Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Original Movie. T-U-R-T-L-E POWER
"Dudes and dudettes, major league butt-kicking is back in town!"
I've been watching a lot of what I'll term "Retro Flicks" lately. Among these have been some golden cinematic treasures:
Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Yes, some real great films with plenty of personal nostalgic value. But one film I watched recently really was new and fresh to me this time around and I kept thinking about it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Something about how the elements of the film worked together so bodaciously and how it has aged so well made me know that I needed to do something in homage to this, one of the favorite movies of my youth. Another realization sealed the deal that my tribute would take the form of a full-fledged, "in-depth" RetroJunk.com article:
A quick trip to imdb.com informed me that this momentous anniversary occurs this very month of March. How could this be? I remember going to see this movie in THEATERS! It can't possibly be 20 years old. But it is. No matter how clearly I remember the anticipation, the merchandising, the group of friends and the chaperons that escorted us to the AMC theater on opening night, it was twenty long years in my past.
The Height of Turtle-Mania
By 1990 "Ninja Turtle" was a common household phrase. Especially if that household contained a little boy in my demographic: the 4-10 year old age range. The cartoon (which, much to the chagrin of my mom, sometimes aired at the same time as Oprah) was must see TV for me and my schoolmates. We made it so popular that they decided to air the show weekday afternoons in addition to Saturday mornings. And there was so much merchandise. Bedsheets. Lunchboxes. Sticker books. Video games. Toys, toys, toys, toys. I wish I could have it all back for a "day I went psycho" type experience, but alas, it is all long gone.
Borrowed from Kodakthe1andonly. I had very similar Christmas mornings. All of the photographic evidence is in Texas in non-digital form.
In 1987, when the children's cartoon landed on CBS, kids across the nation were hooked. From the ever memorable theme song to the cool attitudes of the heroes to the awesome gadgets and vehicles, they were giving us what we wanted. And, boy did we pay them for it. We bought all of the play sets and toys and we dressed in the t-shirts and underoos. We slept in the bedsheets and pajamas and watched half hour after glorious half hour of the cartoon. We were doing with the turtles what our mothers had done with the Beatles 20 years previously. It was TURTLE-MANIA.
Our Fab Four. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 Cartoon Series
From the humble beginnings of a gritty black and white comic book that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird started in 1984 (the same year I started), the Ninja Turtles had taken over America's airwaves and children and the only logical next step on the way to mega millions of dollars was to make a major motion picture.
Here you can see that they were originally drawn with tails.
The Original Turtles comic book. Issue #1. It was pretty violent.
COWABUNGA! Opening Day
While anticipating the feature presentation event of the decade (to that point in my young mind), I enlisted the help of my mother to gather many of my friends together to go see it the day it came out. When March 30, 1990 finally came, and my diverse group of friends got together, I had the same sort of feelings I had at my birthday parties when kids from school, kids from my neighborhood and kids from church all got together in one place. It was like worlds colliding.
These guys are the main reasons I, and many like me, claimed pizza as our favorite food until at least post-adolescence.
I'm pretty sure we ate first and I'm pretty sure that it was, of course, pizza. Whether we went to Chuck E. Cheese or just ordered from Domino's or Pizza Hut, I'm not sure, but I bet that all of the pizza places did incredible business that weekend. After pizza, we headed to the AMC theater on Beltline in Irving, Texas.
Ninja Turtles and Pizza just went hand-in-hand.
The Feature Presentation
Um, Guys? I think this is what Ninja Throwing Stars are for.
So then, sandwiched between some of my best buds, the movie began. It was clear from the start that this was, in fact, "no cartoon," dude. The show practically began with Raphael saying, "Damn," twice.
He lost a sai. He only has two to start with. We're lucky "damn" is all he said.
This gave me both an exhilarating surge of rebellious excitement and a small twinge of guilt. You see, I came from a strictly no swearing household and I knew that my parents wouldn't be pleased about the language in this movie, but I also thought it was awesome to hear Raph cuss.
