Although the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the few 80s franchises that has remained popular even into today, the height of the franchise’s popularity was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the four turtles were inescapable.
The popularity of the franchise (particularly the original animated series) hit an apex in 1990, when a full-length, live-action motion picture adaptation of TMNT was released. If you were a kid at the time, the original TMNT movie was a big deal, and it was even the biggest family film released in its year. Watching it today, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is obviously a product of its time, but it can still provide some silly, harmless, nostalgic fun.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the titular reptiles are brought to life with costumes provided by the Jim Henson Company which, despite some humorous mouth movements, still look quite impressive. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael have their usual personalities (Leonardo is the brave leader, Donatello is the brains, Michelangelo is the joker, and Raphael is the tough guy). They are trained by their master in ninjitsu and adoptive father, a giant rat named Splinter. Together, Master Splinter and the turtles live in the sewers of New York City, fighting crime at nightfall, obsessing over pizza in the day, as ninjas do.
The mutants find allies in news reporter April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) and the hockey-masked vigilante Casey Jones (Elias Koteas).
Unfortunately for this oddball troupe of heroes, a crime wave is sweeping the city. The samurai-like villain known as the Shredder (James Saito) has resurrected the Foot Clan – an army of criminal ninjas that once caused mayhem in Japan – in New York City. Shredder is recruiting easily-manipulated youths to join the ranks in the Foot Clan.
One of the downsides of the film is that the Shredder really doesn’t have a grander scheme than that. He’s just recruiting a bunch of kids to join his organization, and after that all they ever seem to do is steal stuff. It’s bad, sure. But not exactly a compelling plot for a mysterious, evil samurai.
Anyway, things get personal when the Foot Clan kidnaps Master Splinter, with the turtles, April and Casey then making it their mission to take out the Foot Clan and rescue the turtles’ mentor.
It’s as simple of a plot as it gets, but again, it’s harmless fun. There are plenty of fight scenes which are pretty entertaining, even if they play more like segments of music videos as opposed to traditional fight scenes. As stated, the costumes for the turtles themselves – as well as the puppet for Splinter – are one of the biggest highlights, especially when watching today, when such practical effects are a rarity.
Of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t a movie for everybody. It definitely caters to fans of the franchise, and unless you grew up with the Turtles or are currently growing up with them, there’s probably not enough here to keep audiences entertained.
If you are a TMNT fan, however, then the 1990 film does provide a good time. I myself fit into the TMNT boat, and the 1990 film is one I still watch from time to time. I’m not one to simply fall for nostalgia, with many 90s movies I once enjoyed being practically unwatchable today. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, despite being goofy and underdeveloped, still makes for a fun viewing every once in a while.
Even if some of the enjoyment is ironic, fun is fun. And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? It’s fun.