Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the most bodacious big screen outing for the Heroes in a Half Shell. Nothing embodies the 80’s more than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Starting their lives as a joke comic book created by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird of the lesser known Mirage Studios. Then growing into a phenomenon that mutated into an insanely popular Saturday-morning cartoon, a vast collection of toys, sugary breakfast cereal, video games, specials, and of course a live-action movie. I wasn’t born in the 80’s, but that didn’t stop me from becoming a huge fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How could I not be a fan of something that shouldn’t work, yet has somehow endeared for generations.
Though I am more of a casual fan who knows every detail, quirk, and backstory despite only seeing the movies and a handful of episodes from each cartoon. Despite being released one year shy of the 80’s, the 1990 film became the highest grossing independent movie made at the time. Thanks to a way more faithful adaptation than Masters of the Universe before it. Although your enjoyment of the movie depends on how much you love these unconventional superheroes named after Renaissance men. You can’t deny the effort put into the comedy, performances, martial arts fighting, and some of Jim Henson’s best creature effects before his untimely death. Turtle power never looked so good…
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blends the comic with the cartoon. The original 1984 comic book series is nearly unrecognizable from how we know them today. It was first drawn in black & white with more serious and intense Turtles that had almost no individuality. Later colorized with matching red bandannas. The most obvious superhero homage is Daredevil. What with the New York setting, origin related to toxic waste, ninja clan named after a body part, and trusted martial arts master. The 1987 animated series is really to thank for their more quirky trademarks. Specifically their love of pizza, individual bandanna colors, unique personalities, and signature weapons. Each brother is a muscular anthropomorphic turtle with light hearted teenage catchphrases. It’s not easy to pull that off in live-action, but they managed to make it work. Sure they have awkward mouth movements (that suddenly swear infrequently), but Jim Henson’s Creature Shop really brought the Turtles to life.
Like the cartoon, Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines. Raphael is cool, but crude, Michelangelo is a party dude. Of course they are more complicated than their theme song description. Leo is always the level headed leader equipped with 2 katana and sporting a blue bandanna. Brian Tochi is the sole Asian of the group whose perfectly non-descript as Leo. Always clashing with his younger brother Raph. Raph is always the hot head equipped with twin sai and sporting a red bandanna. More likely to go off on his own and wear an obvious trench coat disguise. Josh Pais nails Raph’s thick Brooklyn accent and easily makes him the most multi-layered Turtle. Mikey is always the comic relief equipped with dual nunchucks and sporting an orange bandanna. Robbie Rist manages to recreate Mikey’s radical surfer lingo and hilarious one-liners. Donnie is always the tech guy equipped with a bo staff and sporting a purple bandanna. Corey Feldman was a great cast, but Donnie is the least accurate Turtle. He’s more often portrayed as Mikey’s comedic sidekick who doesn’t really show any smarts. They fight with great Ninjutsu skill and love a slice of disgusting look Domino’s pizza. Odd that they didn’t use Pizza Hut considering their marketing campaign.
Master Splinter has always been their wise father figure who raised and trained them. More like the comic, Splinter is just a rat who learned karate from his deceased master Hamato Yoshi. Then discovered four turtles in the sewer that are mutated by a mysterious canister of ooze. Their most important human ally is April O’Neil. Most often portrayed as a hot news reporter dressed in an impractical yellow jumpsuit. Judith Hoag is not the knockout she should be and the only yellow she wears is a raincoat. She gets roped into the conflict thanks to her discovering the Foot Clan is behind a recent crime spree. Raph brings her to the sewers and they become fast friends after the shock wears off. Another recurring human ally is street vigilante Casey Jones. Leaping off the page with Elias Koteas’ long hair, hockey mask, and sports weapons. Raph has a heated confrontation with Casey, but he becomes a noble ally and relatively believable love interest for April.
The archenemy of the Turtles has always been the blade wielding Shredder. Formerly Hamato Yoshi’s rival Oroku Saki and currently the ruthless leader of the Foot. Though mostly a Darth Vader clone, James Saito plays it completely straight. His second-in-command Tatsu is just as entertaining. The Foot are a ninja gang of troubled youths lead by pre-fame Sam Rockwell. Though early superhero movie conventions are kept to a minimum, they still have some unnecessary original characters. Specifically the troubled son of April’s boss and an angry police captain. The biggest conflict for the Turtles is Splinter’s capture and a rooftop ambush by the Foot. Every fight scene is a perfect blend of martial arts action and humor. It strengthens the bound felt by the brothers and a loving message from Splinter gives them the confidence to rescue him. Shredder is a formidable foe for the Turtles, but Splinter easily bests him (and Casey technically murders him with a garbage compactor). I have many fond memories of seeing the 1990 movie on VHS. Although it seems silly, grainy, and dated on the surface, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has honestly aged very well. What more is there to say than, “Cowabunga!”