Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 96mins – 1993


 

COSMIC CRUISE

“Relax, April, It’s just your ordinary time-travel-equal-mass-displacement thing.”

After sitting out The Secret of the Ooze, Elias Koteas and Corey Feldmen both reprised their respective roles of vigilante Casey Jones and the voice of Donatello in this second – and final for some 14 years – big screen sequel to 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Having not seen Turtles in Time since the bygone days of Ritz VHS rentals, I had – in the intervening two decades – lazily adopted the general public perception that this culture (shell-)shock ‘turtles out of water’ time travel adventure was a hokey and frivolous farce; a lesser beast than its two more weighty predecessors.

So imagine my “mondo surprise” following my blu-ray revisit last night to find that I actually prefer this third film! I am so used to modern franchises getting progressively darker and moodier as they progress, but it is actually to the credit of this Stuart Gillard-steered cultural exchange that the tone is lighter and more consistent throughout – these turtles have dispensed with Shredder and the Foot Clan and found their groove!

“Talk about your Quantum Leap!”

With Jim Henson’s Creature Shop replaced by All Effects Company on animatronic duties, the turtle suits do look a tad more obvious (eyes are rounder, spots stand out more and the green skin tone more vibrant), but aside from a couple of instances where you can spot a gap between the bandana and eye holes, they aren’t jarringly different or cheaper-looking. Plus a more cartoony-vibe actually suits the film’s more jovial tone.

With human compadre April O’Neil (Paige Turco) accidentally sent back to feudal Japan thanks to a magical golden sceptre (or “weird Japanese antique egg timer”) she picked up at the flea market, it is up to the amphibious foursome to “open wide the gates of time” and follow her back to the 15th century in order to bring her home.

“Hello mustard?!”

“Okay, so my Japanese is a little rusty…”

With the sceptre balancing out any paradoxes by replacing any time travellers with the same number of people from the earlier period, it is up to aged mentor Splinter (James Murray) and Casey to be on babysitting duties for some understandably confused honour guards, while the turtles are plunged shell-first into a large scale civil war.

This does make the narrative somewhat lopsided, with the impressively grandiose jaunt in Japan taking precedence (that was where the budget was spent, after all), but to make a return to the franchise more appealing than simply feeding junk food and teaching hockey to some bemused foreign warriors, Elias Koteas plays a dual role as bearded spy Whit in 1603.

The pizza-lust and landslide of popular culture references are still reliably in place – although allusions to Elvis, James Dean and The Three Stooges do mean they’ll stay relevant for longer than Wayne Gretzky. So, too, are Raphael’s (Tim Kelleher) “turtle tantrums,” while profuse weapon usage during the battle sequences and the imparting of some sage advice to young villagers does lend the comedy some levity – and Raph a character-enhancing epiphany.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 88mins – 1991


 

OOZE THE DADDY?

“What did you expect, that they’d come out quoting Macbeth?!”

Arguably, Golden Harvest/New Line Cinema’s fast-tracked return to the sewers finds a better balance between bandits and buffoonery than its schizophrenic predecessor of the year before, ramping up the silliness of the obviously preposterous scenario while toning down the ass kickin’ and dulling the pitiful relatability of the real world elements. The recouped and recovering Foot Clan, for instance, are this time portrayed more in a Power Rangers-esque Putty Patrol mould of faceless drones.

From endless pop culture references (“Wax on, wax off!”) to an intrinsic role for the mutagen-containing contaminated cannisters which brought life to the subterranean slice scoffers, all of the most popular and instantly associated elements of the franchise are back for The Secret of the Ooze. Even arch nemesis Shredder (François Chau) manages to dig himself out of the junk yard following his diving “death” during Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rooftop climax!

