Cowabunga dudes. Honestly, was there a more popular cartoon in the late 80’s than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I know that my younger brothers certainly loved it, and they had the toys to prove it. However, everyone’s favorite quartet of reptilian ninjas got there start in comics before they ever hit the small screen. I honestly never read the comics and only got my introduction through the cartoon but when I heard that a movie was being made, I was excited to see it. So let’s get a dose of Turtle Power with today’s movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).
The plot: In New York City, Channel 3 reporter April O’Neil is doing a news story about the recent rise in criminal activity, and how they seem to be organized into one single gang. As she walks home that night, April is assaulted by a group of punks who try to rob her. Suddenly, a sai goes flying into the street light, plunging the alley into darkness and when the police show up, they find April is unharmed while the punks are tied up. As the cops cut the punks free and take them into custody, April notices the sai on the ground and quickly grabs it, unaware that someone is watching her from the sewers. In the sewers, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello, three humanoid turtles, are celebrating their victory over the punks but the 4th turtle, Raphael, is upset over losing his sai. When they return to their lair, they tell their master, a humanoid rat named Splinter, about their victory and he congratulates them on remaining unseen, as he has been teaching them the art of ninjitsu. Feeling down over the lost sai, Raphael decides to go see a movie and as he leaves the theater, he stops two kids from stealing a purse. The would-be purse snatchers run into the park, where they are confronted by a vigilante named Casey Jones, who begins to attack them with a hockey stick. Raphael stops Casey from seriously injuring them and the two begin fighting briefly before Casey knocks Rapahel into a trash can and runs off. The next day, April’s boss, Charles Pennington, shows up to check on her and as they are talking, he comments about his son Danny’s recent behavior, unaware that Danny is part of the criminal gang and swipes some money from April’s billfold when they aren’t looking. April goes to interview police chief Sterns about the gang and asks about the involvement of a criminal organization known as the Foot Clan, which angers Stern. As April is conducting her interview, a shadowed figure is watching her report and tells his men to go silence her. After leaving the interview, April heads down to the subway, where she is confronted by members of the Foot Clan. April tries to defend herself with the sai but the knock it away and knock her unconscious. Raphael, who was following April, grabs his sai and attacks the Foot Clan, then grabs the unconscious April and carries her down the subway tunnel, unaware that a member of the Foot Clan is following him and learns where their lair is. Inside the lair, Raphael explains to Splinter and the others why he brought April there and when April regains consciousness, she screams out at the sight of Splinter and the Turtles. Splinter tries to calm April down and after she sits down, he explains how they came to be. Splinter tells April how he was the pet rat of a ninja master named Hamato Yoshi and shortly after coming to America, Splinter found himself living in the sewers scavenging for food. One day, he found 4 baby turtles crawling around in a strange, glowing ooze and he scooped them up into a coffee can but the next day, the turtles started growing and becoming more human, as did Splinter. Splinter then decided to train them in ninjitsu, as he had mimicked Yoshi’s movements from his cage over the years, and decided to give them names. Later, the Turtles escort April back to her apartment, where she offers them some frozen pizza for dinner. When the Turtles return to the lair, they find the door broken open and quickly head inside to find that the lair is trashed and Splinter is missing. The Turtles return to April’s apartment and after telling her what happened, she lets them crash there for the night. The next morning, the Turtles are forced to hise when Charles stops by April’s apartment with Danny, having picked him up from the police station for stealing. Charles tries to talk April out of continuing with the story and while they argue, Danny sees Michelangelo in a mirror but when he turns around, Michelangelo is gone. After Charles and Danny leave, Charles starts to lecture Danny about stealing but when they are stopped in traffic, Danny quickly gets out of the car and runs away. That night, at the warehouse that serves as the hangout for the teenage criminal gang, as well as the training center for the Foot Clan, the leader of the Foot Clan, a man known as Shredder, addresses the assembled ninjas and teenagers. After promoting one of the teenagers into the Foot Clan, he tells them to let him know if they see or hear anything about the Turtles and Danny comes forward with information. The next day, April does an interview talking about the Foot Clan, which causes Sterns to call and yell at Charles. The Turtles are watching the interview and afterwards, Leonardo and Raphael argue over what there next move should be. Raphael goes onto the roof to blow off some steam, where he is seen by Casey from a nearby rooftop, when some Foot ninjas appear and begin to attack him. Meanwhile, April returns to the apartment and gives the other Turtles a tour of the antique store that she lives over. When they get back to the apartment, they are shocked to see Raphael come crashing down through the skylight, with several Foot ninjas following after him. The Turtles begin fighting with the Foot, with the floor giving way underneath them and they end up in the antique store. When Tatsu, Shredder’s lieutenant, arrives with more Foot ninjas, the Turtles find themselves becoming overwhelmed but are saved when Casey shows up and begins helping them. During the fight, a fire breaks out and April has Leonardo help her uncover a trap door to the basement garage and the Turtles start making their way out of the store. Casey covers their escape just as the April’s answering machine picks up and he hears Charles calling to tell April that she is fired. The group escape in April’s van and make their way to her family’s old farm. Meanwhile, Shredder questions a captive Splinter about where he and the Turtles came from. After he leaves, Danny approaches Splinter and Splinter starts talking to him, sensing