Eric D. Snider

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

(Written for a 2002 "Reviewer Rumble" tournament among contributors.)

When the conversation turns to high-quality film adaptations of beloved comic books, certain films will invariably crop up. "Spider-Man" will be mentioned, as will the original "Superman" and the first "Batman," and maybe "X-Men." But what happens if you bring up "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"? The other people avoid your glance, shuffle their feet and awkwardly change the subject, that's what. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was a bad adaptation of a comic book that was highly questionable to begin with. You should have known that; it serves you right that now your movie friends think you're a moron.

In our analysis of this 1990 film, which starred no one and spawned two even more no-one-starring sequels, we must begin by accepting one thing: No film whose premise is that radiation can turn turtles into humanoids can be worth more than $1.50. If a person paid full price to see this movie, knowing full well what it was about, well, again, it serves that person right.

According to the lore put forth in the film, 15 years earlier -- 1975, that would be -- a rat by the name of Splinter happened upon four baby turtles who were crawling around in radioactive waste, as turtles are wont to do. The turtles and the rat began growing at an alarming rate, and they even learned to speak English, though I'm not sure how that happened, since they lived in the sewer and had no human contact. Anyway, they learned it, and the turtles immediately began speaking in 1980s slang, despite it being 1975, 1976 at the latest. That's how highly evolved they were.

Now, in the present day, they are pizza-loving teen-agers, named by Splinter after various Italian artists: Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo. The happy fivesome has a cozy subterranean dwelling in the sewers of Manhattan, and probably pay more rent on it than you would for a studio apartment in SoHo. Splinter has trained the teen-age mutant turtles in the art of ninja warfare, but has also insisted they stay out of sight, except that Raphael is allowed to put on a hat and trenchcoat and walk the streets, so frankly I'm not sure Splinter really knows WHAT he wants. Parenthood was kind of thrust upon him, and I suspect four active teen-age boys are more than an elderly Japanese rodent can fairly be expected to handle.

On the streets above them, Manhattan is embroiled in a crime wave perpetrated by hooligans so well-trained that no one ever even sees them, much less catch them in the act. After hearing this information delivered by a TV reporter named April, we promptly see April stumble right into the middle of a heist, thus both seeing them and catching them in the act, which is either an extraordinary coincidence or a bad plot device. She is rescued from the criminals by the TMNTs, all of whom are smitten with her beauty. (This is where it's apparent the boys have spent too much time away from society, as April is average-looking at best. Also, let us not contemplate the sorts of lustful images that must run through the mind of a hormonal teen-age turtle.)

April befriends them, as does a weird hockey-playing renegade named Casey Jones. I'm not sure how he fits into the equation, exactly; one minute he's fighting with Raphael, the next minute he's friends with everybody. I figure the screenwriters wanted him to be in the movie, couldn't figure out how to get him there, so they just threw him in randomly and hoped we wouldn't notice.

The thieves, it turns out, are part of a highly efficient organization called The Foot, run by a Darth Vader-ish fellow named The Shredder. He also commands an army of stealthy ninjas, which is good, because it means the TMNTs will have a lot of people to fight. Fight scenes in movies like this are like sex scenes in porno movies: You can tell the dialogue exists solely to lead up to them, and they're the only conceivable reason you'd ever watch the thing. In fact, one line in this movie -- "Looks like you're the one who needs to be taught a lesson" -- sounds like it could lead to either a fight OR a sexual encounter. (In this case, considering it is delivered by Casey Jones to Raphael, I am glad it turned into a fight.)

The turtles had not particularly considered themselves a crime-fighting task force, but then Splinter gets rat-napped by Shredder, so what can you do?

The movie has some memorable dialogue, but not the way the movie intended it. One of Shredder's ninjas approaches April at one point and says, "I de-river a message to you," which is so ethnically inconsiderate that it amuses me greatly. Another time, one of Shredder's lackeys says, "Why do the turtles trouble you, Master?," which has that rare quality of being as nonsensical out of context as it is in.

The dialogue the movie thinks is good is actually bad. For example, this exchange between one of the turtles (they all look and sound alike) and Casey:

TURTLE: You're a claustrophobic.
CASEY: Hey, I've never even LOOKED at another guy.

Men were paid money to write these words, and other men were paid money to speak them.

Throughout the film, the title characters look like men in turtle costumes. Even after suspending my disbelief, I can't get past the fact that they look nothing like actual turtles. Maybe if their shells didn't bend every time someone touched them, or if they ever retracted their heads or arms into their bodies. Maybe if they died after two weeks and Splinter flushed them down a toilet.

In terms of action movies aimed at young, developmentally disabled children, this one is harmless and unmemorable. But let us all be grateful the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze died out as quickly as it did, and that more than a decade has passed since then. We as Americans can be forgiven for that brief indiscretion, considering how long we've been clean now.

Grade: D

Rated PG

1 hr., 33 min.

