He Says, She Says: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

My husband Jonathan and I have been taking turns choosing movies we care about a lot to share with each other; both of us getting to catch up on a lot we’ve missed. We’re posting about a selected ones of these films on our blogs.

The Movie

Movie: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Info: 1990 USA. Director: Steve Barron. Starring: Judith Hoeg, Elias Koteas, Josh Pais, Michelan Sisti, Leif Tilden, David Forman, Corey Feldman, Robbie Rist.
Chooser: Jonathan
Date and Method Watched: May 14, on DVD

He Says…

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is one of those films you bring out to the significant other with hesitation. I’m reminded of an episode of How I Met Your Mother where one of Ted’s (many) issues was showing his girlfriend Star Wars for the first time. Would she be all over it, or would she laugh at all the ridiculous puppetry and special effects? How would that affect the relationship? As it turned out, she actually DIDN’T like the movie, but was able to appreciate it because Ted loved it. And while I wouldn’t say I hold TMNT:TM to a similar level of excellence, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of nervous about showing off this treasured piece of childhood to my wife. I mean, what if she DIDN’T like it?

Well, I’ll let her fill you in on what she thought. What I will add are some thoughts from our recent re-watch. As it turns out, TMNT:TM has aged a lot better than I was expecting it to. Having not seen it for almost ten years, I was partially ready to start apologizing for this part and that, much like I would for something like Super Mario Brothers. The puppetry and special effects held up quite nicely, hitting a realism at times that most CGI still has trouble getting right. The dated elements were more charming than cheesy, and the more somber moments still hit the absolute sweet spot for me – Raphael’s and Splinter’s private conversation being the prime example. The overall goofiness held up as well, and remains the part that makes this film near and dear to my heart.

Now to dust off my copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and cross my fingers once more!

She Says…

Of all the movies Jonathan kept mentioning to me as his touchstone movies growing up, the kind of cheesy but fun movies that he has strong emotional connections to, this one initially gave me the most pause. I was like, really, you’re going to eventually make me watch a movie about overgrown talking turtles who break out ninja moves and eat pizza? Yet when it came down to it, it was actually me who suggested we go ahead and take the plunge. And I was actually kind of weirdly excited about it, too. Probably it was the somewhat scary degree to which I’ve gotten into comics and superheroes lately, and with enough comic books under my belt, the mental jump to mutant ninja turtles apparently isn’t actually that large.

And you know what, I actually quite enjoyed the film. Sure, it’s cheesy, and it’s very much a product of its time, but those things give it a quaint charm that may not be exactly what the creators were going for at the time, but made it work for me now anyway. Definitely the kind of film you just have to give yourself over to, though, what with the mixture of an investigative journalism story and, well, mutant ninja turtles. Between the goofiness of the turtles, the “gangs are bad!” message, the meet-cute of the logically incompatible love interests, and the over-earnest wisdom of the giant rat Splinter, there’s a lot here that could easily be turn-offs, but thankfully (for both my evening and my marriage!), I just found it all pretty endearing. Up to and including the special effects, which are actually much better than I expected. I like practical effects anyway, and the puppets and animatronic elements are right up my alley, and the puppet work on the turtles’ faces is quite good.

All in all, I expected to at most enjoy it as a so-bad-it’s-good movie, but I actually enjoyed it for real. I’m sure we’ll get to the sequel soon enough, and I’ll get more ooze than I know what do to with (this is starting to sound like a not-very-subtle euphemism, so I’m gonna stop right there).


Preserving the Fragments: The White Shadow


Scorecard: May 2012


  1. I still recall very clearly my mom taking my brother and me to see this at the now-defunct Showcase Cinemas in Louisville when it opened. That was a big deal in itself, because we didn’t go to see very many movies at that point in our lives, and when we did, it was almost always at the second run theaters. We got there, though, to discover it was actually sold out! The corridors were packed with kids in TMNT T-shirts and I can even recall someone being in a Turtle costume. Maybe it was something the theater arranged, maybe it was an overly zealous fan; I can’t say. Mom bought tickets for the next showing and we screwed off for an hour or so before returning. I think we went to have dinner. We got mini-posters from that screening, and I had mine for quite a while. I can’t now account for its fate, though.