the boys’ uneasiness over what he had caused. At the farm house, Donatello and Casey work on getting an old truck running, as April’s van is no longer working. Leonardo keeps a vigil over Raphael and when he finally regains consciousness, the two make up for the fight they had. With Raphael now awake, the Turtles begin training again so they can fight the Foot and find Splinter and while he is meditating, Leonardo is able to make contact with Splinter. Rushing back to the farm house to tell the others, Leonardo has them head out into the woods and as the meditate around a campfire, they are able to summon an astral projection of Splinter, who congratulates them on achieving this final lesson and tells them that if they work together as a family, then nobody can defeat them. The next morning, the Turtles tell April and Casey that it is time to head back and they make their way back to the city. Heading down to their lair, they find Danny hiding down there, and he tells April that he ran away and not to tell his father. That night, Danny sneaks out of the lair and returns to the Foot hideout but Casey, who was sleeping in the truck due to his claustrophobia, sees him and follows him there. Inside the hideout, Danny approaches Splinter, who comments about Danny’s hiding from his surrogate family and begins telling him about his family. In Japan, Splinter was the pet of Hamato Yoshi, whose only rival in ninjitsu was Oroku Saki. The two competed against each other in everything, especially for the love of a woman named Tang Shen. Not wanting to see them fight over her, Tang Shen decided to run away to America with Yoshi but Oroku Saki followed them and killed both Tang Shen and Yoshi. During the fight, Splinter’s cage was broken and he leapt onto Saki and begin bighting and scratching his face but Saki threw him to the ground and sliced off part of his ear before leaving. Danny asks what happened to Saki and Splinter says he doesn’t know but his mark is on the headband that Danny wears. Danny is confronted by Shredder, who finds a picture that April drew of Leonardo in Danny’s back pocket and realizes that the Turtles are back. Shredder sends the Foot to deal with the Turtles and then tells Tatsu to kill Splinter. Danny hears this and tries to go free Splinter when he is grabbed by Casey, who is disguised as one of the Foot ninjas, and Danny tells him about Splinter and they rush to free him. The unchain Splinter but are confronted by Tatsu, who proceeds to beat up Casey but Casey manages to grab a golf club and uses it to beat Tatsu. Afterwards, the gang of kids want to attack Casey, saying that they are loyal to Shredder, but Splinter says that the Shredder is simply using them and doesn’t really care about them as Casey and Danny help him leave. Meanwhile, the Foot head down to the Turtles lair but the Turtles set a trap and easily defeat the first wave of ninjas. As more ninjas start to show up, the Turtles continue fighting them and eventually manage to beat them all, with the fight making it’s way out of the sewer and onto a rooftop. On the roof, the Turtles are confronted by Shredder, who easily outmatches them, though Leonardo is able to slice his arm during the fight. As the Turtles fight shredder, Casey, Danny, and Splinter show up on the street below, with the gang following behind him, and Casey takes out some of the straggler Foot ninjas. On the roof, the Turtles ask Shredder where Splinter is and he mocks them by saying he is dead, causing Leonardo to rush at him in anger. Shredder easily disarms Leonardo and holds his spear at his throat, telling the others to drop their weapons or else he will kill Leonardo. When they do so, Shredder calls them fools and goes to kill Leonardo but stops when Splinter appears. Splinter calls out Shredder by his real name, Oroku Saki, and Saki takes off his face mask to reveal the scars that Splinter gave him. Saki charges at Splinter, who uses one of Michelangelo’s nunchucks to snare the spear and flip him over the roof. As Shredder is dangling over the roof, he attempts to throw a knife at Splinter but Splinter catches it, causing him to let go of part of the nunchucks. Shredder falls into the dump truck that Casey had moved earlier and Casey pulls the lever activating the compactor, crushing Shredder inside. The police show up and question the gang about what is going on and the leader tells him to check out the warehouse, saying that he will get all his answers there. Meanwhile, Charles shows up with a news crew and Danny races up to him and apologizes for his actions. After making up with Danny, Charles approaches April and convinces her to come back to work, with the offer of a raise and a corner office as incentive. As April gets ready to go on the air, Casey approaches her and they two end up kissing, with the Turtles cheering them on from the rooftop before they start cheering their victory over the Foot.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) met with mixed to negative results from the critics, holding a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is exactly as advertised: one-liners, brawls, and general silliness. Good for the young at heart, irritating for everyone else.” Robin Williams is a fan of the franchise and gave Judith Hoag information on her character through his comic book collection, as the movie went into production while they were finishing working on Cadillac Man. The movie was a box office smash, earning $202 million off of a $13.5 million budget, making it the highest grossing independent film at the time and spawning 2 sequels.
To be honest, this movie didn’t age that well but it is still an entertaining movie to watch. The acting was pretty decent, with Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas doing good jobs as April and Casey. The story was pretty good, following more along the lines with the version of the Turtles from the comics, which had a darker tone than the cartoon, but the studio added some humor into the movie to make it fit more with how the kids viewed the cartoon. The suits the Turtles actually looked pretty good (which isn’t too surprising since they were done by Jim Henson’s workshop) and I also liked the look of Splinter, which made the fact that this was a low budget movie that much more impressive. I also liked the fight choreography, which was pretty good during the scenes with the Foot ninjas, but not as impressive during the fight with Shredder. All told, this is still a fun movie and does bring back some nostalgia when you watch it.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5