Oh childhood… so many things that filled my life completely and are now forgotten. I was at a buddy’s place watching old movies and noticed he had the original ninja turtles movie on tape, it was then i realised it must have been 20 years since i last watched it. I was very eager to see if it held up now considering how my tastes have changed in such a long time.
Four mutated turtles and a rat use their ninja skills to battle the foot clan’s crime wave in the big apple, yes it’s as ridiculous as it reads.
I think the real reason why i still like the movie is that it forgoes overly kiddy plotting and instead really puts effort into developing an emotional and serious tone. Particularly the film focuses on different father son relationships; now anyone who knows me (or reads this blog) knows that i’m a sucker for them, and this film has three. The central of which is Splinter’s fatherly guidance and wisdom to his children, and honestly the scene between Raphael and Splinter has to be one of the most touching scenes put to screen between a man in a rubber suit and a hairy rat puppet (honestly i tear up every time i see it).
The second is between the Shredder and the Foot Clan recruits and how instead of guidance, wisdom, and understanding all his sons get is reprisals, fear, surrogation, and immaturity. The third is a variation of the first; some sons rebel against a father’s guidance, and come to understand its value when understanding allows them to see the error of their immature thinking. I must say that this has to be one of the movies that shaped me into liking father son interactions in the first place.
I’m also quite glad that the film makers decided to go the opposite route with the look of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The sewers, turtles, and various other places the film goes are all grimy, swathed in shadow, and showing their age. While there’s nothing wrong with giving a movie a colourful aesthetic, considering the source material and intended audience it could have easily been too kiddy for me to take seriously now, unlike say… Turtles III…
Don’t get me wrong though, this is a serious product of the 90’s were dealing with. However the look of the film is done well enough to not call too much notice to itself (unlike Scarface).
Jim Henson designed the creature effects and whats on display is reflective of his mastery of traditional SFX, while the turtle’s lip movements are by and large unconvincing the various masks are at the very least very expressive (with the exception of Splinter’s puppet as it is universally great), and coupled with good voice acting make moments like this and this (god i tear up during that one too) don’t come off as silly. The fights themselves (while nothing too special) are at the very least well practiced, and the fact that the stunt men in the costumes move as well as they do considering the rubber suits and helmets makes them at least notable.
Lastly i want to mention that while the subplot of Casey Jones and April’s romance is pretty paint by the numbers it gets one thing crucially right: it establishes a hint of attraction between the two before they start fighting. Scarface and The Empire Strikes Back fail miserably at convincing me that although the two lovebirds are at each others throats when they interact they like each other in spite of it. That’s because there is never a scene that shows both of them liking each other in private. I have no idea why so many films fail in this, but here we have a “she likes me, despite her hating me” romance that i find works.
All this coupled with a decent score wraps this little movie quite nicely i’d say.
I’m sure there are tons of problems here like the turtle rap, however i can’t see any that are really worth mentioning here as they would distract from what i really want to talk about, and that is: Casey Jones.
It never struck me how much of a maniac he is until i saw it with an adult mind. He is literally a psycho, in a hockey mask, running around at night beating people up with various bludgeons. He is what Batman would be if he had no money, and if he actually existed. As it’s clear that Jones has a lot of anger for being injured and having to give up playing professionally. This isn’t really a bad thing though, Elias Koteas gives Jones a nice guy charisma that hides his psychosis enough to make him likable, he’s just a really bizarre character to me nowadays.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is no masterpiece. Its drama is simple but it has a sincerity in its approach that i can’t help but be touched by, and it does enough right by me to still be worth an occasional watch now and again. Especially if i feel nostalgic for my childhood, and i’m personally very happy that this piece of it still manages to stand the test of time (unlike other movies…)
in case anyone gives a shit: Raphael is my favorite.