Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) Movie Review

I had to take a hiatus from reviewing to finish up final school assignments. And they were the last for my entire university career. But now I’m going to try to review movies and books as much as I can and with the best quality, here on my site and on YouTube. And I thought this would be a suitable one to re-review. There are lots of movies I’ve reviewed since I started blogging in 2014 under Weldon Witness, and I’ll be either reuploading or rewriting some of them.

So long story short, everyone at this point knows the Ninja Turtles. Strangely enough, I never got into them until I was in my teenage years myself rather than as a child. As I was navigating high school I was looking for new things to distract myself from my fears and the 1987 cartoon just really worked for me. I always got an appetite for pizza, the turtles were both hip and adorable, and the best part was how the turtles had to navigate being heroes in a city terrified of them up close. And the relationship the turtles have with April and a select few others like Irma and Zach brought out the positivity of knowing there’s always someone out there for you.

The movie redoes the origin story of the first serious relationship between the turtles, their master Splinter, and a human. April o’Neil (played by the incredible Judith Hoag) has been investigating a quiet but ever-present crime wave in the big apple, “with complaints ranging from purse snatching to breaking and entering”. She ends up jumped one night on the way to her reporter van midrobbery, and the turtles manage to rescue her without detection (minus April noticing a sai laying around) but as April further becomes targeted by the underground organization The Foot Clan as she gets more attached to the story, another rescue leads the turtles and Splinter to reveal their identities. But revealing themselves just to April now puts them all at the centre of a battle that will follow them until one side surrenders.

There’s lots to admire about this adaptation, which impressively was released in theatres only three years after the start of the cartoon that gave the turtles differentiating mask colours and personalities. Jim Henson’s puppetry may not have aged well in the minds of some moviegoers but considering all the ways the configurations could’ve fallen on their faces and the fact there’s really nothing else like this out there, I still call it a success.

As many filmgoers know, it’s hard to turn a cartoon into live-action. There will always be a difference between a two-dimensional world and a three-dimensional one, from the laws of physics to atmosphere to having to include realistic features that can stick out badly. Also, there will always be picky fans that filmmakers have to try to please while still having to focus on this transition. But Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo (and this film is the first time the smaller, more mundane versions of their names were used instead of the big real deal) all manage to look realistically enough like mutated reptiles without losing the cute innocence that made them such a hit in the show.

But the best part of this movie is how it took a gamble on its choice of storyline, centred around troubled regular teenagers, who make up the majority of this underworld clan. Adolescence is a tough time for everyone. As kids transition to teens, they begin to realize more responsibilities will soon be upon them. They realize some of their dreams just aren’t possible and they want to see what they can get away with to learn about the real world in their own way, and they want a balance of protection from the world and freedom to explore it from their parents or guardians but not sure if they trust those in charge of them to understand their desires.

The utilization of the premise of teens facing inner battles is why Danny Pennington (Michael Turney) is my favourite character in this film, even more than the iconic Casey Jones (Elias Koteas); because Danny is a perfect example of displaying trauma and confusion towards what is best for him. Danny is the son of April’s boss, Charles, and he makes very bad mistakes in the name of who he thinks is his proper family and brotherhood. In this clan the teenagers skate, smoke, play arcade games well into the night, and probably some other things the movie just can’t display.

The most heartwarming moments stem from Master Splinter, as he shows confidence in his sons that they have what it takes to be real ninjas and heroes who look out for those in danger. During a scene when the turtles sit by a fire, it may be hard to believe they achieve meditation so quickly when they had marshmallows to roast, and it may be hard to believe it would be heartbreaking seeing the old rat communicate his love for his sons telepathically by that pit, but somehow it works because the turtles don’t know if they’ll ever see their father again.

Like the marshmallow side-joke, the movie still retains some goofiness from the show, primarily in the personality of the turtles during the fight scenes, and sometimes this goofiness doesn’t blend as well with its somber side story. When the turtles get really excited about having a slice of pie, it’s not as funny as expected.

Still, the first ever Ninja Turtle movie took risks and made an immensely distinguishable motion picture that brought the right amount of confidence that Raph, Leo, Donnie and Mikey can travel across various dimensions for future flicks.

If you like this, I’d try: the other two 1990s Ninja Turtle movies, the cartoon adaptations, and the Home Alone movies

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