Judge Mike Rubino is a party dude.
Our reviews of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 3 (published February 1st, 2006), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 4 (published May 31st, 2006), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 6 (published April 9th, 2008), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 9 (published August 21st, 2011), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze (published September 20th, 2002), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time (published October 16th, 2002), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Blu-Ray) (published August 17th, 2009), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics (published August 23rd, 2014), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Enter Shredder (published July 13th, 2013), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: NYC Showdown (published September 19th, 2015), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles (published March 23rd, 2013), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series (published November 26th, 2012), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Search for Splinter (published September 19th, 2015), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ultimate Showdown (published October 19th, 2013), TMNT (published August 13th, 2007), TMNT (Blu-ray) (published August 30th, 2007), and TMNT (HD DVD) (published August 16th, 2007) are also available.
YO! It's the green machine/Gonna rock the town without bein' seen
Ninja, Ninja, RAP! Ninja, Ninja, RAP!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise that, like so many things from our youth, is fueled by nostalgia over quality. I grew up with these four green ninjas, just as I did with G.I. Joe, Transformers, and other late '80s pillars of entertainment. Looking back at these films, however, I realize that these dudes are just annoying teenagers who like their pizza (and their dialogue) with extra cheese.
New Line has released all four films together in one gnarly boxed set, perfect for feeding that nostalgic hunger. Let's hope these movies still satisfy.
Facts of the Case
What began as a humble black and white comic book published by Mirage Studios back in 1984 has evolved (thanks to the green ooze of Hollywood) into a big-time film franchise. The series has spawned a trilogy of live action films, along with a fourth CGI installment, chronicling the lives of those four bodacious teenaged turtles: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael.
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990): The first film in the series is fairly faithful to the original comic books, and follows the four turtles, and Master Splinter, as they combat a ninja crime wave taking over New York City. Along the way, they meet local reporter April O'Neil (Judith Hoag, Big Love) and vigilante hockey enthusiast Casey Jones (Elias Koteas, Zodiac), who help them take down the leader of the ninjas: The Shredder (James Saito). At the time, the film was one of the most successful independent movies released.
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991): April O'Neil (Paige Turco, The Agency) is investigating an industrial company called TGRI, who is trying to clean up the pollution from its experiments. This pollution, fondly referred to as ooze, happens to be the very substance that caused the turtles to mutate into ninjas. Now, the four brothers must secure the last of the ooze before it falls into the hands of a resurrected Shredder (François Chau). They also find time to hit up a club with Vanilla Ice.
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (1993): The turtles discover a time traveling lantern that connects back to feudal Japan. But when April O'Neil accidentally gets sent back in time, and some Japanese guard travels to the present, the turtles have to go back in time to save her.
• TMNT (2007): The turtles have been out of commission for over a year. Leonardo is living alone, training to be a leader, in South America; Donatello is working in tech support; Michelangelo dresses up like a turtle for children's parties; and Raphael is a masked vigilante superhero called Nightwatcher. But when a tortured, immortal billionaire (you know the type) tries to capture 13 wild monsters before some planets align, the turtles have to learn to be a family again in order to save the world.
It must have been quite the daring endeavor at the end of the '80s to propose turning the hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon into a live action movie. Four costumed turtles doing karate feels more like an evolutionary step forward from Howard the Duck than an idea for the next big superhero franchise. Being just a child at the time, spending hours playing with my sweet TMNT action figures, I didn't really care. I just wanted to see some skateboarding ninjas kick the crap out of the Foot Clan.
Needless to say, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film met my childhood seal of approval. Back then there was something incredible about seeing these turtles in live action. They didn't look very real, but they looked real enough. Jim Henson's involvement in the first and second films lent a certain amount of nuance and liveliness to the characters—definitely more so than the lackluster dialogue. Revisiting the film after almost 20 years is a little like pulling back the curtain to reveal the Wizard of Childhood. The movie feels small now, the action is simplistic, and a lot of the jokes are cringe worthy.
More than anything else, the plot of the first film is the deal breaker. The film's pacing finds plenty of time to work in obligatory fight scenes (those Foot Clan guys sure do have impeccable timing), but once Splinter gets kidnapped everything grinds to a halt. Suddenly, the second of the act of the movie is consumed by the turtles retreating to a farm with Casey Jones and April—so those two can establish some sort of romantic subplot. From that point, the film just loses steam until it crosses the 90-minute mark with a clumsily shot final battle between Splinter and Shredder. The first movie apparently tried to strike a balance between the comics and the cartoon, and while it was one of the highest grossing pictures the year it was released, I can't say that balance works.
With the groundwork laid, the characters and toys firmly established, New Line really got things right with the second film, TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze. Forgoing the seriousness of the first film, Ooze feels like a full-on episode of the animated series. The action is plentiful, the dialogue is just as absurd, and Vanilla Ice makes his Hollywood debut with an outrageous ninja rap ("Go ninja, go ninja, go!").
The plot of Ooze is, again, fairly simple, as the turtles try to keep the powerful MacGuffin-in-a-Jar out of the hands of Shredder. The cast works much better this time around: Hoag is swapped out for Turco as April O'Neil, and turtle voices Corey Feldman and Josh Pais give way to Adam Carl and Laurie Faso respectively. The film also features Ernie Reyes, Jr. (Surf Ninjas) as Keno, a pizza delivery kid that teams up with the turtles to help save the day. Despite the personnel changes, the formula for the movie remains the same: some chit-chat, Foot Clan shows up, more chit-chat, the turtles invade the Foot Clan camp, more chit-chat, Vanilla Ice. In fact, both this movie and its predecessor end with rap songs about ninja turtles…they just don't make them like they used to.
That must be why the third installment in the franchise is absolutely horrible. It's completely devoid of any turtle-themed rap song. Actually, the reason TMNT III: Turtles in Time stinks is bigger than the lack of phat beats. With Jim Henson's Creature Shop out of the picture, the turtles look like high-end Halloween costumes. Their expressions are mechanical and they're inexplicably covered in dark liver spots—at least they get to put on samurai costumes for a bit. The samurai stuff does raise an interesting question regarding the roles of ninjas and samurais in feudal Japan. They actually managed to make a Ninja Turtles movie without any actual ninjas in it. Making matters worse is the horrendous dialogue, which chokes on the zeitgeist of 1993 so much that the movie probably felt dated two days after its release.
If there is one thing I realized by this point in the box set, it's that the TMNT movies may be the only franchise to really stick to the whole "the villain is really dead" story. Shredder dies unceremoniously at the end of the second film, and his absence is truly felt in Turtles in Time and the new animated film. Rather than resurrect this cool villain, the turtles have to wade through a confusing and dull time travel plot. No thanks.
TMNT, the first all-CGI installment in the series, is an update of the franchise focused purely at the kids in the crowd. This is a great thing, of course, since kids today need to start establishing the sorts of franchises they can return to 20 years from now when they're released in big futuristic box sets. Oddly enough, TMNT is probably the best movie in the set. While the story and the dialogue are goofy, the animation and art direction are solid. The movie isn't going to blow away any Pixar film, but as long as the characters are running, jumping, and fighting, everything looks fluid and cool. Director Kevin Munroe utilizes the CGI film world to actually move the camera in different ways—and really, the only time the animation is weak is when everyone's standing around talking.
The convoluted plot involving Max Winters (Patrick Stewart, X-Men), a rich, immortal businessman trying to collect monsters and revive his stone-statue-generals, is needlessly excessive. Kids probably won't care, though, because the turtles are all here kicking butt, alongside Casey Jones (Chris Evans) and April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar). If there's a downside to the film, it's just that it isn't necessarily as accessible to adults as better CGI kids flicks try to be. If you take the movie for what it is: a new children's movie meant to re-launch an old franchise for a new generation, then you'll dig what it has to offer.
This Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition is, not surprisingly, just a repackage of the original discs previously released for these films. You aren't getting new transfers or different special features here. The audio and video quality is all over the map, with the first two films being very grainy, dark, and flat, and the latter two fairing much better. The audio is decent on all of them, even if the music and sound effects are constantly pounding you in the face. For obvious reasons, the animated film has the sharpest, cleanest transfer.
As for special features, the original trilogy doesn't offer much. The first film has a really old DVD maze game, which results in an ugly .GIF pizza flying at the screen when you win; an assortment of very funny character bios called The T Files; and a trailer. The second and third films just feature New Line's generic Pick That Flick game, which asks you to match promotional photos with a list of movies from the early '90s (I'm sure kids will love that); theatrical trailers; and some archaic DVD-Rom stuff. TMNT, however, is jam-packed with all of the features from its original release, including director's commentary with Kevin Munroe, alternate opening and ending sequences, deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons, and interviews with the cast. The features on this fourth installment make you wish New Line would have revisited the other films and given them a better treatment.
All four films come packaged in a cool TMNT-embossed tin, which actually doubles as a CD case that holds up to 20 discs. That would be perfect for the ultimate turtle fan to put all of the cartoon discs into. The case comes in a large cardboard box with a clear plastic sleeve. It's an impressive looking set, but if you already own these films individually, there is little here to entice you to repurchase them…unless you are looking for four totally rad Ninja Turtles bandanas and some rub-on tattoos! While I can't say that I tried on the tattoos, I did check out these bandanas and, while they're cut to properly fit a human-sized anthropomorphic turtle, they work just fine.
If you are a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, and you have yet to pick up any of the installments on DVD, then you can't go wrong with this well-packaged standard def release. I enjoyed re-watching these films, especially through the lens of nostalgia; however, time and objectivity are not kind to these four young ninjas. The original three films are filled with corny dialogue, stiff fighting, and plenty of dated references; the fourth, while certainly the freshest, is strictly for kids and fans. So beware: if you didn't grow up on this stuff, you're probably better off sticking with whatever you find nostalgic value in (Power Rangers? Skip-it? Zubaz?).
A guilty pleasure, dude!
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