Saturday Movie Review – “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990)

It has come to my attention that the upcoming CGI TMNT flick will follow the continuity of the live action films, just as Superman Returns followed the continuity established by Richard Donner in his Superman films. As such, I’ve decided to go back and rewatch (or, in the case of the third, watch for the first time) the original movies. Reviews will not be consecutive, but will be out before the March 23 release of the next film.

Cast and Crew

Judith Hoag as April O’Neil
Elias Koteas as Casey Jones
Josh Pais as Raphael
David Forman and Brian Tochi as Leonardo
Michelan Sisti and Robbie Rist as Michaelangelo
Leif Tilden and Corey Feldman as Donatello
Michael Turney as Danny Pennington
Jay Patterson as Charles Pennington
James Saito as Shredder
Toshiro Obata as Master Tatsu
Kevin Clash as Splinter
A very young Sam Rockwell as a nameless thug

Bobby Herbeck and Todd W. Langen wrote the script, based on the creations of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
Directed by Steve Barron.

Complete information is available from this IMDB page.

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Past movie reviews can be found here.


Four teenage mutant ninja turtles emerge from their lair in the sewers just in time to end a teenage crime wave masterminded by a ninja master.

High Point

“The Professor and Mary Ann, happily ever after.”

Low Point

The turtles are so plainly rubber.

The Review

It’s an adaptation, which always hurts the originality. Given the then Turtle craze spearheaded by the cartoon and toys more than the comics, the movie was inevitable. Still, this was the most mature handling (with the possible exception of the comics I’ve still never read) of the popular kiddie title. I give it 3 out of 6.

The effects are primarily limited to the turtles and Splinter themselves. While not terrible, the rubber suits on the turtles are not convincing. If anything, the entirely robotic Splinter was more convincing that those which had to accomodate people inside them (though this severely limited Spliter’s mobility.) I give it 3 out of 6.

The story is fairly well formed considering the age group it was targeted at. Danny’s confusion is plausible, as are the formed relationships and plot points leading from one event to the next. This recognized that children would be watching, but didn’t cater to them. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting is very uneven. Hoag seems very natural around the farm, but when she’s freaking out or panicing she is entirely unconvincing. Koteas is still impressive in many of his scenes. The voice acting is very irregular. The best of the voice acting comes from Josh Pais as Raphael, who was also the only character to have his voice played by the same individual as his body, which is probably no coincidence. I give it 3 out of 6.

The emotional response for me is somewhat skewed, as I have very fond memories of this movie from my childhood. (I even made my mother drop me off at school early so she could line up outside The Bi-Way the day it hit video, since that’s the place that advertised the lowest price in the city, and I was the one paying for it.) Unlike some childhood favourites (*cough* Knight Rider *cough*) this stands up over time fairly well. (Some of the jokes are even funny now that I’m grown up!) I give it 4 out of 6.

The production was actually pretty good. Steve Barron is a bit of a rarity, in that he’s the only director I’ve seen who started out in music videos and lost the music video feel when he switched to feature films. Given the small budgets Golden Harvest could manage, this actually looks pretty good. The sewers are effectively lit, there are numerous transitions between day and night, and fairly smooth editing. (The initial truck robbery is still somewhat impressive.) I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, this is a decent movie, given the expectations one would have from something called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, the 1990 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles receives 26 out of 42.