A Look Back at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by Alex Billington
March 21, 2007
In just a few more days the newest franchise recreation will be hitting screens everywhere - TMNT. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have one hell of a long history (starting as a comic in 1984), but it was the first two live-action movies that I grew up with. Without reminiscing too much on my childhood, I remember having everything from the action figure playset and sewer hideout to a homemade Halloween costume. I was a die hard Turtles fan, and I wasn't alone. There's a reason that those movies had $135 and $78 million dollar (respectively) theatrical runs.
While preparing for the new TMNT this weekend, I decided to take a look back at the first two movies and remember the good times we used to have with the Ninja Turtles back in the early '90s.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Opened March 30th, 1990 to a $25 Million Weekend
Plot: Four turtles and a rat are transformed into a humanized state by a mutagenetic gel in a sewer. The rat becomes their mentor, and teaches them all he knows regarding Jinjitsu and the ninja way. The turtles use their newfound skills to combat the crime in New York City. But when their mentor is captured by an enemy from the past, the evil Shredder, can they hold true to what they've learned, and stay together as a brotherhood?
Why It's So Great: This is the original film that was supposed to be nothing but a flop but turned out sweeping the nation. Can you believe it was an independent film at first, put out by New Line Cinema?! As with the Ghostbusters franchise, the original is always the best, sticking with story and the characters more than action and effects. I'm sure before the Turtles revolution took off, the studio execs all looked at the crazy rubber suits and laughed for about 10 minutes, but now… well, I still chuckle at them too - but there is no better real life interpretation of the Ninja Turtles than that. And of course, Shredder!
Everyone has said that once they grew up they went back and rewatched some of those movies that were unforgettable from their childhood - and hated them. You laughed then, but now you realized that movie was just plain ridiculous. But with these, no way. I just watched this one last night and still had a great time enjoying it. Even the action and the effects and story still stood up to today's standards. And I won't deny that there's one thing I wanted while watching as a kid and still wanted today - pizza!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
Opened March 22nd, 1991 to a $20 Million Weekend
Plot: The turtles find out where the Ooze, the substance which made them mutate, came from. Unfortunately Shredder learns about it too, and uses it to enhance himself and some cuddly creatures. So the turtles must again confront Shredder and put an end to his madness.
Why It's So Great: When I was kid this one ended up being my favorite. It took the excellence of the first one and doubled, nay, tripled it. Just think about it: the Ooze, the loveable Keno, Tokka and Rahzar, Super Shredder, and the best of all, The Ninja Rap! It probably all sounds ridiculous now, but this movie is an example of a sequel done well. Although its user rating is considerably lower on IMDb (4.7 versus the first movie's 6.0), you can't deny that it is a fun flick that builds well off of the first one. Like a good franchise should do, it moves away from the establishing story and jumps into the spectacle, or at least that's what a good franchise like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies should do.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time
Opened March 19th, 1993 to a $12 Million Weekend
For as hardcore of a Turtles fan as I am, I never even saw the 3rd movie. That's how bad it was, and it doesn't really even deserve a spot here.
Named after Leonardo Da Vinci. The oldest and leader of the Turtles, he's courageous, decisive, and a devoted student of martial arts, and probably the closest to their master Splinter. He has a very strong sense of honor and justice and fights with a pair of katanas. Him and Raphael always seem to have a gripe, but are still brothers.
Named after the Renaissance painter and architect Raphael. He has an aggressive nature and seldom hesitates to throw the first punch. He's the most disconnected of the four and can even be called the "anti-hero", who performs moonlighting hero work on his own. His personality can be alternately fierce, sarcastic, and full of angst, and he fights with a pair of sai.
Named after the great Michelangelo. The youngest and most comedic of the group, always saying "dude" or "cowabunga." While he loves to read comics and eat pizza, he also has an adventurous side and still loves to fight. A dedicated team member and a closest friend of Donatello. He fights with a pair of nunchaku.
Named after the great sculptor Donatello. He's a brilliant scientist, inventor, and technology/computer geek and also has a reputation as something of a wise guy. He is perhaps the least violent Turtle, preferring to use his intellect to solve conflicts and not at the front of the fight. He fights with a bo, or long staff.
His name is a parody of Stick, the man who mentored Daredevil. He is the Turtles' sensei and adoptive father as well as an incredibly wise rat. Mutated from the same Ooze as the Turtles, he also learned Ninjutsu from his own master, Hamato Yoshi, which he then taught to the Turtles. He keeps them in line and trains them, providing both spiritual and physical guidance. Although he's quite old in most of the comics and specifically the movies, he can still fight very well.
Although not always the case, especially in the comics and cartoon, April is a television news field reporter who meets and befriends the Turtles as one of their only human companions. She's always out to help them in their endeavors and can sometimes be a great sidekick. The only major female lead in most of the stories, except Karai.
One of my favorite characters, Casey Jones is a vigilante crime fighter of his own who fights with an assortment of sporting goods (baseball bats, golf clubs, hockey sticks, etc) and wears a goalie mask. After meeting them he befriends the Turtles and assists them in fights, acting as an additional ally. He eventually becomes romantically involved with April O'Neil.
The big, bad Shredder! He is the Turtles arch-nemesis, and especially after the movies, the most popular villain. He is a ninja master named Oroku Saki who wreaks havoc with his group of ninja fighters called the Foot Clan. He is distinguished by a full suit of armor that's covered with sharp blades and a helmet that covers most of his face (which was scarred by Splinter, at least in the first movie). He doesn't really seem to be as bent on world domination as he is interested in taking out the Turtles and Splinter.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first started as a comic book in 1984 written by the legendary Peter Laird. Since then it has spawned multiple animated television series', including the very first one in 1987 and again in 2003, as well as the movies and endless consumer product tie-ins and toys, and even a concert. TMNT has certainly become one of the most well establish, well recognized pop culture franchises in history.
