When I was ten, I led a fairly simple life. I currently do as well, except the whole point of saying that was to segue into a topic that happened when I was ten. So to avoid confusion, we will pretend my current life is interesting.
My simple ten year old life was made even simpler by the fact that I had a single goal for over a year (so my nine year old life was simple also; my eleven year old life, however, was balls-to-the-wall outrageous). This goal was to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which will be referred to as TMNT, an abbreviation I made up) was the first real marketing blitz that I can remember being a part of. I was barely alive for the second two Star Wars movies and was too young to care about the presidential elections. I’m pretty sure that covers all the important events from 1980 to 1990.
Given my lack of exposure to insanity level marketing, it is easy to see how I could get completely sucked into TMNT mania.
Not that the movie promotion was my first exposure to TMNT, far from it. I had the figures, watched the cartoon, and read the comic that Archie Comics put out. In fact, I wrote a letter to the comic book. Yeah, I was that cool. I don’t remember what the letter was about, or who it was even addressed to (probably Michaelangelo). What I do remember is a few months later receiving a postcard with a message that read, “Cowabunga, dude! Thanks for writing!” Whoa.
Receiving this card was, arguably, the most exciting thing that had happened to me until that point. It may be the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me; I’d have to think about it. But probably.
Not only did I receive a hand written message, but I also got a hand drawn cartoon of a turtle face. This was important to me because I had always been interested in drawing cartoons. My first epic character was named Cool Man. He was a collaboration from the third grade, between my friend Eric and me. I drew the character, but couldn’t have done it without his inspiration. I don’t mean to sound arrogant by claiming the design to be all my own, but if you created a masterpiece such as this, you would act the same way.
Cool Man starred in “Cool Man Attacks New York”, which depicted him destroying the city in a Godzilla/Rampage fashion. Eric and I created about forty sequels to “Attacks New York”, all basically the same picture but with a new number at the end of the title. Why we had someone named “Cool Man” destroying a city rather than surfing, riding a motorcycle, or something similarly cool, I can’t say.
My second major entry into the cartooning world was named Rocko. Now if you want an idea of just how incredibly un-cool I was, this character will give a crystal clear depiction. I designed him with all sorts of traits that I thought were totally cool:
o A Mohawk
o Vanilla Ice-esque shaved hair designs
o A rat tail
o A big, dangling earring
o A skateboard AND Rollerblades
o A “Bongo” smiley face t-shirt.
Yes, this was my creation. My epitome of cool.
Luckily, I gave up on him relatively quickly. Unfortunately, I gave up after drawing him on my book bag, forcing me to carry my visible shame with me for two years. My parents wouldn’t let me get a new bag every year. I think it’s because I kept forcing them to buy me a new Trapper Keeper every year, despite the fact that it didn’t even fit in my desk and had to be kept on the floor.
So I am as surprised as you that my career as a professional cartoonist never took flight. But, hopefully, this anecdote will at least help shed some light on why getting a hand drawn Ninja Turtle in the mail was such an epic, season finale-worthy event.
Between the postcard, the TMNT cereal, the pudding pies, the “Hey Dudes, This Is No Cartoon!” poster, and the previews, I was pumped. That was another thing increasing the anticipation. I was old enough to understand costuming and special effects, but the previews still gave me that “What! How are they doing that?” reaction.
Finally, the day came. I won’t get into details, since the gist of it is me remaining in a near comatose state of euphoria for weeks.
Fast forwarding to present day, what surprised me the most about this movie is that it stands up fairly well. The movie actually played itself pretty straight, in that it took seriously what should have been taken seriously, but still contained a lot of humor.
What inspired me to watch the movie again was a conversation with my friends involving whether or not Christopher Meloni, best known as Detective Stabler on Law and Order: SVU, played Casey Jones or not. And by “conversation”, I mean that subject was the entire conversation, not a small part. But I’ll extrapolate on that in a bit.
I can’t even call this a “Top Ten” list, since it won’t be ranked or anything. It’s more of a “movie adoration grouped by subject” list; or “writing full fledged movie reviews always seem like a more interesting venture in the beginning” list. Anyway, here come the highlights, Sports Center style.
As I mentioned, seeing the trailer as a kid was epic. It had instant gratification; no slow narrative and no fading in. It started with the New Line Cinema logo. If you don’t see this logo today and immediately think of the Ninja Turtle movie, then you were sleepwalking through this time period. The logo comes and quickly goes, then BAM… The Shredder.
No teaser silhouettes, no alluding to him, just an instant shot of his helmet. That’s about as close to carnal pleasure as a ten year old gets. Without any real chance to fully take in the visual, he starts speaking… in an incredibly Asian voice. Looking back on the trailer versus the actual movie, it is quite evident that many voices were overdubbed. The Shredder’s speech serves to introduce the turtles themselves. This leads to the coolest shot of the trailer: a quick flash of Raphael’s mask as he ducks under a manhole.
