Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles posterDirector: Steve Barron

Starring: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, voices of Corey Feldman, Josh Pais, Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist

“Death comes for us all, Oroku Saki, but something much worse comes for you. For when you die, it will be without honour.” (Splinter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

First, a disclaimer. I’m an enormous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. From the Eastman & Laird comics to the ’80s Fred Wolf cartoons to the Playmates toys to the Konami video games, I couldn’t get enough of the lean green teen fighting machines when I was a sprog. And yes, that included this film (and its two sequels).

However, now that I am 31 it is only fair that I try to review the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with some degree of sensibility and not let my rampant Turtles fanboyism nunchuk its way to the fore.

New York City is suffering a massive crime wave, and Channel 3 news reporter April O’Neil is keen to get to the bottom of who’s responsible.

It's these guys. Right, job done, let's go home
It’s these guys. Right, job done, let’s go home

Getting in a little too deep, April not only finds out who’s causing all the hassle – a Japanese gang known as the Foot Clan – but also becomes their target, culminating in her being attacked.

Luckily, she’s saved by four vigilantes intent on seeing crime pay. It just happens that these particular vigilantes are ninjas. And teenagers. And mutants.

April goes with the fou… oh, and turtles. I forgot that bit.

April goes with the four turtles to their secret underground lair where she meets their master, human-sized philosophical rat Splinter. Hope you’re following.

Even the most dedicated Big Brother fans had to admit this was one of the poorest series yet
Even the most dedicated Big Brother fans had to admit this was the poorest series yet

After taking April home and making sure she’s safe, the Turtles return to their lair to find it wrecked to shit and Splinter missing. Sounds like a totally bodacious adventure is about to happen, dudes!

Sorry. I’m trying my best.

Cue a lot of fight scenes with various masked numpties as the Turtles, together with newly befriended masked numpty Casey Jones and unmasked numpty Danny (April’s boss’s son, who told the Foot where the Turtles’ lair was and now feels bad), try to rescue Splinter from the Foot.

There’s one other twist in the tale, though: the Foot’s leader, the Shredder (i.e. the top masked numpty), once killed Splinter’s original master. It’s basically like EastEnders, only one is about a bunch of mutants fighting over who’s just been attacked, and the other is the Turtles movie.

In case you were wondering, Casey Jones doesn't do subtlety
In case you were wondering, Casey Jones doesn’t do subtlety

Okay, let me take off my fanboy bandana for a second. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film is hokey nonsense. Of course it is. It’s four massive live-action turtles fighting endless waves of generic ninjas interspersed with over-sentimental nonsense about how they’re all brothers and love each other.

But it’s also fun hokey nonsense. The fight scenes are brilliant, with some genuinely exciting martial arts on display, even from the four poor buggers wearing those massive Turtle costumes.

What’s the secret? The film was actually produced by Golden Harvest, the Hong Kong studio responsible for countless stunning martial arts movies over the years, including almost every Jackie Chan film and some featuring Jet Li, Donnie Yen and some wee guy called Bruce Lee.

Unseen footage from This Is It suggests Michael Jackson's attempts to hide his face were a little elaborate
Unseen footage from This Is It reveals Michael Jackson’s elaborate attempt to hide his face

A daft cash-in based on a popular children’s cartoon and toy line it may have been, then, but when it comes to fight scenes the Turtles movie’s pedigree means it certainly delivers. JUST LIKE THE PIZZA GUY DOES, DUUUUUDES!!!!!!111!!

Ahem.

Similarly acceptable are the Turtles’ voices, which sound faithful enough to those from the cartoon. A notable mention goes to Donatello, voiced by none other than Corey Feldman.

The voices are one thing but the real stars of the show are the faces. Bearing in mind this was long before CGI was the done thing, making real-life versions of the Turtles and making their facial movements look somewhat realistic was a hell of a daunting feat.

However, it’s pulled off fantastically, thanks to the Jim Henson Creature Workshop, who created the animatronic heads for each turtle.

You're laughing, but he uses that in the bedroom for some outlandish stuff
You’re laughing, but he uses that in the bedroom for some outlandish stuff

Designed in such a way that they could emote and speak even while actors were performing complex martial arts routines, Henson himself declared the heads the most advanced creatures his team had ever created, and it shows.

Clearly, despite my best efforts, I’m a biased sod who will demand you all get hold of this film and watch it. Realistically, I know its a bit rubbish and that, puppetry and fight scenes aside, there are plenty of scenes lacking in excitement or any real semblance of acting quality.

However, I’m adamant that today’s children, raised on a diet of CGI Turtles courtesy of Nickelodeon, will still get a kick out of this live-action version, and as such I’m sticking my neck out of my shell and giving it a decent score anyway. Trust me, by the time I review the third film this will change.

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HOW CAN I SEE IT?
There are plenty of ways to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you just want the standalone film, here’s the UK DVD, UK Blu-ray, US DVD and US Blu-ray.

If you’re after more of a box set flavour, the UK has a DVD set and a Blu-ray set featuring the first three films: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Secret Of The Ooze and Turtles In Time. The US equivalent (DVD here, Blu-ray here) also includes the 2007 animated film TMNT.

In terms of streaming, it can be found on US Netflix and bought or rented on Blinkbox.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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4 thoughts on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) review

  1. I watched this again for the first time in literally decades recently and I was amazed at how well it has stood up. Yes this was a movie made to cash in on the success of the toys and cartoon but it was more than that. It was actually a touching story about the concept of family at a time when the traditional family structure was breaking down.

  2. Well, just read the review and lucky for you, we are still friends 😉
    For it’s time, as you say the puppetry is amazing, the story is your generic save the city senario and I can remember when first watching it I genuinely believed they were real! What i mainly loved right from the comics is what a mix of heroes they are before even reading their adventures, not only are they turtles, they are mutated from an alien ooze, not quite adults and they know ninjitsu!
    A very good review Chris and waiting for the next 2, just remember to watch it though, I know how some people feel about the sequals….and I don’t agree! Go go fanboy!

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