Whether you're as big of a fan as I or not, I still suggest TMNT opening this Friday. If you are a fan at all, you'll love it. It's somewhat aimed towards kids, but no matter adults of every age will definitely enjoy it. It has great CGI and the characters are spot on, even to the above descriptions. Writer and director Kevin Munroe has done a great job of bringing the franchise back to life again, and making me remember my childhood all too well.
Reader Feedback - 9 Comments
Great write up on the Turtles' cinematic history! I was a TMNT fan as a kid and I will have to check out the newest CGI reincarnation. Turtle powaaa!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks, http://DVDRentalForums.com
DVDRentalForums.com on Mar 21, 2007
Great piece Alex. I really want to go dig up my old TMNT tapes right now and psyche myself up for the new film. I felt like the movies really influenced me in my youth, from my favorite food being pizza to my favorite color of green. I can remember running around my house doing the ninja rap screaming, "Go Ninja! Go Ninja, Go!" Certain parts of the show still have an impact on me today. For instance, when I saw the movie Zodiac, one of the police officers working on the case was played by Elias Koteas (Casey Jones). A childlike excitement built up upon seeing him on the screen. I was hoping he'd find the Zodiac and beat him down with a hockey stick. Interesting tidbit I'm not sure you knew: in the three movies, the voice of Donatello was provided by 80s teen idol Corey Feldman of Lost Boys, Goonies, and Stand by Me fame.
Charlie on Mar 21, 2007
I may be the only one, but I really loved the third movie when I was a kid. I thought it was the best one. There's a cute little japanese kid, theres samurai swords, and April wears a kimono. I haven't seen them in probably 10 or 12 years, but I remember liking that one the most. I may just have to break out my old vhs tapes and revisit them. Although I walways prefered the cartoons to the movies I think.
Nick on Mar 21, 2007
The summer the original TMNT came out my family was on vacation in the gulf area of Texas. After spending all day at the beach, we would go the movies b/c the air conditioning was just what the doctor ordered. During this vacation week, we went to the movies 3 or 4 times, and my sister and I saw that movie EVERY time we went. (I have no idea what my parents saw). Sure, my sister and I weren't even teenagers yet, but we watched it that many times in a week and loved it every time. I wonder if I could get my girlfriend to watch it with me now... "Hey, what movie did I rent? Surprise! it's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!"
Tom on Mar 21, 2007
Great write-up alex. Good to see someone else enjoys the turtles, can't wait to see the new one!
Bob Buskirk on Mar 22, 2007
what are the 8 martial arts that Master.Splinter taught the turtles????
miniman23 on Mar 31, 2007
how many movies were there? please let me know
zack on Nov 3, 2007
This is Kristy Newsome and I have been trying to find a way to get the ninja turtles concert again. I used to have it and it got ruined. So if you could tell me how to find it again it would be appreciated. Thank you for your time, Kristy Newome
Kristy Newsome on Jun 1, 2008
Why is everyone too stupid to see the deeper meaning of the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles original movie? It's about the United States fighting Japan during world war 2. This Japanese immigrant, Oruko Saki comes to New York and stakes out an underground ware-house that's been abandoned (you can get to it by subway and by navagating the underground canals of New York). Here he lets teenagers come to smoke, drink, do drugs, paint garffiti, skateboard, cut their hair the way they want, listen to the music they want to listen too and gamble-all the things they want to do but aren't supposed to do because they're teenagers (some are actually older). But Oroku Saki wants something in return: they have to steal for him. Steal from their parents; steal from their society. The guy dresses as a Japanese warrior of old (this is the dead giveaway). Japan was a military power-house for centuries before world war 2 ever happened and their uniforms and helmets, which covered their bodies and faces, were decorated with shrapnel portruding from them to cut up their opponents in the case of hand-to-hand combat which they were trained for. Saki is always in this attire in front of the teenagers, so they don't know his name or what he really looks like. They just call him Shredder. Saki teaches them martial arts and how to be ninjas-how to steal from places like department stores, pick locks, bypass security and get away through vents-stuff like that. This is a foot clan. This a gang. Saki teaches the teenagers that when they want to cut their hair their way, or listen to the music they want to listen to, that they are right and their parents are wrong-and have been given unfair power from society. Of course this is what his students want to believe; they are teenagers. Saki appeals to their emotions to use them as a vehicle for evil, to steal, to kill, to pillage. This is supposed to be the Japanese cause in world war 2. On an individual level they are not evil, but they are so badly misguided that they serve evil without knowing it. That is the point. The teenage mutant ninja turtles emerge as the only force that can fight this foot-clan. Law enforcement isn't trained to fight these guerilla fighters, so to speak (they don't use guns, but knives, ropes and martial arts-which could effectively evade American law enforcement in real life). Law enforcement also can't figure out why this gang is held together or how it is run (Oroku Saki could be out in broad daylight walking around and no one would suspect he had anything to do with the gang). The turtles leader is mutant rat who leads the turtles and encourages them to fight this evil force-if they don't do it no one will. This coalition of mutant beings is supposed to be the United States. Here is this country, so unique, so different from other countries and is the only nation on earth to stand up to Imperial Japan-and win. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? When there is something that "out there" there is usually a deeper meaning. It was a smart movie for 1990, in an age of peace between the two countries. The movie explains why the Japanese did what they did during the war-without defending it or saying it was honorable. However the Americans are portrayed as the real heros. And just as in real life, lots of teenagers on both sides. My final comment is that we never could have seen this movie without Japanese technology.
Daniel Prichard on Dec 3, 2008
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