It’s September and to celebrate the digital release of Mutant Mayhem (I have yet to go back to the theaters), I’m going through my SepTMNTber posts from my old blog. I can’t believe it’s been five years! I’m reposting all my movie reviews here to end with the new movie, but I’ve also reviewed all the cartoons on my old blog. Head over there to check them out!
Onto the movies! When I found out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was coming to movie theaters, I was beyond thrilled. But when I heard the movie would be live-action with actors in turtle suits—holy crap, that was on a whole new level. I couldn’t even imagine what other cartoons would look like in live action; surely, there could never be a live action Transformers movie!
The movie opens with a skinny redhead with tight curls who called herself April O’Neil. I didn’t know who this woman was, but she was no April. They even tried tricking us by putting her in a yellow raincoat. I’ve since grown on her performance and think Judith Hoag did a fantastic job, but as a pre-pubescent boy, I was totally disappointed. But what kid really watched this movie for the human characters?
I wanted to see real life Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles running through the sewer and kicking butt. Even just hearing them beating up the Foot Clan as they fought in shadows was good enough for me. Just a few moments later, as they gloat about their win down in the sewers, we got to see the Turtles. And holy crap, did they look awesome!
Jim Henson Creature Shop created the costumes, which included fully articulated faces. Eyes rolled around, eyebrows furrowed, mouths opened and closed, and the lips flapped in multiple places. These were definitely not the costumes you’ve ever seen before. The Turtles moved as if they were alive, like the suits didn’t impede the actors inside at all. They held more detail than the cartoon ever could and had mottled and marked skin.
Another thing that was never in the cartoon were swear words, so when I heard Raphael say, “Damn!” I was stunned. Sure, I had heard that Spike said shit in the Transformers movie, but since I hadn’t seen it in theaters, and home releases edited it out, damn was still sacred. Ultra Magnus had said it right before his death, so for Raphael to say it just for losing a sai, and to scream it later, was a big deal.
I can’t say if it showed up in the comics, but for me it was the first time seeing Raphael so angry. Not only is he cussing up a storm (relatively speaking), but he’s openly fighting with Leonardo, even pushing him around. His temper gets him in trouble, too, being ambushed by the Foot Clan and almost killed. Raphael’s attitude became the focal point in this movie, and so did Leonardo’s reaction to it. Unfortunately, it marginalized Michelangelo and Donatello. Mikey got a few good pizza jokes, especially his late delivery proverb. The movie’s more grounded vision also meant Donnie didn’t show off his technical genius, besides trying to fix April’s van.
Another big change to the movie is the Turtles’ sensai, Splinter. Instead of being a human turned into a rat, the movie flipped his origin, making him a pet to Hamato Yoshi that had watched his master die. Just like the cartoon, it doesn’t really spell out how he made it into the sewers, but having watched his master, he still learned enough to train the Turtles. I never understood why they made the change, besides maybe the additional depth Yoshi’s death gives us. We got some great stop-motion animation of a rat teaching 4 baby turtles high kicks out of it, so I don’t mind.
Rounding out the allies is Casey Jones. I don’t remember him showing up in the cartoon much, but he got a huge role here as both Raphael’s rival and April’s love interest. Not that I ever wanted April to have a love interest, but they threw that in, probably for the adults forced to watch it with us. He’s played to perfection by Elias Koteus and even wears his trademark hockey mask a few times while wielding cricket bats and hockey sticks. He even gets to commit manslaughter! Yay!
Since the movie makes strains to ground the story in reality, Shredder is the only recognizable enemy. No Krang, no robotic foot soldiers, no Bebop and Rocksteady. All Shredder has is a gang of street punks learning martial arts and a big bald dude with a limited vocabulary. At least they keep his costume kinda faithful, especially with the helmet. Another great thing they kept from the early episodes is Shredder kicking the Turtles’ asses. The final fight scene in this movie is downright awesome, with some great choreography and the Turtles being completely outclassed. It’s not until Splinter shows up and Shredder sees the rat that had mangled his face that Shredder loses his composure and is defeated.
As a kid, I didn’t understand most of the changes that were made to the Turtles and their world, but I didn’t have trouble accepting it. But one thing I honestly hated is the change to April’s boss, from funny Burne Thompson to boring Charles Pennington and his idiot punk kid, Danny. Both characters were terrible, and I hated them. Danny was easily the worse of the two, since he obviously didn’t appreciate how awesome the Turtles were. Come on, Danny! They’re giant Turtles. Show some genuine awe or something!
Overall, this movie succeeded at the incredible feat of bringing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to life. They made some sacrifices bringing it to the movie screen, but the one thing that really mattered was Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’s work, and I could really believe the Turtles were real. They moved and spoke and smiled and fought like we expected, and most of all, they kicked shell.
If you want to see more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle goodness, check out my blog, where I’m reviewing each cartoon series, from the original through Rise. If you want even more mutant mayhem, why not check out Old School Evil, my books inspired heavily by the original Turtles cartoon.