Well, if any franchise proved to be a mix of nostalgia and nightmares it’s the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle film franchise. Based on the dark comic book that became a children’s cartoon that went on to become the worst musical act of all time (Coming out of our shells, look it up) and the films can prove to be a mess of fondness and creepy rubber suits.
Released in 1990, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film had a lot of serious stars behind it. Produced by Golden Harvest, the team behind some of the greatest Martial Arts films ever made such as Enter the Dragon. It displayed its ninja pedigree with pride, but a lot of serious fights were cut from the final film due to parent complaints. Knowing that can be a bit off-putting, remembering that amid all of the childish humour there might have been some kick-arse fight scenes. But regardless, this film is refreshing in some aspects. There’s no boring introduction, within five minutes you know everything you need to. there are four Turtles, named after Renaissance artists, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello. They live in a sewer, trained by a rat and eat mainly pizza, as well as occasionally fighting the evil Shredder.
With the help of April O’Neil they foil a crime cartel, although cartel is a lose term as remember, these are giant turtles in a film frightened to show any kind of violence. It may have dated quite a lot, but still. If ever there was a film that summed up the definition of nostalgic, it’s this one. The retro charm and practical effects make the first turtle instalment good, I challenge you not to use Cowabunga once in your life after watching this film.
Directly after the events of part one, and riding on a wave of success, we were treated to the sequel TMNT 2: The Secret of the Ooze. Firstly, due to parent complaints about the first film there is no violence of any kind, not even what we would class as cartoony, over the top fighting. Any serious martial arts have been scrapped in favour of fighting with plastic bats, belts, yoyos, ties, blankets and sausages. Incidentally these ninjas are also terrible at being ninjas, they are ambushed constantly at several different locations. It’s a mess of corny freeze frames, dated nineties references and did I mention the bad fighting.
You do have to question whether the people who made this film even liked the cartoons, or the comics, which were famously conceived on a napkin. Secret of the Ooze pays tribute to those rumours by being written on one. Just to throw it out there as well, the secret of the Ooze is never really explained, despite the fact that it’s established that it turns turtles into ninjas. And even though it’s been mentioned several times already, the fear of any fighting at all results in a climax that involves defeating the shredder with a guitar solo. As well as this the film features (some would call this a low point, others may call it a high point) a Vanilla Ice concert. Of course, silly Mr Ice thinks that all of the crazy fighting (loose term) is just a new kind of breakdancing. But luckily, all is resolved with a dance to his newest song, ‘Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go’. Yay(!)
Part three is a not o welcome returned. Not only has to budget been horrendously slashed as people begin to realise the turtle franchise is slightly ridiculous. April (who at this point is played by… God knows who) buys a magic sceptre from the shops that transports the turtles back in time and from there… I have no idea. Bad effects, a plot that makes no sense, I think they have to find a new sceptre for some reason, even though they already have one, and a very specific two days to do this, because… ninja power? One bit that I strongly remember is the finale. After knocking the villain into the water below, I promise you there is at least a good four seconds of silence between him hitting the water and an actual splash sound. Watch it, it actually happens. Hen to celebrate their return home Splinter puts on a lampshade and sings an Elvis song, this perfectly represents, um….
After a lengthy hiatus a new generation of turtles rock up. The computer animated TMNT is something based solely for the video game generation and I have mixed feelings about it. For a start it does feel a bit cheap and devoid of any real imagination. It felt more like a product than someone wanting to finally make the good TMNT film. Mystic portals, Aztec statues and demon monsters make it feel a bit jumbled and a product of advertising. But there are good points, the CGI element allows them to feature some child friendly action, and the turtles are much less cumbersome than men in rubber suits. For the first time on-screen this adaptation gives each one a distinct personality as well, Leonardo is responsible, Michelangelo is the joker, Donatello is clever and Raphael is aggressive, they seem like real teenagers for the first time.
So, that’s four films and varying degrees of success. Can you do better than that Mr Bay?