Our reviews of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition (published August 14th, 2009) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Blu-Ray) (published August 17th, 2009) are also available.
All this…and Vanilla Ice too!
When we last left our happy-go-lucky gang of moronic mutants, they had just defeated Shredder and his clubbed Foot squad and were hanging out with newscaster and noted tortoise connoisseur April O'Neal. Well, it's one sequel later and things are still pretty much the same. Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo are all co-habitating with the ever tolerant April, munching on pizza, and leaving larger than normal turtle droppings all over her New York apartment. While these puerile reptiles argue over where next to spread their slug-like slime, their Shreddered cheese nemesis survives a few days in a NYC landfill and returns to the Feet brigade with a nifty idea. They will steal Ooze, the metamorphosizing wonder gel from Professor Perry over at TGRI labs and create their own race of genetically altered freaks named after renaissance painters. So they kidnap the gunk master, turn a wolf and a snapping turtle (real original there, Shred head) into oversized versions of Snufflupaguss with mange, and try to figure out ways to lure the nitwit ninjas to their doom. Turns out it doesn't take very much, just a mini martial artist named Keno and some front row seats to a Vanilla Ice concert. Before you want it, it's time for a battle fudge royale.
Poor, poor Jim Henson. In a legacy that encompasses over 40 years in entertainment and the creation of thousands of memorable characters, his resume will always be tainted with the glaring inclusion of his company's work on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies. It must not make his rest in the afterlife that peaceful. If anything, anytime someone in the hereafter mentions these oversized wads of articulated green apple chewing gum, old Jimbo must fire up the Limbo laser and blast the Christian Scientist out of them. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, Henson's Creature Shop was viewed as the cutting edge of imaginary animated character technology. Movies have come a long way in the 11 years since TMNTII was released, and computers (along with the obsessiveness of Internet fanboys) have more or less guaranteed that a travesty of this magnitude will never be foisted upon the public again. It's not that the film is incompetently made or amateurishly directed. No. It's just so flat. There is no energy here, no electrifying or awe inspiring moments, nothing to make us believe in the turtles and their world. And part of the problem is with Henson's tacky tortoises. They are wooden, barely articulate blobs of clay, with as much emotional expression as you'd expect from an oversized smelly surfer sock puppet. They cheapen the whole notion of teenagers, mutants, ninjas, and turtles and provide yet another example of the filmmakers and the studio being more honest to the financial and not the artistic bottom line. Lest you question the reality of TMNTII as a marketing ploy, just look who the featured talent is. It hard to imagine that someone other than a bean counting bozo could envision said Robert Van Winkle as enough of a musical legend that his presence would turn this movie into a certified classic.
The hackjob on the turtles by Hollywood and children's television explains it more clearly. These onscreen intellectually vacant characters are lightyears away from their comic book (excuse me—graphic novel) counterparts. Where the illustrated warriors were immature, yet fierce and bound by their ninja code, cinematically we get a lame surfer dude, a couple of blubbering retards, and Louis DePalma as a cold-blooded Bowery boy. The concept that made the comic so compelling was that these were real animals, from Splinter down to our heroes, who have been genetically altered to think and act like noble eastern warriors and their sensei. On film, it turns into an episode of the Muppets Kick Ass, and recalls the changes made to transform the printed page into the painted cell for the successful, albeit equally vacuous animated series. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze sells everyone and everything short. It does not offer a compelling story, interesting camerawork, or even fun eye candy. It is a deadly dull affair. It's sad when a big budget special effects driven film makes one long for the character complexity of a cartoon. About the only interesting aspect here is that a film that relies so heavily on violence and fighting would be so geared towards kids. While there is no blood or death, be sure that the message of solving your problems via mindless fisticuffs is front and center. If this film franchise had been fashioned with another forbidden media ideal in mind (i.e. sex) and called Malformed Pre-Teen Slut Puppies, there would be a HUGE public outcry. Seems that as long as we steer clear of the hentai and hyper-sick scissor porn and only undermine Japan by laying logs all over their ancient ninja traditions, parents will find it perfectly acceptable.
New Line offers a pretty lame transfer to match the witless wonders of this film. The picture is washed out, fuzzy at times, and lacks none of the clarity and crispness you expect DVD to add to an image. On the other hand, the Dolby Digital soundtracks are just fine and really enhance the overall putridness of Vanilla Ice and his band. For extras, we get a trailer that exemplifies the hard sell nature of this production, emphasizing the Great White Crapper and the insipid notion of turtle dancing. Add another vague go round with New Line's rapidly becoming annoying Pick a Flick game (otherwise known as Choose Your Lobby Card) and this package becomes a serious cause for depression. Films like Spy Kids and The Iron Giant have shown that both animated and live-action children's films can be filled with excitement, joy, and wonder. About the only thing you'll marvel over after sitting through TMNTII: TSOTO is that anyone thought this, the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, or Pokémon would last longer than a few microseconds on the pop culture time clock. After all, not everyone can have the Iceman's pop culture staying power. Ice Ice Baby!
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