There's probably no other movie out there that truly represents my childhood more than the one, the only 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from 1990. And while a movie like 'Ghostbusters' certainly counts in the same category, that's a movie one can appreciate on a different level as an adult. With something like 'Turtles', it's a combination of pure nostalgia, an honest-to-God good story for the Turtles, and it serves as one of the all-time best comic book adaptations in the history of cinema... but not a lot of people seem to get that detail.
Cards on the table, I've been straight up ridiculed for my firm opinions on this movie, due to it being so incredibly out of my childhood. But I'd challenge many of those people to give this one another shot today, and you'll see how well it has aged. Of course, it's not without some small details here and there that one can giggle at because they're so silly looking, for example, the actor's face in Donatello's mouth, or the occasional bending and flexing of shells and weapons. But I think I'll basically always feel that this is the Turtles, looking their best. And to a 7-year-old child seeing one of his favourite cartoons literally come to life in front of his eyes, this was a dream come true.
I think there are a lot of people out there who unfairly compare this one to 'Secret of the Ooze' or 'Turtles III'; both of which are very PG and, if anything, under the "guilty pleasure" category. While this one was still PG, there was a little something to be said about kids being able to get away with seeing plenty of violence on screen. While there's almost no blood (there's a sneaky bit of it on the floor of the Turtles' den in one scene), there are plenty of fight scenes involving real people as foot soldiers as opposed to the cartoon's robots. At the time, it was a bit much for parents and even lead to Michaelangelo not being allowed to use his nunchaku in 'Secret of the Ooze'. For us kids though, it was being able to watch something a little edgier than we're used to. I mean, it's not like Raphael or Leonardo went around stabbing people, but still.
A lot of the big takeaway from this movie now, as a grown man, has to do with the camaraderie between the four turtles, namely Leo and Raph, who sort of run the show here with their differences. A lot of it is the Turtles having to learn to come together as a team on their own, without their master Splinter's help, as the whole mission is actually to rescue Splinter from the clutches of The Shredder and his Foot Clan. On top of that, they were able to take a concept like the Ninja Turtles and add some honest drama to the story as well. The meditation scene is enough to make you care about these turtles. They even go the extra mile by making the wise-cracking Michaelangelo shed some tears. That scene is easily the heart of this movie.
This also presents us with another title to look back on in search of Easter eggs you never picked up on as a kid. For a few examples, every one of the turtles' respective body actors makes a cameo as someone else; there's an homage to creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird with the name "Lairdman Island"; if you look really hard, you can see a "Noid" figure during the opening credit sequence (The Noid being a Domino's Pizza mascot at the time - and the Turtles were always famous for their love of pizza), and at one point, Leonardo is holding a Bingo Beaver figure from an 80's kid's series, 'The Get-Along Gang'; there's even cross-promotion for 'Critters' - another New Line production and a joke towards it as Raph says "Ugh! Where do they come up with this stuff?" To top everything off, though, is the kid heading a lot of the Foot trainees is none other than Sam Rockwell - now one of my favourite actors
There's a bunch of interesting peeks behind the scenes that one can look at as an adult, giving the film a whole new level of darkness. At one point, Shredder's right-hand-man, Tatsu, beats the crap out of one of his Foot ninjas, Shinsho. Of course, this is one of the more violent scenes of the movie, as it's just plain brutality. However, in the original script, apparently, Shinsho was supposed to be beaten to death! Of course, kids were watching, so they had to mend something that serious by just making him knocked out and barely breathing instead. There's also the "claustrophobic" joke, which always kinda gets me nowadays, as Casey Jones mistakes it as a "homophobic" joke with the line "You want a fist in the mouth? I've never even looked at another guy before". The big joke, of course, is exactly how defensive he gets while being completely mistaken about the definition of a word.
So with all of that, I do encourage people from my generation to go back and take another look at this title from your childhood. I'd also encourage the new generation of Turtle fans to do the same just so you can take a look at what was a huge landmark event in the Turtles' history. This was back when Jim Henson and his Creature Shop had a hand in the design, and as far as I'm concerned, the turtles have never looked better than this. It kind of just gets more cartoonish from here. This was also the highest-grossing independent film of its time, and it sounds crazy, but the idea of a Ninja Turtles movie was generally ridiculed. This is a good example of something that sounds nuts on paper, but with the right fan base and the right execution, it goes to show that a little Turtle Power can go a long way.