With the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles taking over the 80’s and 90’s, it was inevitable there would be a feature film. What’s more surprising is that it was actually decent, and holds up well today. While certainly no masterpiece, it’s a fun experience, even now. As a huge Turtles fan, I watched the movie plenty of times as a child. Now, I found more to appreciate, though there were plenty of goofy elements that stuck out as much now as they did then.
The plot of the movie was taken from the first arc of the comic book. If you haven’t read the original Laird and Eastman books, they’re certainly a different take from the slong-throwing-pizza-loving Turtles many know and love. This was decisively a dark book. As such, trying to lighten some of the tones seemed a little goofy when juxtaposed against the Turtle’s characterization, taken more so from the cartoon. I know I’m skipping ahead, but look at the final fight against Shredder, he was a pretty dark villain, especially compared to the carefree Turtles. Seeing him crushed in a garbage truck? Ew.
One of the weakest aspects, as I mentioned above, was the Turtles themselves. Their characterization was puddle deep at best, making them nearly interchangeable. Even as a child, this was something that stuck out to me. Donatello got the worst end of the stick (ha!), acting almost exactly like Michelangelo. Mikey however, acted a little goofier than the rest, doing little to set him apart. Leonardo had a few moments of individuality, but for the most part acted the same as Donnie and Mike. Raphael was the most distinct, with his typical anger on display from the start, only to be forgotten after he awoke in the second act.
The puppetry for the movie, with the costume constructed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in London, was amazingly done. This is part of the reason the movie holds up so well today as it utilized practical effects throughout. While the fighting was slow and plodding, some of the maneuvers they accomplished in those costumes was really astounding. I particularly appreciated their facial expressions, specifically, the middle of their bottom lips folding in. Taking them at surface value, they’re nothing special, seeming odd compared to modern incarnations. Looking the comic depictions, they were spot on. An impressive feet.
Here’s some fun facts. Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2) had a small part as a foot clan member. One of my favorites was the Turtles meeting themselves. Each of the actors in the suits were cast as extras where they encountered the Turtles. When Raphael was hit by the cab, running after Casey Jones, the passenger in the cab was Josh Pais, the man in the suit. Or the pizza delivery guy, who delivered the pizza to Mikey, was Michelan Sisti, the actor in the Mikey suit.
Some other random notes. When Donatello accuses Casey of being claustrophobic and he replies “I’ve never looked at another guy before,” amazing. Never liked how they changed Splinter from being Hamato Yoshi to being his pet rat who learned Ninjitsu by watching from his cage. Is Casey homeless? The astral projection of Splinter was dumb, even in 1990. The two fight scenes with the Foot Clan were fun, even today. Yes, that’s Corey Feldman voicing Donatello.
If you’re interested in going back to the first movie, or have never seen it before, fear not, it’s just as good today as it was then. That doesn’t make it a masterpiece, just something fun to pass the time.
Think this still holds up today? Catch anything odd I missed? Comment below!