Friday Fisticuffs: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

I was a gigantic fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember getting my first action figure–Donatello–and tying a piece of yarn from the hanging light in our dining room area to the fireplace handle, putting his bo staff in both hands and letting him slide down. I remember getting plenty of other action figures and even making my own playsets because I always thought the amazing sewer one was out of reach, though my friends had it. I had the soundtrack and a few other tour tapes from the movies and the live show that I almost wore out. I even read the Archie comics (at the time I didn’t know it was based on a much darker comic that you used to be able to read on the official TMNT site, but don’t seem to be there anymore).

So, when we heard the movie was coming out, my friends and I were incredibly excited. I actually remember going to the theater with my friend-down-the-street Anthony and his parents (or maybe just his dad). There was a real excitement in the place and actually had more of a concert or play feel than a movie one. Anthony’s dad even bought us books about the movie that were kind of like programs. I tried searching around online to find Ninja Turtle movie photo books, but came up with nothing. Anyway, we’re all sitting in the darkened theater–this was one of the ones where there was an aisle straight down the middle and chairs sloping back on either side, I don’t believe stadium seating had been invented yet. It was so exciting. The movie started and to be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot of it, but I do remember that at some point the film broke! There we were, sitting in a packed theater with a lot of increasingly angry people. Out of nowhere, the audience started chanting. One side was yelling “Cowabunga” while the other yelled “Turtle Power.” This went back and forth until someone finally fixed the film and we were back in action.

So, yes, I have very fond memories of the Turtles and their movies (the first two at least, I was older and didn’t care when the third one came out). The other day I had an idea for a list that coincided with wanting to watch the movies and I disocvered via Amazon that you can buy the three live action movies as well as the CGI from a few years ago for like eleven bucks. Sold. I was definitely worried that the movies wouldn’t hold up, but it turns out that–at least the first one–had an interesting mix of the comic’s seriousness and the cartoon’s comedy. It’s actually a pretty great movie. The costumes look fantastic, the fighting is solid considering you’re watching dudes in rubber suits and the performances are pretty good.

The story revolves around reporter April O’Neil discovering a quartet of mutant turtles who live in the sewers with their Master Splinter, a human-sized rat. The Turtles and their enemy-turned-pal Casey Jones (another vigilante) run afoul of Shredder and his nefarious Foot Clan, a group of young men he’s corrupting to help him start a crime wave. For a while, after an injury to one of the turtles, they spend time at a farm house which offers some really interesting character moments all around and then we get to the grand finale.

And, like I said, the fights are solid. I mean, I wasn’t expecting Tony Jaa or Jason Statham moves, but I was worried it would be like old Chuck Norris from last week or something very clearly chopped up and edited together to make it look good and real. Plus, you can forgive a little for the fact that these guys are wearing crazy suits.

I was very excited and pleased to find out that one of the more important films to my childhood–even if I only saw it a handful of times at best after that theatrical experience–is actually a solid movie. I know I liked things like the 3 Ninjas movies, but there’s no way they’re still good. Right?

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