Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie

Movie review by Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie Poster Image

Common Sense says

age 8+

Muppetry coaxes campy '90s hit out of its shell.

PG 1990 93 minutes

Parents say

age 7+

Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 8+

Based on 16 reviews

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Community Reviews

age 7+

A Surprisingly Thematically Strong Family Action Flick Great for Kids

Having first seen this movie in Theaters when I was 8 and having since studied film, I cannot fathom the difficult task of what these filmmakers set out to achieve, and somehow nailed (mostly). The movie tells a surprisingly dark and aggressive tale of of non-violence while centered around something as massively bonkers as Turtle Ninjas (literally invented as a joke one-off comic spoofing tropes in comics in the early 1980s). However, it actually worked, and unlike most movies and shows from decades ago, the messages are still very poignant. Now, the movie does suffer from some pitfalls, the biggest one being that the villains are glorified in a way commonly shown in the first two acts of crime movies - The movie is mostly about a wave of degenerate, trouble-making youth being rallied under a single leader, and the images of these kids doing things like underage smoking, drinking and gambling (even making out) feels like an angsty 13-year old's internal music video. However, the movie does a very careful job showcasing that all of this is at the expense of others. We see innocent people getting robbed and mugged, parents distraught as their children run away to cause trouble, and by the end of the movie, these degenerate youth are able to see the errors of their ways. This is why I recommend the movie for children - It shows that things like stealing & fighting have genuine consequences that hurt those around you, and while you may think you hate those around you, those you choose to leave behind are torn apart. [ Caveat, this message might not work so well with children in abusive households, as it depicts being a troublemaker as being as much about choice as it does about upbringing, if not considerably moreso ] These are some pretty powerful messages for a child to learn, and the Show-Don't-Tell rule of cinema is in full force. In particular, the climax of the movie is a fight against Shredder and portrays the violence in a vastly less glorious light, with all five participants getting notably hurt as the fight goes on. And one thing that is nice is that the defeat of Shredder is cathartic, but it's not just accomplished by brute force - they don't just get fired up and focused and beat him into submission. So even the fun depiction of violence is turned onto its head to showcase a more brutal and unpleasant depiction, so even this element is portrayed as something where the Reward isn't worth the Risk, or the pain. Additionally, they even showcase The Turtles themselves as being less effective against a superior foe when they get increasingly angry (one line earlier being "Anger clouds the mind"), showcasing an alternate approach to the central theme that letting your darker side to dominate your actions will only bring you down. As a movie, the story is basic but certainly functional, the movie has immensely moody and atmospheric lighting but isn't scary by any means, the characters are well enough constructed and performed, and the work done on the Turtles' faces, from a technical standpoint, is quite excellent. It's just a good movie with some good messages by the end.

This title has:

Great messages
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
age 8+

You will believe a turtle can fight and emote.

This original film captures the Turtles in a gritty, believable setting and between the voice actors, puppeteers and animatronics they succeed in presenting living breathing relatable characters. They are actually there and are about as realistic as they can be. And that’s important because if something looks and behaves hokey it loses credibility and audience investment. This is a solid action movie that has terrific martial arts, great emotional scenes, role models and lessons. Above all it has a simple coherent story. There’s themes of responsibility and loss, pain and family. The enemies are menacing and you buy that Shredder and his goons could hold a city to ransom in a tight grip of crime. Now, it’s interesting that it’s more an adaptation of the comic than tv show, which is far more fantastical. No aliens, giant robot Death Star tanks, no robot foot clan soldiers. They went for, and succeeded in, total realism. The violence is akin to most martial arts fare. There’s no stabbing or any blood to speak of, despite the use of sharp weapons. They make you feel like the violence is more intense than it graphically is, that’s masterful filmmaking. Some might be perturbed by certain scenes of criminal underage kids smoking and playing poker but it’s clearly shown as bad and something wrong for them to be doing. It does have a low key humour to it too that is timed very well. It’ll come as a calmer moment is needed after dramatic or action scenes, or to diffuse a tense or scary situation. It’s not done cheaply with bad jokes. It’s a fine example of adapting source material and gets a very bad rep being thrown into the same pile as it’s extremely terrible and watered down sequels that are tacky, cringey and clearly suffer from low budgets despite this film being a smash hit. Stop confusing those with this one please, mr internet.

This title has:

Great messages
Great role models

Movie Details

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