Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and some rude humor
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Michael Turney, Josh Pais, David Forman, Michelan Sisti, Leif Tilden, Raymond Serra, James Saito, Jay Patterson, Sam Rockwell, Corey Feldman (voice), Robbie Rist (voice), Brian Tochi (voice), Kevin Clash (voice), David McCharen (voice), Michael McConnohie (voice), Skeet Ulrich (cameo)
Director: Steve Barron
Screenplay: Todd W. Langen, Bobby Herbeck (based on characters created in the comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird)
Review published November 11, 2006
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were quite a phenomenon among adolescents in the mid-to-late-1980s, starting off with humble beginnings back in comic book form in 1984, expanding into a wildly popular line of action figures in 1987, which coincided with the most watched television cartoon series of that same year. A massive explosion of merchandise ensued, featuring cereal, clothing, video games, and an endless array of novelty items. Of course, with anything this hot among the kid demographic, a movie was sure to ensue. That movie came in 1990, although oddly enough, despite the ravenous appetite the public had for the Turtles, it took a small studio (New Line) to make the major push for the adaptation to the big screen, with a very modest budget of $13 million. It would gross ten times that amount once it hit the theaters in the US, becoming, at that time, the highest grossing independent film ever.
Although not to be confused with a genuinely good film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the movie, is a respectable (and respectful) effort to give the fans of the characters a live-action movie to be entertained with. While there are a few notable changes here and there, for the most part, the film adheres well to the universe originally created by Eastman and Laird in their original comic book, and as such, was readily accessible to almost anyone that had seen the television cartoon series, despite a few minor differences.
The main concept involves some radioactive material that finds its way into the sewer system underneath the metropolis of New York. The substance leads to rapid mutations among a giant rat (dubbed Splinter) and four turtles, whom Splinter names Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Splinter teaches the young humanoid turtles the ways of martial arts, and together, they protect the city from the dreaded band of villainy known as The Foot. Allying herself with the Turtles is newswoman April O'Neill (Hoag, Halloweentown), a babe with a heart of gold, and another masked loose-screw vigilante known as Casey Jones (Koteas, Crash).
The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that, despite the wide popularity of the Turtles, they are, by their very nature, supposed to be spoofs of b-grade entertainment. Influenced by superhero comic books, bad kung fu cinema, and a dose of the cheesiest of 1980s pop culture, they managed to be a spoof of junk food culture, all the while becoming recognized as an entertaining entity unto itself. The Ninja Turtles were popular because they were cute, hip, and had a knowingly irreverent attitude that struck a chord with the juvenile audience of the time. Knowing that it's supposed to be a spoof of schlock is very important if you're going to enjoy the film, as it is a b-movie through and through, with no intention of delivering greatness on any particular level.
That said, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is enjoyable in a modest fashion. The Turtles costumes are well-crafted, with a freedom of movement that makes them quite believable in the ways they might kick some ninja ass. They proceed to be likeable and fun to follow, even if it is sometimes hard to tell the four turtles apart at times, despite the different weaponry and colored masks, but telling the difference has never really been that important, and certainly not in this film.
It's harmless fun for young adults, and definitely captures the kitsch factor of the comic and spirit and energy of the television cartoon. Goofy humor, lots of action, and a colorful cast all add up to making this about as reasonably fun a film as anyone had a right to expect for this popular franchise.
-- Followed by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Rebooted with TMNT (2007) and again with 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
©2006 Vince Leo