Heros On The Half Shell: Turtlemania In T.O.

First published in The Varsity on Apr 2, 1990, page 9

Varsity Staff Writer

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Cineplex Odeon Theatres

The line-up outside the theatre for the sneak preview was humongous, chock full of snotty-nosed little brats cloaked in florescent ski jackets and toting baseball caps and little green figurines. Someone in the line-up accurately described them as “having their parents by the balls, while the toy companies have got them by the balls.”

And we thought to ourselves: is it better to be abused by annoying children in the theatre lobby, or to be trapped inside a dark theatre with these same aforementioned irritating little capitalists. There was no alternative option, really. I had accepted the assignment: I would review the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

But no, I will not sink to using Turtle language (e.g. “gnarly movie!” or “totally awesome fight scenes!”, although both would be accurate). I will, however, admit to owning a Turtle figurine (It was a gift – really.)

Now, this is a live action flick, complete with muscular martial artists encapsulated in green styrofoam costumes. As the billboard reads: “This ain’t no cartoon, dude!” It’s the first of the coming summer onslaught of comic book motion pictures (in the fine tradition of last year’s Batman), which includes Dick Tracy and The Amazing Spiderman.

The Turtles came into being fifteen years ago, when the escaped pet rat of a Ninjitsu master adopted four baby turtles after having found them wallowing in radioactive sludge. All five of them mutated into sentient humanoid creatures: the Turtles and their sensei, complete with domed emerald skulls and irremovable carapaces. Their first word in the English language: Pizza.

Thus, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo – sounds like Super Mario Brothers 4! – grew to become slimy but stout warriors of the ninja style, dedicated to fighting evil and preserving their invisibility.

The setting for the movie is quite familiar to those of us who tune in to YTV to consume our daily dose of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. The city is being terrorized by a youth crime wave of Torontonian proportions, completely coordinated by an ancient Japanese martial arts cult. Street kids are snatching purses and turning them over to their Japanese crime lord. In return, the crime lord teaches them to be ninja assassin. Oh woe is we. The Ninja Turtles must come to our rescue.

This is the ideal munchkin movie. It’s got their favourite toy heroes (a tetrad of teenage Turtles); plenty of action lots of terrific turtle trouncing); witticisms (trite testudine  tautologies); a message (“trust your teachers, tots”) and the obligatory emotional content for their psycho-social development (terribly tender and touching Turtle togetherness).

Strangely, there is no brutal violence, sexual explicitness, or coarse language such that you need not consider prohibiting your small child or household pet from seeing this movie.

For the adults, the turtle trouncing is tight. There’s nothing like seeing a short green cold-blooded being executing a perfect spinning reverse roundhouse kick for getting the old Chuck Norris neurons firing. And nobody twirls a set of nanchaku like a bipedal reptile.

While there is no sexual tension per se, and the needless romance is kept to a minimum (thank God), there is a bit of sexual innuendo in that the Turtles’ friend and reporter April O’Neill appears in every scene baring the teenage Turtles her two thin though thought-provoking thighs. The sensuality is entirely lost on thesnotty brats, I’m sure.

One could say the flick is one part Star Wars, two parts Bloodsport and six parts Muppet Show. That’s a total of nine parts, and has absolutely no relevance to what I’m talking about (no mystic ninja secret encoded in the number nine). And even though there are many cliches borrowed from elsewhere, Ninja Turtles comes out looking like a creative tour de-force, thanks to the comic book / cartoon / figurine mega-industry backing them up.

But the one word that describes this fine cinematic adventure is “innocent.” Sure, there’s lots of fighting and miniskirts and fungal growth on pizza, but when viewed as a comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is truly a big screen classic. The Turtles are tough teens with pure hearts, and bad guys are real bad. (They give away cigarettes to kids – for free!)

And the best part is that, next year, Ninja Turtles will surely win the Oscar for best make-up – despite the reams of snotty kids in the theatre lobby.