This is a new article we at FrankenCulture are introducing called “The ReWatch!” A look back at movies that deserve to be re-watched and discussed in the day and age of Reboots and Remakes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
”Wise men say forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.”
This one means a lot to me because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) was actually the first film I ever saw in a movie theater. I was 3 years old and I can actually remember moments from that viewing still to this day. From Michelangelo yelling the iconic “God, I love being a Turtle!” to Raphael saying “Damn!” multiple times in the opening credits. And it’s because of that balance of sheer fun and maturity that makes this film stand out for me.
But that was then and it has been nearly 30 years since film first premiered (Yikes!). So does it hold up? I mean let’s think about this for a moment; this is a franchise that recently got rebooted with two “live-action” films. Before that, there was the trilogy from the early 90’s and lets not forget the animated feature TMNT from 2007 that sort of fits somewhere in-between from what we had in the 90’s with story, comedy and depth, to what we all ended up with from the recent installments in terms of quality and execution. So let’s go back to the original film released in theaters back in 1990. Unfortunately for five films that followed it, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) stands above all.
In comparison the one thing that may have been an improvement over the original film might be the actual puppetry in Secret of the Ooze, but that’s inevitable with a larger budget. Jim Henson’s design of the Turtles and Splinter were solid and more then get the job done in this film. In 1989 when this film was shot, puppetry was at its peak and Jim Henson was its Godfather. CGI was still in its infancy so everything needed to be shot in camera or brought to life optically with analog techniques. The film benefits greatly from this while hiding some imperfections that may otherwise be obvious to the viewer. At the same time it actually feels more grounded in reality with its dark, noir style lighting in the many scenes our heroes are fighting and skateboarding in the sewers of New York City.
All this with a budget of 13.5 Million Dollars!
This film also showcases the best versions of April O’Neil and Casey Jones on screen to date with Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas respectfully. When they’re on screen you don’t mind you’re not seeing Leonardo and Donatello dancing around. The two of them are dripping with charm and their chemistry is off the charts. It was a real shame that Judith didn’t return in subsequent films.
The filmmakers never pandered to it’s audience. The execution worked so well because the material was taken seriously when it was made. There were real stakes in the story and we cared about the characters; All of them! It is a formula that has failed so many films since then where the main, non- human characters are at risk of being sidelined by the more “human characters” and their own insignificant story (Transformers?). That is not the case here. April, Casey, even Danny, a character that could’ve dropped the ball everytime he’s on screen but doesn’t because we worry about him going down the wrong path. All this in a film with mutated, pizza loving turtles.
Oh, and they actually use their weapons in this film. No “Combat Cold Cuts” found here.
I couldn’t recommend a rewatch enough, especially if your recent experience was watching any of the newer films. It really doesn’t get any better than this classic. This film has everything; a rockin’ soundtrack, all the emotion you could ask for (Splinter talking to his sons in the fire!), real comedy, great action, but above all, it’s fun! What you’re left with is a very grown up film that even a 3 year old can enjoy.
For anyone that didn’t have the original VHS copy of the movie, this little commercial for Pizza Hut preceded the start of the main feature. The commercial is a true sign of the times from “Goldberg” from the Mighty Ducks making an appearance to the song that accompanies it. What makes me laugh is that in the actual movie, Domino’s Pizza was the sponsor!