Before I get into this, the format in which I credit the cast for this film is "voice/guy in suit", as each main character here has one of each, including Tatsu for whatever reason... moving on, however.
Going way back to being about 6, I was introduced to these guys through a handful of close friends. For me, it was word of mouth at school. I checked out the cartoon, was instantly hooked, and got quite the haul of Turtle toys over the next few years. It can't be explained, but there was just something about them we all loved.
This particular movie is about as close as things get to the original source material. Not the cartoon, I'm talking the old, black and white comic book that made these guys dark, totally badass, and every one of them wore red bandanas, not just Raph. Instead, they were really only distinguishable by their weapons. However by the time this movie came along, the cartoon and the toys were what we were focused on. So the film combined the efforts of the comic book with the cartoon to give us kids everything we deserved. To this day, I still claim this as the end all, be all of 'TMNT' films.
Okay, so basic plot - a backstory within the film tells us a brief origin of the characters, and those taking the time to read this probably already know it. Hell, you probably know it from today's material anyway. These guys never really went away or took a break. Basically, lost ooze in sewer = 1 mutant rat named Splinter (Kevin Clash) and 4 mutant turtles named after Renaissance artists, Leonardo (Brian Tochi/David Forman), Michaelangelo (Robbie Rist/Michelan Sisti), Donatello (Corey Feldman/Leif Tilden) and Raphael (Josh Pais).
They find themselves up against a gang of ninja thieves known as the Foot Clan, headed by Shredder and his lackey, Tatsu (Michael McConnohie/Toshishiro Obata). These guys are going all around the city of New York, robbing it blind. Their paths cross with news reporter April O'Niel (Judith Hoag) who is doing a story on the whole situation. The turtles get involved when Raph finds her in the subway, having been attacked in an attempt to keep her lips sealed. He takes her back to their lair for recovery, but is unknowingly followed.
Shit really hits the fan when their master, Splinter, is soon kidnapped by the Shredder, who holds him captive, trying to get answers from on how the turtles know how to fight like they do. April ends up helping them out, and caught in the middle of it all are one runaway teenager named Danny (Michael Turney), who's caught between helping the turtles and working for the Foot, and Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) who's kind of a random addition to everything, but makes for some decent comedy relief and is a great help in a fight.
It might sound crazy, but this is one of those childhood films that I don't only love due to nostalgia, but love because it actually does tell a good story about characters I care about. You can watch this as an adult and see it as a sort of coming of age movie, as the Turtles have to learn to work as a team, have to come into their own to rescue Splinter, and have to take Splinter's teachings seriously in order to do it.
While Leo and Don are doing pretty well, we do get that Mike and Raph have a bit of growing to do - Mike with his immaturity and Raph with his temper. I could always find myself empathizing with those two characters the most, especially after the bonfire scene, which I'm not ashamed to admit manages to move me when I see it these days. I mean, while it's a fun movie, one may argue "for kids", it actually does get pretty deep at points. It's not just some action movie where you see these turtles kicking ass and taking names. They take the time to get some messages across subtly, and a big part of it all is how important family is - remembering that family can also mean friends!
Anyway, as I mentioned before, the 'Turtles' never really went away or took a break. They simmered down here and there, but have pretty well remained a constant in pop culture. But I can probably say with all sincerity that they were never, ever as big as they were in the late 80's and early 90's. They were everywhere back then! If the cartoon didn't give us enough (which was already an overload), the movie pretty much marked their taking over of the world (at least in my head). So, if you're a fan who hasn't taken a look at this 1990 classic, I strongly urge you to do so. Parts may be a bit dated, but everything that made this movie great is still there, and that includes the master puppetry of Jim Henson's Creature Shop when the man was still alive and kicking!