New York is being terrorized by a series of crimes perpetrated by the youthful members of a ninja gang called the Foot. Their leader: the awesome Shredder (James Saito), whose face is concealed behind a mask that owes as much to traditional Japanese armor as to Darth Vader's helmet.
Television reporter April O'Neil (Judith Hoag) is on the case, demanding investigation by the complacent police force and making herself the target of the gang's fury. What no one knows is that New York's citizens include four rather unusual individuals who aren't afraid to take on the teenage
shadow warriors on their own ground: Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael, the smart-talking, sewer-dwelling, pizza-eating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With the help of their martial-arts master--a one-eared rat named Splinter (voiced by Kevin Clash)--and the childlike vigilante Casey
Jones (Elias Koteas), the Turtles team up with April to get to the bottom of matters. Complications arise when April's boss is blackmailed into firing her, Splinter is kidnaped, and Raphael is seriously injured by marauding gang members. April, Casey, and the Turtles escape New York and recuperate
in an isolated farm house, then return to the city and confront the ninja gang, prevailing in a drawn-out battle that tests the limits of their abilities. April is rehired, Casey declares his love for her, and Splinter and the Turtles are reunited.
One might ask why anyone would want to make a live action movie about life-size talking turtles and their martial-arts adventures. The answer, of course, is that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--who started life as comic-book characters, then moved into cartoons and an awesome array of
merchandising opportunities--have a tremendous pre-teen following that could be counted on to fill theaters, on their own and in the company of parents and baby-sitters. But, unlike THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE or other films inspired by existing marketing concepts, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is
entertaining enough to gloss over the crassness of its underpinnings. Brought to life by state-of-the-art special effects techniques that combine performers in full-body suits with radio-controlled animation, the Turtles and their mentor emerge as genuine characters rather than larger-than-life
advertising come-ons. In addition, the relationships that motivate Splinter, the Turtles, and the movie's human characters are positive without being cloying. The notion of family looms large in the story. Saito's ninja teens fall under his influence because they feel rejected by their own
relatives. The gang's headquarters is a kid's dream (24-hour pool tables, skateboard tracks, video games, cigarettes, and junk food), but the real draw is that it offers a sense of belonging and camaraderie. When the gang members realize they're just being used, their loyalty to Saito evaporates.
Splinter, by contrast, is a positive paternal figure, teaching the Turtles that their real strength lies not in kung fu fighting but in their love and respect for one another. Offset by the Turtles' Val-speak sarcasm and by action sequences staged with a hip nod to years of martial-arts movie
conventions, the message goes down pretty smoothly. And while many reviewers were put off by Splinter's rheumy-eyed philosophizing and the Turtles' ninja antics, the movie's youthful target audience squealed with delight.
A conspicuous flaw in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle universe is the uniformly dark cinematography. Noir aesthetics notwithstanding, this imagery often becomes distracting. The flashback to the genesis of the Turtles--little green pet store terrapins exposed to radioactive waste--and their
meeting with Splinter, once the pet of a ninja master, is so underlit that without the rat's voice-over narration it would be difficult to follow. This may be corrected in the further Turtle adventures likely to come. (Violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: PG
- Review: New York is being terrorized by a series of crimes perpetrated by the youthful members of a ninja gang called the Foot. Their leader: the awesome Shredder (James Saito), whose face is concealed behind a mask that owes as much to traditional Japanese armor… (more)