I think my childhood could easily be divided into different stages. When I was really young, there was the He-Man stage. My brother and I had all the toys, including the Castle of Greyskull, and I would carry around my little She-Ra toy at all times (I was in love with her). Next, I went through a G.I. Joe phase and got a whole new set of toys to play with. Then came the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who definitely took merchandising to a whole new level.
In addition to buying all of their toys (including those little jars of ooze they used to sell, which sadly never turned me into a ninja turtle), I also remember eating those green turtle pies and the ice cream bars with the eyes made of bubble gum. I even remember owning the cassette tape they came out with at one point, which was filled with crappy original songs.
The point I’m trying to make here is, like most kids my age, I was hooked on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When their first movie came out in 1990, I was incredibly excited to see it. In fact, I watched all three of their movies in the theater (when I went to see the third film, I remember being the only person in the theater, which was both cool and sort of pathetic all at the same time). Had I written a review of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie when it came out, I’m sure it would have been something along the lines of “This is the best movie ever. I like pizza and they like pizza. Turtles are cool.”
However, the deal with the Old School Movie Review is that I’m going back and watching the movies now – after the weight of the world has crushed my spirits and I’ve become much more cynical and jaded. And, I hate to tell all of you this, but I’m afraid this movie kind of sucks. I know, it’s hard for some of you to hear and I’m sure your happy childhood memories are all crumbling as you read this, but the movie just isn’t very good. In fact, I dare say it’s boring.
The biggest problem is that the movie doesn’t have much of a plot. Basically, Shredder is running a criminal empire using his Foot Clan and a group of misfit children to steal cash and merchandise. The turtles find out about this and fight the Foot Clan, which pisses off Shredder, so he kidnaps Splinter. The turtles get beat up in a fight, run away to the country for a while, then remember that they should probably actually be saving Splinter, so they come back to save the day. And that’s pretty much it – there is a weak love story between April O’Neil and Casey Jones thrown in for good measure, but it’s never explored in great detail.
I think what’s most disappointing to me is that Shredder didn’t have some sort of master plan. He’s supposed to be a supervillain, but he’s not really trying to destroy the city or take over the world or build some sort of giant robot that he can unleash on society. He just wants to steal VCRs and TVs and then sell them on the black market. I mean, what fun is that?
Since it is the first movie in the franchise, it also offers the turtles backstory and introduces all of the characters, which is nice, but sort of unnecessary. Isn’t the title pretty self-explanatory? They are four mutated turtles in their teens who are skilled ninjas. What else do you need to know?
You also get introduced to Splinter, the leader of the turtles. You find out that Splinter, before he was mutated, was a pet rat for a guy named Hamato Yoshi. Splinter mimicked his master’s moves and was able to learn the ways of the ninja. Yoshi and this other guy, Oroku Saki, both fell in love with a girl named Tang Shen. So basically, the two guys both want a little Tang and, when she picks Yoshi, Saki gets pissed and kills them both. Saki, of course, goes on to become Shredder.
April O’Neil, who I mentioned above, is the roving reporter for Channel 3 News. Splinter sends some of his Foot Soldiers to take her out, but the turtles show up and save the day. From there, the turtles and her are inseparable. The character is played by Judith Hoag, who these days does a ton of guest appearances on TV shows.
Her love interest in Casey Jones, a guy who wears a hockey mask and beats up bad guys with a variety of sports equipment, including a Jose Canseco bat (Raphael makes fun of him for it during the movie, which seems funnier now given how things turned out for Mr. Canseco). Jones is played by Elias Koteas, who went on to play Edgar Reese in Fallen, which is an absolutely great movie. (“Ti-i-i-ime is on my side, yes it is.”)
But perhaps the biggest name in the movie is Corey Feldman, who does the voice of Donatello. I’m not sure why they bothered to get him, since Donatello doesn’t really have any cool lines. None of the turtles do, really. They make references to Humphrey Bogart and The Grapes of Wrath, which is impressive for teenagers living in the sewer, and Raphael says “damn” a lot, but other than that, their dialogue is forgettable. In fact, the best line in the movie is actually April O’Neil’s. When the Foot Clan is getting ready to give her a beat down, she quips, “Am I behind on my Sony payments again?” That’s right, she goes there.
The turtles look impressive, at least. Of course, that’s no surprise since they were made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. And, they do manage to eat a lot of pizza (from Dominos, no less). In an early scene, a confused pizza man is standing over the sewer grate trying to figure out where to deliver the pizza to. Since he shows up late, they take off three dollars from the tab and stiff him on the tip. Now what kind of message is that sending to the kids?
So the movie just sort of plods along to the final battle scene between Shredder and the turtles because, as you all know, when the evil Shredder attacks, these turtle boys don’t cut him no slack. However, Shredder is able to take all four of them down pretty easily. Luckily, Casey Jones manages to free Splinter, so he shows up to save the day. Shredder rushes at him, but he’s all like, “Ninja, please!” He knocks Shredder off the roof and into a garbage truck. And, as Shredder crashes down, the movie ends with both a literal and a figurative thunk.
Of course, this was one of the highest grossing independent films of all time and kids just like me saw it and loved every minute of it. But, there just isn’t much substance to it. In the end, it was just another marketing tool, another way to sell more action figures or Turtle Pies. I can’t remember if they ever made a cereal for the movie, but if they did, I’m sure it tasted vanilla.
Random thought of the week:
Does Samuel L. Jackson ever turn down movie roles? Seriously, how bad does a film have to be for him to pass on it?
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.