This week on Movies Worth Rewatching we’re talking about a tentpole of my childhood, the live action, big screen adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In 1984, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird co-created and self-published a one-off parody comic titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As of the time, neither Eastman or Laird had any notoriety in the world of comics and both worked full-time in other fields to support themselves. Lampooning several aspects of Frank Miller’s run on the Marvel Comic, Daredevil, Eastman and Laird crafted their own dark, gritty and somewhat ridiculous version of the ninja “ronin” story. Using money from a tax return and a small loan, the two men self-published a print run of 3,000 copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and sold them in person through comic conventions and at a select few local comic shops. The comic was an instant hit and went back for multiple reprints. The world couldn’t get enough of the Turtles. Eventually, developers would take interest and a Turtles action figure toy line and saturday morning cartoon would get made. Turtle fever was in full swing. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would go on to become a multi-million dollar pop-culture tentpole of the 80s; however, it’s important to remember it all started with just two poor guys drawing a comic in their kitchen.
Back in the spring of 1990, I was a crazy Ninja Turtles-loving 7-year old. My friends and I would spend most days in our backyards fashioning sticks and random found items into ninja weapons inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon we all loved so much. None of us had ever seen Kevin Eastman and Perter Laird’s original comic but we were Turtles fans through and through. When the news of a live action Ninja Turtles movie reached my small town in Alabama, my mind was absolutely blown. A dark, gritty, “realistic” TV spot began airing on local TV and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The Turtles weren’t just cartoons, they were real, I could see them in the real world. HOLY CRAP!!! On the night my family and friends went to go see the film in the theater, I remember standing in the longest line I’d ever seen. The local two-screen theater was giving away Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plush toys with any child admission, so of course we had to go. When my family’s turn came to buy our tickets and receive our plush toys, I remember my father haggling with the theater employee to get my brother and I our favorite Turtle characters instead of the random ones they handed us. When the movie finally started, I was in Ninja Turtle heaven. The experience of going to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that night was absolutely amazing and is one of my most vivid memories of my childhood. In my room of the house of my youth, a theatrical poster for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would hang on my wall for years and years reminding me of that magical night with my family and friends at the theater.
So, how does it hold up 22 years later?
Man, I love watching the Turtles!!! Despite its ridiculous premise, corny jokes and crazily dated soundtrack, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles holds up amazingly well in the modern world. My absolute favorite part of rewatching the film, besides enjoying a young, un-famous Sam Rockwell as the “lead thug,” are the mind-blowing full-body suits and puppets created by the Jim Henson Creature Shop of London. In this modern world overrun with computer generated effects, watching the work of master puppeteers at the height of their careers has become more and more satisfying. I know I’ve said it here before, but there’s just something about practical effects in movies that brings life to film that CG seldom recreates. The Turtles look and feel real, because they were real. Each of the Turtle costumes contained a stunt man, with several puppeteers remotely controlling the facial expressions of the characters head off-screen. These effects blew my mind as a child, and still manage to today.
Although it’s hard to believe now, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an independently produced film with an impossibly small budget of only $13 million. Just like the comic that inspired the film, a small group of unknown actors and filmmakers joined forces around a ludicrous idea and ended up creating an incredibly successful pop-culture juggernaut. The underdog origins of the Turtles are completely fascinating, and truly embody the “American Dream” of coming up from nothing. Worldwide, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brought in just over $200 million in theaters and was a tremendous success on VHS.
Inspired by rewatching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I’ve posted a drawing over on my personal blog. Every time I’ve redrawn a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle as an adult all those awesome childhood memories of playing Ninja Turtles come flooding back. This week I drew Raphael as he appeared in one of my favorite scenes in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, leaving the theater disguised in a trench coat and hat.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is available on DVD and on Blu-ray as part of a four-movie collection containing all of the Turtles’ big screen adventures. Although I won’t vouch for the other three movies in that collection, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is well worth your time and money. If you’re like me and grew up on the Turtles, I strongly urge you to watch this movie again as it holds up incredibly well to the test of time. If you’ve somehow never been exposed to the Ninja Turtles there’s no reason not to jump in now, just don’t expect much by way of character depth or development (it is a movie about mutated turtles trained in the art of ninjitsu, after all). Check out this classic for yourself, and don’t be surprised if you end up singing along with Partners in Kryme’s catchy “T-U-R-T-L-E Power” as it plays over the credits, I know I did. COWABUNGA DUDES!
by Mel Dale