climatic battle with the Foot) and combined them with elements of the cartoon (April being a reporter, the Turtles having different colored headbands, their love of pizza) to create one of the best film adaptions of all time. The story is that the Shredder has created his Foot Clan using the youth of New York, using them as thieves and soldiers in his crime wave that is taking over the city. The Turtles end up getting involved after rescuing April, leading to Splinter being kidnapped by Shredder. What follows is an escalating series of fights between the Ninja Turtles and the Foot Clan, culminating in a final battle that goes from the sewers to the rooftops as the Turtles finally face Shredder. The film is one of my favorites, mainly for doing what I wanted the cartoon to do: be more serious. The Turtles all get to shine throughout the film, their personalities coming through. Also, a lot of credit must be given to the suit actors, who were able to act, fight and do their stunts in costumes that rendered them essentially blind. With a healthy blend of action, humor, and character development, this film is mandatory if you consider yourself a fan of the Turtles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
A year after the last film, the sequel came out, and with it an original story not based as much on any previous material. After the battle with the Foot, the Turtles have been staying with April, dividing time between looking for a new home and still fighting crime. The Foot Clan, now broken in the aftermath of the last film, suddenly find that the Shredder survived his fight with the Turtles and Splinter, albeit more scarred than before. And in the middle of this, the company that created the ooze that mutated the brothers and their master is discovered. What this leads to is a rematch between the two factions, only now the Shredder has created his own mutants: the snapping turtle Tokka and the wolf Rahzar. And while they may have the minds of infants, they’re bigger and stronger than the Ninja Turtles. An odd thing about this film is that the fights, while still well-done, are more comical than the previous film, and the Turtles don’t use their weapons as much. Also, the climax of this film (which takes place during a rap concert by Vanilla Ice) is not as good as the first movie’s. However, it’s still a fun entry in the series, and I will admit that Vanilla Ice’s Ninja Rap is one of the catchiest tunes ever.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
A mystic scepter sends April back in time to 16th century Japan, exchanging her with a young man named Kenshin, whose daimyo father Lord Norinaga is at war with rebels led by Kenshin’s beloved Mitsu. Donatello calculates that the space-time sync will only last 60 hours, so the Turtles use the scepter to go back to find her, switching places with the Honor Guard, leaving Splinter and Casey Jones to watch their new guests while they rescue April. What follows is an adventure as the Turtles attempt to get April, find the scepter, and stop the growing war that’s being fueled by the British arms dealer Walker and his men. And despite that summary, it’s an awful movie. The main problems are due to three things: firstly, the costumes are awful, with the Turtles no longer having unique faces but the same goofy look all the time. Secondly, this film never attempts to be serious. No matter what, the jokes are not just awful, but constant. And finally, the villain of the movie, Walker, is just dull and uninteresting. The final result is a film so bad that it stopped the Turtles’ movie series cold. This movie is so awful, I cannot stand to watch it. It’s almost as bad as Next Mutation.
7 years after the atrociously bad third film, Warner Bros. released this computer-animated entry, animated by Imagi Studios. Serving as both a loose-sequel to previous films as well as a standalone movie, the film takes place at a point where the Turtles are not operating as a team. Leonardo had gone to South America to continue training to be a better leader, doing some good as a hero to the people known as the Ghost of the Jungle. In his absence, Donatello and Michelangelo have gotten jobs (Donnie as a phone tech-support person, and Mikey as a birthday clown), and Raphael has secretly become a vigilante known as the Nightwatcher. Leo returns to New York just in time, as an immortal has hired the Foot Clan to help him and his cursed-to-stone siblings hunt down monsters that were unleashed in a cosmic event millennia before. However, the issues that have been building between Leo and Raph are about to explode before they can even think of saving the world. This film is definitely a worthy entry to the franchise, as it blends humor and action while focusing on the brotherly bond between the Turtles. Also, this film has some of the best animated fight scenes I’ve seen, especially the climax where the Turtles engage an army of Foot ninja as well as the stone warriors. If you’re going to marathon the movies, skip the third one and come to this one.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been part of my life since I was a child, and is a huge part of a lot of people’s childhoods, as well as a big part of a lot of kids’ lives now. A new film will be coming out, and the main reason I was compelled to write these articles was because the new movie has been getting a lot of bashing for superficial reasons. Fans and non-fans have been raging against it for Michael Bay being a producer, for Megan Fox being cast as April, for the new design of the Turtles. There has yet to be bashing against the actual story because no one actually knows how that’ll turn out.
The point I’m trying to make here is that in the 30 years since the Ninja Turtles were created, they’ve never been simply one thing. They’ve been grim-and-gritty, violent warriors and they’ve been wise-cracking, fourth-wall breaking pizza eaters. They’ve travelled through time and other dimensions, fighting Shredder as well as aliens, demons and immortals. The new movie shouldn’t be judged by how it’s superficially different from whatever version you think of as the best, but by how it adheres to the three things that made the Turtles last this long: action, humor, and the likable characters of four brothers who fight side-by-side against evil. When the film comes out, I’ll watch it and judge it then.
But seriously, it can’t be worse that the third film or Next Mutation.