Features Live Action Movies

Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles
(UK: Teenage Mutant
Hero Turtles)

Director – Steve Barron – 1990 – US, UK – Cert. PG – 91m 38s (cut) – 93m 25s (cuts waived for 2003 reclassification) BBFC info here

** 1/2

What can you say about four turtles who accidentally wandered into radioactive material, which caused them to grow unnaturally large and speak strange words? Like “pizza!” Or who serve a ninja master in the form of a giant, talking, four foot rat named Splinter (voice and performer: Kevin Clash)?

Whatever else they might be, the turtles are certainly different. While they might well fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way, they certainly know where their priorities lie, and never give up their other, equally important aims – to party and to seek out that essential slice of pizza.

This is the final film on which the late, great puppet master Jim Henson (The Muppets TV series, 1976-81; The Dark Crystal, 1982) worked. Here, his directorial protégé Steve Barron brings to life not only Leonardo (voice: Brian Tochi, performer: David Foreman), Michelangelo (voice: Robbie Rist, performer: Michelan Sisti), Raphael (voice and performer: Josh Pais) and Donatello (voice: Corey Feldman, performer: Leif Tilden), but also the crazy, teen crime-ridden city under which they live. Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas play supporting human roles – TV news reporter April O’Neil and street vigilante Casey Jones respectively.

The juvenile crimewave is organised by something called The Foot, which is organised in turn by the baddie, Shredder (voice: a menacing David McCharen, performer: James Saito), former murderer of Splinter’s former Master Yoshi and his beautiful wife Tang Shen.

And so on and so forth. The plot gets pretty complicated, and the complexity surely isn’t helped in the UK by what looks suspiciously like a surfeit of censorship.

Anyone who’s seen the related merchandising will have heard of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles – apparently because someone in authority here decided that young children would be corrupted by the use of the word ‘ninja’. Do they really expect these kids to start throwing ninja weaponry at one another?

Whether the name does or doesn’t appear in the film title, the generally scant amount of ninja fighting gear on display, coupled with numerous holes in fight scenes and the like, makes for annoying viewing. One wishes the censor has displayed a little more good sense and a little less enthusiasm, as the version one is seeing in this country quite simply doesn’t feel like the full and unadulterated item. (The BBFC made almost two minutes worth of cuts for the original 1990 release.)

All this is a pity, because there’s a fair amount of energy to the proceedings – even if the characters are atrociously sketched by the script – and the end result is nowhere near as satisfying as one would expect the uncut version to be.

Review originally published in TNT magazine, 1990.

Trailer 1:

Trailer 2:

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