The turtles were voiced by stand-ins also, it seems. The trailer’s money shot of “God, I love being a turtle!” sounds incredibly underwhelming with the extra goofy trailer voice; although it does make the movie version that much better.
This scene is fantastic. Donatello is trying to get all philosophical, and all Michaelangelo responds with is how much time the delivery guy has left. The pizza guy arrives, and shoves the Domino’s Pizza box down a grate, while the payment comes up. Mike defends the $10, saying it’s $3 off for the driver being late, but that also means he gave no tip. That’s weak.
Raphael is a dick head. Michaelangelo is probably drunk. Leonardo and Donatello are there. That sums up their personalities fairly well, although the movie manages to flesh out their personalities a bit more.
Raphael’s ninja skills are in full effect. This is the only explanation for him going to the movies wearing a trench coat and hat, and not being noticed. He also proceeds to get absolutely pummeled by the Foot Clan. Which doesn’t really make him cool, but the situation itself is. It was a pretty hardcore scene for a kid to watch. It wasn’t a fair fight, just Raphael getting ghetto stomped by about two hundred ninjas.
Donatello doesn’t get a chance to show too much personality, but he does get some good lines. Making the lines even better is the wonderful delivery by esteemed thespian Corey Feldman. This is, without a doubt, his best role ever. Even watching it now, some of his lines still make me laugh. His incredulous reaction to The Shredder’s dramatic entrance to the final battle is perfect. LISTEN
Also, his proclamation of love for pizza is awe inspiring. LISTEN
Michaelangelo has the best lines written for him, in both jokes and memorable lines (the aforementioned “God, I love being a turtle” line). I still think Donatello’s lines are funnier, although like I said, Michaelangelo does carve out a nice role for himself as the fun, inebriated uncle type of turtle.
Leonardo is lame.
Look how Goddamn cute Michaelangelo is. AWWWWWWW! He’s sad. : (
And Leonardo looks like he’s riding an extremely pleasant Percocet wave.
This movie was helpful in my development as a male, in that I was able to stop having a crush on a cartoon character, and instead convert it into a crush on a real person playing a cartoon character. It reduces the weirdness by at least 40%.
April O’Neil managed to overcome a horrid wardrobe, horrid hair, and an extremely unattractive real-life last name (Hoag).
Even the turtles perv on her the entire movie, creating uncomfortable levels of inter-species sexual tension. That is, until her heart is finally won by someone truly deserving. More on that in a bit.
THE FOOT CLAN HIDEOUT
The one problem this movie had was that it made kids want to join the bad guys. The Shredder is incredibly cool. Besides that, the Foot Clan’s hideout was the ultimate hangout for kids. Video games, pool tables, skateboard ramps, everything you could want. I found it hard to cheer against the Foot Clan, since they obviously knew how to treat their employees well. This is where Disney got all their ideas for Pleasure Island.
“Regular or menthol”
THE CAMERA GUY
Casey Jones. The best part about this movie. Possibly the best part of any movie, ever.
We are first introduced to him when Raphael is out seeing Critters (!), and sees a couple of purse snatchers. We then see the criminals in the park, where they are accosted by a sleazy looking man in a goalie mask, brandishing a hockey stick. Which he proceeds to use by smashing the thieves in the face.
Raphael rudely interrupts the episode of street justice, which allows the thieves to escape. So, of course, he and Casey Jones must do battle. The result is rather surprising, as Casey Jones proceeds to beat the crap out of him with a cricket bat.
We don’t see Casey for a while. After Ralph gets jumped by the hundred or so Foot members, the rest of the turtles are getting beaten as well. When it seems like the turtles are about to be defeated, in comes Casey, inquiring as to why the Foot members are beating up his friend. So he fought Raphael, but also considers him his friend? This guy is deep.
The turtles, Casey, and April escape the Foot, and hide out at a cabin, for the boring part of the movie. During this time, Casey fixes their truck, cooks, and gives April back massages. Straight up suave.
Speaking of suave, as I said, Casey Jones turned out to not be Detective Stabler. But he’s still Casey Jones, so he’s still cool with me. Remember when I said I’d go into more detail on that? That’s all you’re getting.
After the final battle, when Shredder gets thrown off the roof of a building and lands in a garbage truck, Casey turns on the compacter, then proceeds to make out with April O’Neil. This guy is Cary Grant and John Wayne rolled into one perfect example of manliness.
And there you have it. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. Despite the fact that this rarely happens, it is as good as you remember it.
While this special-effects laden action fest may not tick any highbrow cultural boxes it is a deliciously daft bit of entertainment – frenetic and full of fun.