We all have those movies we love to go to for a comfort zone of sorts. Whether one needs cheering up or one is craving a bit of nostalgia for what some may consider an altogether "simpler time," these films hit us in an extraordinary way that fills our hearts with joy, whether we've seen them a thousand times or not. The original 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is one such film from this category for me, marking one of the all-time most significant moments from my childhood, and it's a film I can still watch today and be thoroughly entertained by.
Like most fans my age, I started with the 80's animated series, collected the toys and merchandise, and when a live-action movie was teased, we all collectively lost our damn minds. This was a time with no YouTube or IMDb, and even the mass use of the internet itself wasn't a thing yet. We had to be lucky to be able to watch movie trailers back then, be it by an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment or by seeing it in theatres, which, much like today, is a roll of the dice (for the most part). Most of what we had to go by at the time was the accompanying teaser picture of the four turtle heads poking out (*giggle*) of the sewer.
Anyway, it wasn't long until we were all making our parents stimulate the box office to fulfill our addiction. It was everything we hoped it would be and more. The costumes were incredible, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) was part of it, the music was super catchy, it had humour, it had action, it was edgy in comparison to the cartoon, Raphael swore, it was violent, and it marks (I think) Jim Henson's last work of brilliance by being, quite frankly, the only genuinely awesome costume design to ever come from a live-action 'TMNT' anything!
I can honestly still picture it. I went to the mall's theatre to see it (sadly, that's no longer there), sitting close to the front row with my brother and a couple of other kids, who were family friends, while our respective mothers sat closer to the middle back. I can still hear my brother telling me how he "heard Casey Jones was in this!" and leaving, hearing at least one of our mothers say how they thought it may have been too violent, which, when you were a kid in the 90s, meant it was even more remarkable because it felt a bit like "forbidden fruit."
I don't recall anything before or after the movie, but I remember a lot during the movie. There may have even been a point where we had to move back to sit with our mothers because I also remember some dude's head blocking my view a bit, but it's a memory that lives rent-free in my head. I was just 7 years old at the time! So that's a big chunk of my experience, but the point is, this is how strongly the movie impacted me. And if you can believe it, even sitting here as a grown-ass man, it's still something I'd consider an excellent movie!
In New York City, crime continues to increase as a massive gang of runaway youths continue to steal, rob and loot their way across the town. Some of them are trained in martial arts by Tatsu (Toshishiro Obata) and led by The Shredder (James Saito). Reporting on their crimes is April O'Neil (Judith Hoag), whose words get her into much more trouble than her reporting is worth. Soon, she finds herself under the protection of four very unusual citizens of Manhattan: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their master, Splinter (Kevin Clash).
To make the backstory short, the turtles, Leonardo (Brian Tochi), Michaelangelo (Robbie Rist), Donatello (Corey Feldman) and Raphael (Josh Pais), along with Splinter, were mutated by a mysterious ooze they stumbled on in the sewers of Manhattan and have been living down there since, training in Ninjitsu and preparing themselves to be heroes who will be able to go out and put a stop to all this crime. I may not be selling it very well based on those bare bones of the plot, but there's more to appreciate here than what sounds like just another B movie about sewer-dwelling creatures.
This movie has a strong statement about family surrounding it in various forms. Using a character named Danny (Michael Turney) as an example, he's a whiny teen who assumes his Dad hates him. He seeks refuge with the gang run by The Shredder, who, in a sense, brainwashes these kids to think no one cares for him, but he does. When you grow up, you get to understand that this is how cults work, and there's a whole new level of scary to it when you remember that, as a kid, the Foot Clan HQ looked amazing.
The other side of it is the turtles themselves. While Michaelangelo and Donatello provide comic relief, Leonardo and Raphael are constantly at odds and must learn to work together. As a kid watching this, it was just because it was Ninja Turtles on the big screen. But as an adult, though one can still find its flaws, it's a film that can be watched in a whole new way when one considers how deep it gets at times. Perhaps I've just grown into a big kid, and perhaps it's a bit dated in some respects, but I still contest that no other 'Ninja Turtle' movie packs quite this much "Turtle Power."