Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the once-criticized violence in this Turtle soup is mainly martial arts slapstick comedy -- as long as it's the Ninja Turtles embroiled in the combat. When it's humans clubbing or threatening one another, there's a sense of menace (especially when the perpetrators are predator gangs of feral boys). The Foot Clan here is a Hollywood glorification of a street gang, with a secret headquarters filled with adolescent attractions like skateboarding, games, music, girls, cigarettes, and fellowship. Even though it's supposed to be a big lie, the imagery is still like a recruiting poster.
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?
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.
Families can talk 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? It's possible to even 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?
|Theatrical release date:||March 30, 1990|
|DVD release date:||February 28, 1998|
|Cast:||Elias Koteas, Josh Pais, Judith Hoag|
|Topics:||Magic and fantasy, Superheroes, Adventures, Book characters|
|Run time:||93 minutes|
|MPAA explanation:||violence, some harsh words|