    What struck me most in the movie was how little it resembled the animated series with which I was acquainted. This story was much less slapstick-y and clearly wanted to exist in the “real” world. There were no inter-dimensional beings, for instance, and Donatello didn’t have a ton of outrageous gadgets. There is a skateboard in the movie, but it’s just a regular skateboard. When you’re 10, these kinds of things constitute “realism.” I also wondered why they didn’t cast the voice actors from the cartoon for the movie, since their voices were familiar to the kids in the theater and it was obvious that the actors in the suits weren’t providing their own voices.

    Somewhere along the line, though, I got past my milieu prejudices and was able to acclimate to the movie for what it was. By the time we left the theater, I had happily accepted it. I bought the soundtrack on cassette, which was awesome because it included Partners in Kryme’s “T-U-R-T-L-E Power” from the end credits as well as an MC Hammer song not found on any of his own albums (“This Is What We Do”). When I recently made a Hammer mix disc, that song had to go on it. I was given the movie on VHS for either my birthday or Christmas that year (having a December birthday, I can’t always recall which occasion) at both my mom’s and my dad’s, meaning wherever I was on any given weekend, I had access to it. I couldn’t guess how many times I watched it on tape.

    We spent a lot of Sundays with mom at malls, because they involved a lot of walking and window shopping – a cheap way to kill a day. We were almost always given a few bucks to spend at the ubiquitous dollar stores, and one day I found the First Comics collected edition of the first four issues of the original Eastman & Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book. For a dollar, hell yeah I bought it! Very quickly, I understood that this was what the movie was based on, and it all made much more sense to me why they had made no effort to resemble the animated series. That changed with the sequels, which were much more in the vain of silliness of the TV version and after reading the first four comics I began to resent the things that weren’t properly adapted.

    Later, I happily bought the movie on DVD and it was the first time I watched a movie with the dubbed foreign language track. Seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched this with the French audio track. Don’t even bother with the English subtitles. If you can combine this with drinking, it’s even better.

    A couple of years ago, a local theater hosted a midnight screening of it and my wife and I (both big fans) took my younger cousin to see it. She didn’t have the same enthusiasm we had, but she seemed to like it. Like Jonathan, I was prepared to apologize for it but discovered instead it had held up quite well. I credit that to the very thing that I initially resisted: its basis on the original comic book material.

    • I still haven’t had a chance to locate or check out the original comics, which I plan to do at some point. It would be nice to see the source of this adaptation and to compare and to see how the comics have developed since then. Image comics actually has a run of Turtles comics now I believe. May just check those out as well.

      • One thing to be aware of is that there were really two different TMNT comics. The original was done by Eastman & Laird. Later, Archie Comics got the license and they did a whole ongoing series but it was based on the cartoon. Eventually, as most animated tie-in comics are wont to do, it created its own continuity and mythology. I read the Archie stuff for a few years and rather liked them at the time, but they were certainly worlds apart from the original book.

    • Thanks for the extensive comment, Travis! :)

      It seems this film is really meaningful for a lot of people around our age. I remember when TMNT in general was really big, but I was never into it at all. Definitely took some leaps to get me ready to watch it now, but I’m glad I did, and I’m glad I waited to see it with someone who cares about it as much as Jonathan. ;)

      • The fun thing about the Turtles in general is the wry sense of humor. You’ll very likely find yourself in situations where the most obvious reaction is to quote from them. Pizza is never the same for anyone once they’ve accepted the Turtles into their lives.

  2. This, along with GHOST DAD and DUCKTALES: TREASURE OF THE LOST LAMP, was one of the first movies I ever saw in the theater. Of those three movies, this one was definitely the most memorable. I wasn’t expecting much–I was basically ordered to sit with my two younger brothers (who were obsessed with TMNT to the point that we actually had three pet turtles named after the shelled dudes) in the theater while my parents went to see something more “adult” and to their taste (by the way, I was only ten years old at the time. WTF, Mom and Dad?). I don’t remember much about it now, though. Actually, SECRET OF THE OOZE stands out more in my memory if only for the abysmal “Ninja Rap” by Vanilla Ice (which will now be in my head for the rest of the night). As you say, Jandy, the TURTLES movies are cheesy, but they do have some genuine moments of kitschy hilarity that I can appreciate.

    • I’m pretty sure I remember the Ducktales movie, too – I for sure watched the TV show ALL THE TIME. I don’t remember ever watching TMNT or being into any part of that phenomenon, though I remember it being very popular.

      “Kitschy hilarity” is a good word for it. They’re goofy, but they also have a kind of innocent exuberance that really pleases me. We’ll probably be jumping into Secret of the Ooze before too long – I know Jonathan has that one as well.

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