Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (1993) / Action-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 96 min.

Cast: Paige Turco, Elias Koteas, Stuart Wilson, Sab Shimono, Vivian Wu, Mark Caso, Matt Hill, Jim Raposa, David Fraser, Henry Hayashi, John Aylward, Robbie Rist (voice), Brian Tochi (voice), Tim Kelleher (voice), James Murray (voice), Corey Feldman (voice)
Director: Stuart Gillard
Screenplay: Stuart Gillard (based on characters created in the comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird)
Review published November 17, 2006

Perhaps the biggest appeal of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films and cartoons is the dose of pop culture spoofing that occurs throughout.  The Ninja Turtles have always been a campy, fun blend of superhero formula combined with that of martial arts action, and with a colorful assortment of criminals and the no-plot-is-too-cheesy attitude, kids and juvenile-minded adults could always count on the Turtles for some lively, escapist action-packed fare. 

Unfortunately, the third and final film in the original Ninja Turtles big screen series takes away most of what made the first two films, as well as the cartoon series, fun to watch.  Gone is the setting of the city.  Gone are the colorful supporting characters, with no mention of arch-nemesis Shredder (maybe he finally did die after all).  Gone is the campy fun main plot.  Take away pizza parlors, skateboards, and television and what do you have left?  Four talking turtles playing Three Stooges, Last Samurai-style, in a mostly serious 17th Century feudal war.

Yes, you heard me, 17th Century -- it's a time travel movie.  Basically, April O'Neil (Turco, "NYPD Blue") discovers a strange antique that is revealed to be an ancient scepter capable of transporting someone back in time in exchange for someone from the past coming forward to the future.  April is the first to be exchanged, bringing forward Kenshin (Hayashi, Pushed to the Limit), a Japanese rebel fighting to stop his corrupt warlord father, Lord Norinaga (Shimono, The Big Hit), from gaining weapons from the British traders that will make them easily defeat any foes they come to battle with.  To save April, the Turtles soon follow, only to find that the locals think them to be demons, as they are depicted in the artwork on a scroll of ancient legend.  The Turtles are thrust into the middle of the feud, trying to save April, regain the scepter, and put a squash to Lord Norinaga's plans.  Meanwhile, the vigilante known as Casey Jones (Koteas, Crash) entertains his newfound Japanese guests while waiting for the Turtles to return with April.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is a misfire that most fans of anything Turtles agree was the wrong direction for the film series to take if it wanted a chance to continue.  If you're going to make the mistake of taking the Turtles out of their element and place them in the past, the very least that should have been done is to make it fun and adventurous.  While the adventure is certainly there, the war is mostly serious business, with most of the non-Turtle characters playing their roles straight.  The film fails, not just because the Turtles are out of their element in terms of timeline, but they are also outside of their spoof-y universe, where only campy things can, and should, ever happen.

It isn't an altogether terrible production, as there is plenty of decent action, nice sets and costumes, and it's a nice touch to bring back what was missing from the second film. such as Elias Koteas as Casey Jones and Corey Feldman (The 'burbs, Stand by Me) to do the voice of Donatello.  They also make Paige Turko's April the spunky spitfire she wasn't in her first turn.  The mechanisms that control the Ninja Turtles' mouth and facial movements have different in this entry, no longer under the sure hands of Jim Hensons team.  While technically, it is a very impressive job in recreating human-like movements on human masks, the Furby-like eyes and teeth that make them look more like grinning Yahoo emoticons than turtles can make for a disconcerting viewing experience if you've seen the first two films recently.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is only recommended for completist fans of the Turtles and those that are insatiably curious.  Without much of the trademark humor, kitsch factor, and superhero spoofs that keep the fans giddy with juvenile delight, this entry not only turned off the fans to any possible future sequels, but did absolutely nothing to gain new fans.  Instead of going back in time, the Turtles should have been flushed down the toilet to go back to the sewers where they belong -- and so should this movie.

-- Followed by TMNT in 2007.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo