A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is a 1990 mainly martial arts slapstick comedy. The Foot Clan is a Hollywood glorification of a street gang, with a secret headquarters filled with adolescent attractions like skateboarding, games, music, girls, recreational drinking, cigarettes, and fellowship. Abundant martial arts fighting that's sometime comical and slapstick (usually when it's Turtle-vs.-villains), sometimes bone-crunching and brutal (when its human-on-human). Two dead bodies seen as the result of barely offscreen karate killings. Human characters threatened with baseball bats, swords, and clubs. One character crushed in a trash compactor. Heroes knocked out and comatose, but no blood. There's a brief glimpse of underaged girls in sexy streetwear.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE MOVIE, New York City suffers an unstoppable crime wave of petty theft that turns out to be the work of the Foot Clan, an army of runaway boys (and girls) who have been recruited into thievery a la Oliver Twist with martial arts discipline. Their grownup leaders are a displaced gang of Japanese karate villains, ruled by a master called Shredder. Just for mentioning the crimes on TV, reporter April O'Neil (Judith Hoag) becomes a target of the Foot Clan. She's rescued by Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo, and Raphael -- man-sized, talking, fighting turtles who dwell in the city's sewers. These friendly mutants are former house pets granted superior size, strength, and intelligence after exposure to radioactive waste. The same befell their guardian and "master," a former pet rat named Splinter. The heroes hook up with another freelance crimefighter, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), an ex-hockey player. After Raphael is badly injured in a skirmish and Splinter is kidnapped, they all confront the Foot Clan in a showdown.
Is it any good?
This dated movie is best for diehard TMNT fans only. It was inevitable a live-action Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie would be made, with actors in suits. The abundant martial arts violence caused some controversy at the time (in Britain this "family film" was actually censored from children), and in the era before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, critics pretty much condemned all kung-fu movies, from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan, as R-rated bloodbaths. Just the idea of a kids' karate film raised doubts (though the Karate Kid movies were allowed to get away with it, go figure). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies made the fighting reptiles more comical and slapstick action-heroes, tossing off wisecracks and never drawing blood despite their swords and daggers. However, an aura of menace and brutality settles over the film when it's human against human, especially the wolf-packs of boys vs. April and Casey Jones.
There's something of Pleasure Island in Pinocchio about the way the movie makes the street-gang lifestyle of the Foot Clan seem appealing; a cool secret headquarters filled with skateboarding, video games, music, girls, cigarettes, and brotherhood. Even though it's supposed to be a big lie, the impression is still like a recruiting poster. Splinter the Rat, on the other hand is by far the most noble character here. He's really such a Yoda-like standout paragon of wisdom and kindness you wish the movie were more about him. Rats never had such good PR. Love them, hate them, the Mutant Ninja Turtles opened the floodgates for kid-friendly martial arts flicks in the English-speaking world, and the subsequent Three Ninjas series was pretty much Turtle schtick with teenage non-mutant ninja humans. Imagine that.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the armies of "rejected" kids who flocked to join the outlaw Foot Clan. Why would they want to join a gang? I
Use the Turtles as a jumping-off point to teach about Renaissance artists (Donatello, Leonardo, etc.) -- a reminder, like The Da Vinci Code, that the Renaissance is constantly popping up in pop culture. Why do you think that is?
How does this movie compare to the more recent ones?
- In theaters: March 30, 1990
- On DVD or streaming: February 28, 1998
- Cast: Elias Koteas, Josh Pais, Judith Hoag
- Director: Steve Barron
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Superheroes, Adventures, Book Characters
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: violence, some harsh words
- Last updated: January 30, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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