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This item has 30 comments

  1. Tim says:

    Hey Pal, You dont know nothing about what kids like do you? I was a big TMNT fan when i was a kid and my son now is to. Kid's love TMNT,and the new movie is gonna kick but.Just cause you didnt like them doesnt mean the movies sucked,Anyway why dont you do some research and see just how much the first TMNT movie made in theaters.

  2. Aaron says:

    Easy there, Timmy. I liked TMNT when I was a kid, too. But I was 11. I liked a lot of crap (MC Hammer, anyone?). I now freely admit that TMNT forms an important layer in that steaming pile, regardless of how much money it made.

  3. Ben C. says:

    Going back to Eric's age-old arguement... "Just because it made a lot of money and is popular doesn't make it good, or worth seeing."

  4. John Doe says:

    I won't defend TMNT as being some incredibly quality production. That being said, I still like TMNT. Eric likes Snakes on a Plane. I think everyone is entitled to the belief that a bad movie is enjoyable. But don't confuse something you like with something that is of artistic worth.

  5. BeeDub says:

    I too have a soft spot for this movie, despite its (many) flaws. Nostalgia plays a big part, of course. The second and third movies were absolutely terrible (though I can still sing a few bars of Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap"). I am cautiously optimistic about the new CG movie, but know better than to get my hopes up. Cowabunga.

  6. Sharell says:

    I love people who say "Easy there"!

  7. Ray says:

    Uh-oh! There's a new TMNT in the works - this time apparently a cartoon.

  8. albapuella says:

    Everyone's entitled to their opinion and, in terms of great film making, TMNT wasn't cinema at it's highest. However, I take exception to your remarks about "young, developmentally disabled children" . . . I certainly wasn't a developmentally disabled child and I managed to enjoy this film when I first saw it - Hell, I still do. Maybe my tastes are just too plebeian but I actually liked the line you lampooned.

  9. David says:

    This review should be dismissed on the grounds that it forgets that the film is for children, strictly for fun. Do not backtrack and justify why you like this movie, or deride your taste to preserve an image. Leave such elitism to the puffed ups who live a sadder life because they cannot enjoy simple pleasures so easily.

  10. Jeff says:

    The turtles learned to speak English from Splinter. Before he was a rat, he was a human, and he knew English, imagine that. Shut up about the movie not being realistic, it's a movie! One more thing, April is a babe, think about what was in style back then, it makes sense.

  11. Zoe says:

    Hey jackass. There are plenty of other movies out there that are so bad and are unenjoyable. Also its not great but its rather satisfying, the movie is a classic. Your just some cynical moron. You try making a TMNT movie, and stick to the nature and attitude, bet it would suck. Its one thing to review a movie but a completly different aspect to make one.

  12. Andrew D says:

    My opinion on this subject happens to differ from the writer's, so this critique is clearly unwarranted, unfair, unjust, unpalatable, and undeniably undeserved. Therefore, I will inform the author of his intellectual inferiority with illogical arguments and unrelated insults while misspelling every other word. Satisfied with my moral conquest, I will leave the comfortably anonymous realm of the internet and continue to believe that the world revolves around me. My severe lack of friends only further proves the ubiquitous inability of my peers to acknowledge my overwhelming excellence. I frequently daydream that I can fly.

  13. Peter Lemonjello says:

    Actually Jeff, according to the movie Splinter was always a rat. There is even a scene of him as a rat learning martial arts by copying his owner. He grew to human size because of the same 'ooze' that mutated the titular turtles. And yes, it saddens me that I know that...

  14. Chrystle says:

    Wow! I don't think I've seen this many angry reviews for one film that came out 17 years ago. Way to go Eric; you've stirred up the masses now.

  15. Cory says:

    Andrew D #12: "I frequently daydream that I can fly."

    Love it!

  16. John Doe says:

    Yeah, Splinter was a rat in the movie, and from what I hear, in the original comic. In the cartoon he was a man who mutated into a man-rat. The movie doesn't make sense in that way, but it's still way fun to watch. I just learned today that social psychologists dubbed it the most violent movie ever made for children. Who knew?

    I do think Eric is wrong with all the generalizations he made about people being ashamed of this movie and it being awful. There are still lots of fans of it who are intelligent and just like a fun movie once in a while. We could use the same problems Eric has with this movie on Spider-Man too because both are comics and have little basis in reality.

  17. Crystal says:

    I have to say that I am a TMNT fan of the first two...I have yet to bring myself to see the third. Well this CG one that is out scares me, they just, in my opinion, where not ment to be CGd. I know that nowaday the turles aren't that good when measured to other cartoon movies, but heck I cannot help but love them...Cowabunga Dude!!!

  18. BEAY says:

    THIS MOVIE MAY HAVE SUCKED BUT TO A FAN IT WAS ALL THAT AND A BAG OF CHIPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Jacques says:

    well......i am now 19..... and if someone brought this movie over to my house..i would watch it over an over again.

    The movie wasnt written for adults to watch, it was written for the younger generation. They dont look at things like rubber outfits, and corny dialogue,

    they love the action.

    I still donmt understand why directors and producers, dont hire critics whilst filming the movie, so that oncew its released there are no problems!