But there is also much that has changed since the first film, with Paige Turco replacing Judith Hoag as April O’Neil – who now works for Channel 3 rather than 6 – while love/hate romantic counterpart Casey Jones is not even mentioned! Donatello is sounding a lot less like Corey Feldman, too – while the improved animatronic turtle heads courtesy of Jimt Henson’s Creature Shop are more malleable to such an extent that they are almost too expressive. On a sidenote: this film is dedicated to the legendary Muppets puppeteer, who sadly passed away in May 1990.

It’s a huge shame that the opportunity to bring brainless brutes Bebop and Rocksteady to the big screen was scuppered by a difficulty with legal clearances, with wolf Rahzar and snapping turtle Tokka (both voice by Frank Welker) instead being the mutagen-modified monsters a vengeful Shredder forces scientist Jordan Perry (David Warner) to create to fight his enemies in a “freak versus freak” revenge plot.

“Didn’t we see these guys on Wrestlemania?!”

As much as I initially favoured the injection of more comic frivolity, come the climatic showdown I did start to crave a dose of the dramatic. Instances where Shredder contently looks on while his infant-minded creatures are fed poisonous donuts during a fight scene strains credulity. The in-universe incorporation of Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” theme song into proceedings when the battle spills over into a dance club in which the star is performing is acceptable as a camera-winking cameo, but the scene stretches on waaaay too long – and when Shredder steps onto the stage only to be defeated by loud music, you do start to question whether you’re watching Bill & Ted!

“Go ninja, go ninja, go!”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze starts strongly but this bodacious demand-dictated big screen re-tread ultimately falls foul of sequel-itis: more of the same, but BIGGER – which we literally get when Shredder gets a muscle-bulging, armour-enhancing dose of mutagen. As voice-of-reason Splinter (Kevin Clash) remarks with a (realistic) roll of his eyes: “Oy!

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 96mins – 1990


 

SEWER SAMURAI

“Where do they come up with this stuff?!”

It’s been a good number of years since I last watched this original Golden Harvest/New Line Cinema live action Turtles treatment, but a US trilogy blu-ray triple-discer was the perfect excuse for a rewatch of this alternative origin story ahead of Out of the Shadows on May 30th.

Amazingly, the physicality of the Jim Henson Creature Shop-designed animatronic shell suits still holds up 26 years later, with ragged rat Splinter (Kevin Clash) arguably looking better here than he does in CG in Platinum Dune’s 2014 reboot. His meditative characterisation is also the perfect counterpart to his teenage student’s goofiness (“Hrrm… kids!!”), and you genuinely sympathise for the furry Yoda-like mentor when he is kidnapped, strung up and tortured by arch-nemesis Shredder (James Saito) and his gang of lost boys-turned soldiers, the Foot Clan.

It is in the film’s portrayal of this real-world street crime undertaken by misguided kids feeling rejected by society that a real dissonance in tone is felt. While the sewer-dwelling siblings are getting teenage kicks from trading 90s pop-culture references (Rocky, Wheel of Fortune, Wayne Gretzky, Grapes of Wrath, Ghostbusters) and frivolous banter (“Give me three!”), the grittiness of the plague of thievery which reporter April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) is investigating lends the film a darker tone akin to punkish urban noir – a million miles from animatronic heads doing James Cagney impersonations!

This uncomfortable alliance is most evident when Raphael’s (Josh Pais) gang attack is juxtaposed with Mikey’s (Robbie Rist) playful symbol clashing – its as if director Steve Billie Jean Barron wanted to retain the “gnarly radicalness” of the popular Fred Wolf Films cartoon series while balancing the kid-friendly yucks with a more visceral and conscientious adult-appealing levity, like Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s edgier original panel-premiering inception.

There’s an astute level of catharsis achieved by a post-second act out of town ‘breather’ sequence, not to mention a nostalgic appeal to the dated vibe, but in attempting to darken such a wacky premise my mind was drawn to an uncomfortable recent parallel: Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four. I’ll always look on this memento from my childhood through rose-tinted glasses, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not without its faults, even if the pizza guzzlers’ irresistible charm wins through in the end. Hrrm, kids!

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars