Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Year: 1990
Directed By: Michael Pressman
Written By: Todd W Langen, based on characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird


Like any normal boy in the late 80’s and early 90’s I was a huge Ninja Turtles fan. Those adolescent adjective experimenters were what I lived for. I spent my mornings watching the cartoons and my afternoons reenacting what I saw with my action figures. So in my youth and as a budding movie fan this was a movie I spent a lot of time with. I think it holds up well too after so many other attempts to capitalize on the property. I was raised on this movie and that makes me biased but I would stand by the statement that they have’t been able to match this in 27 years.

This movie is dark and gritty whereas all of the other incarnations are more light hearted and family friendly. In this movie you see the turtles face real danger, there are consequences to their actions, and occasionally they’re going to use mild colorful language. I love that it features kids turning to crime and smoking and stuff. Not because any of that is cool, it isn’t, but simply because it isn’t the kind of thing you would see done so casually in a movie these days.

The tone set by this film didn’t carry on to the sequels and that’s a shame. I think this was a success but the studios wanted something more family friendly thus we ended up with the silly sequels featuring Vanilla Ice and time travel. For this to be the starting point of the franchise I think the execs making the decisions should have considered that their audience was getting older as opposed to younger. When you go from gritty to silly you are only going to disappoint your audience.

I have become a grown up myself in the 27 years since this movie came out and I find that not only do I still enjoy it, but I’m still a sucker for anything Turtles. I have coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, and even a Leonardo action figure sitting on my desk at work. It’s Leo because he was the leader and all the figures that adorn my desk represent some form of leadership. He stands in attack mode next to a Negan sitting on a replica Iron Throne and holding Lucille. They sit below a large picture of Tony Soprano. In that I have Leo as a leader, Negan as a tyrant, and Tony as a boss. Nobody ever puts two and two together or even recognizes that it’s Negan (because it’s a comic toy, not a Jeffrey Dean Morgan PG version of the character) but that’s not the point. They stand in representation for me and I enjoy them.

Leonardo isn’t just any leader but an honorable and just one. He is the one his other brothers look to not only for leadership but for guidance and counsel. When my daughter brought me the action figure as a present one day I couldn’t help but make him a place on my desk where he fit right in with the theme of what was already established.

Despite all the snazzy things they are able to do in the newer films I still hold this one up as the best the any Ninja Turtle movie has to offer. It’s a raw and real movie about the Turtles that utilized animatronics rather than CGI. In this movie they did it the old fashion way, with the legendary Jim Henson company providing the special effects. I actually like the new films but these simpler turtles are still the ones that hold my heart.

I think this movie is worth the time of any Ninja Turtles fan but I think it can reach a wider audience than that. I can’t say this is a movie I have been asked about or spoken to anyone about in more than 20 years but I loved it as a kid and I still enjoy it today. I can’t say they were able to keep my support over the years with subpar sequels but this movie stands on its own two feet.

NEXT MOVIE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

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