    Oh was 1990, what other technological "Thing" could they have used to make a turtle outfit???? had to be the rubber.

    Even though it may be really fake, its still better then the stupid spiderman movie that was made a few years before....

    I dont care what critics say.......TMNT are the greatest super heroes!

  20. peter says:

    and its KC not casey u retard

  21. Leonardo says:

    Ummm.. well being 19 years old and having already started college as a game designer i know that during the time of this movie it was friggen awesome... i still have the cartoon on tape (thats right VHS) and i watch them with my son every now and then. He loves the turtles and i think deep down we all somewhere have a soft spot for something... For some of us its the turtles so please... dont bash the turtles after all... i was named after one!... not joking

  22. AWOL says:

    I am at a loss for words. While a fan of the original movie (I was four when it was released), I cannot understand how people can become so angry over a review of a (artistically speaking) mediocre movie that was made nearly two decades ago. Another problem I have with these commentors is their inability to use spell check or proper punctuation and then call Eric a "retard". I do not pretend to be an expert at the grammar but I believe I can make a coherent sentence. George Carlin once said, "Our thoughts are based on language and therefore our quality of thoughts is based on the quality of our languge". We should all strive to speak with some semblace of quality...... I guess I wasn't at a loss for words.

  23. mutantmagnet says:

    The review was flawed in some areas.

    "On the streets above them, Manhattan is embroiled in a crime wave perpetrated by hooligans so well-trained that no one ever even sees them, much less catches them in the act."

    Except for all those times people saw enough to know teenagers were committing the crimes.

    "You can tell the dialogue exists solely to lead up to them, and they're the only conceivable reason you'd ever watch the thing."

    For a martial arts flick the movie the lead up to each fight was fairly natural. The exception was the very first fight where April had to be rescued by all four turtles at the same time she got a really good look at some of the highly trained thieves.

    Aside from that the dialogue didn't solely exist to set up the next fight scene. They also were meant to address the emotional issues of the teenagers who were lashing out at society and Raphael's own issues of forming a proper bond with his family.

    "or if they ever retracted their heads or arms into their bodies."

    Like the time one of them did that to avoid a battle axe to the neck?

    "The movie has some memorable dialogue, but not the way the movie intended it."
    TMNT was always about snark worthy dialogue for its comedic value. What you mentioned was more likely intentional than you assumed.

    "We as Americans can be forgiven for that brief indiscretion, considering how long we've been clean now."

    You didn't see Battlefield:Earth prior to writing this review?

    Anyway it's obvious the purpose of the review is meant to poke some lighthearted fun at the movie (loved that crack about Raph's and Casey's potential sex wrong but funny) but I don't agree with the final conclusion that it was generally bad or unmemorable.

    It surprisingly holds up as a finer example of cinema than movies that remake classics and screwup big time (e.g. The Day the Earth Stood Still, I am Legend) and feels more believable than many other action films (e.g. Live Free and Die Harder)

    Compared to other comic movies this one certainly would be considered better than some third and possibly second iterations of highly rated comic movie series.

  24. Brittany says:

    I dont understand what the big damn deal is. First off, it is a movie based on a cartoon kids show about 4 BIGASS MUTATED NINJA FIGHTING TURTLES LED BY A RAT! ok now that everyone knows what then why would anyone EVER try to review this film so negatively? Sorry we don't all like unknown indie films that have some message to them that is so deep it becomes complicated and everyone resorts to GOOGLE to try and figure out wtf the movie was trying to say. TMNT is an awesome movie for what it is. It has great lines in it such as "Can we keep her?" when talking about April being in their house of "Ninja kick the damn rabbit" while they are watching the cartoon of the tortise and the hair. I mean really--this movie was amazing for what it was about! I loved it and my opinion is the only one that should ever matter. I bought it for my 3 year old son recently and we have watched it probably 500 times in a week!! LOVE IT!!

  25. osrevad says:

    I thought you were serious until you said, "my opinion is the only one that should ever matter."

  26. Levin says:

    Starred no one? No one? The voice of one of the turtles was Corey freakin' Feldman! Take that, smart guy. Sam Rockwell is apparently also credited in a minor role, but don't go to see it just for that, folks.

    I only spent $1 per ticket to see this, but I did spend $2 total as I took a classy girl friend of mine to see it. The embarassment of having taken her there was worse than any monetary loss.

  27. Jonathan Sullivan says:

    Out of the four TMNT movies, the first one is definitely the best. It was pretty dark for a kid's movie, and I will vouch for it to this day. I will NEVER, however, say anything good about the next two. I hate those movies with a passion.

  28. Brother Reed says:

    Eric, did you ever watch the cartoon show, or was it after your time?

  29. Joe says:

    This was one of my favorite movies as a kid (I was 10 when it was released). It's still a classic. And yes, it's terrible. I just always wished that they made a rated "R" ninja turtles with heads being lopped off "300" style and Michelangelo doing April "Turtle" style, but I guess I'm pretty messed up :)

  30. midget says:

    Ok the tmnt rock im almost out of college and i still watch the movies!

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