It was a good thing they let us know early on that this was going to be a lot more grown up than the cartoon. The menacing foot soldiers, Tatsu and Shredder were pretty scary to me as a six year old, but the light-hearted comedy of the Turtles (except Raph, who was all attitude) provided good relief. Michelangelo lived up to the title of party dude as did Donatello, which was a pleasant surprise. Even Leonardo knew when it was time to chill out and have fun with the others: he dances to "Tequila!" and slices the pizza in midair with his katanas.
"Well, it's like meditating!" Leo, Mikey and Don dance to "Tequila!"
When I watch the movie now, I find Don to be the funniest of the bunch. Corey Feldman's voice suits the character perfectly and his banter with his brothers and especially with Casey Jones is really funny.
Country Bumpkin Donatello at "the farm that time forgot."
Jim Henson's Creature Shop Creations
One of my favorite things about the movie is the Turtle costumes created by Jim Henson and his Creature Shop. They are amazing for their time. The actors in the suits were free to run, jump, roll on the ground and get hurled through glass windows with confidence that they had free range of motion.
"Eh, Don't worry. He'll probably be back any minute."
This movie came out at just the right point in time. Had it been a year or two later, it becomes more likely that the filmmakers would have been tempted to use newfangled computer generated imaging rather than Jim Henson's Creature Shop for at least certain frames of action involving the Turtles or Splinter. As it is, there is no CGI in this film. It's all Muppet Magic.
CG Turtles from the 2007 film, TMNT.
Jim Henson poses with some of his final creations.
A lot of the fighting in the movie is broken up by the wise cracks and jokes of the turtles. This results in some of it coming off as comedy routine type slapstick.
"Hey, Donny! Wheel of Fortune, Dude!"
When the fighting turns serious, however, it is mostly hand to hand or foot to foot martial arts combat. Though the turtles hold their weapons for much of it, you never see anyone get slashed by Leonardo's katanas or stabbed with Raphael's Sais, unlike in the comic book that started it all. The only weapon you really see make contact with any of the bad guys is Donatello's Bo staff and it's almost never a great hit. Also, Casey Jones whacks Tatsu pretty good across the face with a golf club.
"I'll never call golf a dull game again."
The sad thing about it is that the filmmakers who made the sequels toned down the violence even more at the request of someone's over-protective parents. The short documentary that I have linked later on talks about how in "Secret of the Ooze," they take the weapons away from the turtles more frequently and add a lot more of the slapstick comedy. You see a lot more of the turtles pulling anything they can from their surroundings to "fight" with (yo-yos, sausages, rolling chairs) and the whole thing ends up feeling like it was meant for just the little kids.
"Next time I'll use mustard!"
TMNT & Me
The Ninja Turtles were a big part of my childhood. It was my most prolonged obsession and I look back fondly on those days. Just before Ninja Turtles became so huge, I was on a soccer team called the Ninjas. We convinced our coach to change the name to Ninja Turtles the following season and all the other teams were jealous. I had more Ninja Turtles figures than all other figures combined, I'm sure.
In 2006 my brother bought me all three original movies on DVD for my birthday. For his birthday a week later, after we had watched the movies and rented some of the cartoon DVDs, I pulled out my mom's old cake tin that she had used for me years earlier and made him this:
Me with the cake I made.
So I'm not the best cake decorator, but this isn't a terrible first attempt, right?
So, 20 years after its release, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Movie is still a joy for me to watch. To say that it "takes me back" is an understatement. Though I get things now I didn't then (the anti-gang sentiment, and the parody overtones), I can still get lost in the action and the comedy that made me love it as a 6 year old.
http://www.ninjaturtles.com/toys/archive.html - The official website archive of Ninja Turtles figures and vehicles.
http://www.ninjaturtles.com/comics/mirage/one/cover.htm - The first issue of the comic book is available on the official TMNT website.
http://tmnt.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page - A TMNT wiki. Info on just about everything.
http://springfieldpunx.blogspot.com/2008/06/turtle-power.html - A blog post of "Simpsonized" Ninja Turtles characters. Make sure to check out this guys other "Springfield Punx." He does lots of comic books, the Ghost Busters, and the characters from "Arrested Development," just to name a few.
"Eat my shorts, Shredder!"
The "Behind the Shells" making of documentary in three parts. It seems someone made this from a VHS tape and it's pretty low quality with annoying audio static throughout. Still, it's kind of cool to see how they brought the turtles to life.