In this Rewind Review, we take a deep dive into the sewers of New York for a slice of deep dish pizza for the 30th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie.
Nicknamed TMNT by fans, the 1990 movie is the first live-action adaptation of the comic book by Mirage Studios and 80’s TV series. It sees the four heroes in a half shell, under the guidance and training of their mentor, learning to work together to stop the evil Shredder and the Foot Clan.
The four brothers consist of leader Leonardo (David Forman and voiced by Brian Tochi), hothead Raphael (Josh Pais), brainy Donatello (Lief Tilden and voiced by Corey Feldman), and jokester Michelangelo (Michelan Sisti and voiced by Robbie Rist).
The four Turtles each have a unique personality and have some great chemistry. They really feel like a family as well as a team. The wisest decision by the filmmakers was to focus on the Turtles and their antics rather than keeping them to one side.
Unsurprisingly, the movie opens by focusing on TV reporter April O’Neill, played by Judith Hoag. She’s a really good character who feels real and has a really great connection with the Turtles. She serves as the audience’s introduction to that world, but doesn’t hog the screen time, as more recent versions have done.
She’s also a very crucial part of the plot and doesn’t become the usual damsel in distress that April was in the original cartoon, making her an, overall, better character.
The driving force for the Turtles to become ninjas is through their mentor, Splinter (Kevin Clash). The giant, but wise rat looks fantastic on screen through the use of top-notch puppetry. And although he can have a tendency to explain everything in high detail, he is a great mentor figure and shows genuine care for the people around him.
Coming in late on to help the Turtles is the hockey-loving vigilante, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas). Not much is really known about the character, aside from one or two lines, as he’s never really focused on. However, he’s a fun addition to the cast and has some great interactions with the five leads.
On villain duties, in the first of many live-action appearances, is the Shredder, played by James Saito. This is certainly one of the best interpretations of the character with Saito giving a truly menacing and threatening performance. He’s even got one of the best villain intros in a comic book movie, bringing to mind characters like Darth Vader.
Among the rest of the cast, including Tatsu (Toshishiru Obata), Danny (Michael Turney) and even a small cameo by Sam Rockwell, all feel pretty real and are treated seriously. There are a lot of characters that get introduced within the 90-minute movie, but it never feel crowded or messy, with everyone serving their purpose and not outstaying their welcome.
The story sticks close to the original source material, focusing on the origins to the characters and the battle with the Shredder. It is a pretty simple and easy story to follow, and may seem clichéd today, but it suits the characters by keeping events small, and separates it from what followed.
With a movie about ninjas, you can expect tons of butt-kicking action, and this is no exception. The action is genuinely fun and entertaining without becoming too violent or overblown. This is really saying something for today’s audiences, since the movie was originally cut in the UK. Most of which involved Mikey’s nunchakus.
The stunt work is also pretty good. Most of which involves acrobatic antics, which look great and give dance-like qualities to the fights. It’s not quite as thrilling as it could have been, but it’s still loads of fun to see.
The movie can be gritty and isn’t afraid to get serious. This was a step away from the animated series and harkened back to the original comics. It works really well and helps ground the story. Luckily it isn’t too dark and adds a good dose of humour into the mix.
This movie is hilarious. Almost all of the jokes and gags hit their mark, with the majority of them coming from Donnie and Mikey. The humour doesn’t overshadow the serious story and does work well contrasting the light and dark elements.
Even with a movie about four talking, mutated turtles, the movie remains pretty realistic, except for one scene. The movie briefly becomes mystical. Even though it is a genuinely great and moving scene, it does seem a little out of place and doesn’t quite fit into the realistic tone.
The realism is benefitted by the use of costumes and puppetry, courtesy of the VFX wizards at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Although they may not look fantastic by today’s standards, they do surprisingly hold up very well. There are almost no points where you will just see guys in suits, except for a couple of scene where the rubber shows or the infamous ‘second mouth’ shot. Apart from them, they look very good.
The musical score is composed by John Du Prez (A Fish Called Wanda). The soundtrack does sound very much from the 80’s, but it sounds great and does benefit the movie. It may not be iconic, but it is instantly recognisable and memorable.
In retrospective, with the numerous TMNT movies we’ve had over the years, this is still the best one. It treats the material seriously but understands to inject some fun and humour into the mixture.
Overall, if you are a fan of the Turtles, this is the movie you need to see. Its light and fun, but also dark and gritty. It’s a movie that adults and kids can enjoy and makes for great family entertainment.
Purple Revolver rating: 4/5. “Cowabunga!”