In all honesty, I rank this film among some of the best comic book-to-movie adaptations ever made. While it does import a few too many concepts from the 80’s cartoon for comfort, and it does have a few other set-backs, the end-result is still a very dark and accurate portrayal of the original Mirage Comics TMNT.
As the story goes, New York City is suffering from a bizarre crime-wave which is bleeding the city dry. To make matters worse, the assailants are so quick and precise, no one can identify them. News reporter, April O’Neil, is out to crack the case when she’s attacked by some street thugs. Who comes to her rescue? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo are 4 turtle brothers, mutated by a mysterious canister of ooze and trained in the martial arts by their master and “father”, Splinter; a rat who was once the pet of Hamato Yoshi, a ninja master. April, the TMNT and their vigilante buddy, Casey Jones, begin to get to the bottom of the crime-wave and discover that a band of ninjas, the Foot Clan, are using New York’s wayward children to aid in their crime-spree. To further complicate matters, the leader of the Foot, the Shredder, kidnaps Splinter, someone whom he has mysterious ties to from the past.
The goofy premise and surfer lingo betray a truly dark and gritty comic book movie. The bulk of the movie takes place at night and there is a surprising amount of violence, with lots of roundhouse kicks to the face, the TMNT actually *using* their weapons, and all the betrayal and murder of Shredder’s origin remaining intact (well, almost). There are numerous themes going on through-out the movie, from April adapting to her new way of life, Raph overcoming his anger-issues, Casey developing a relationship with April, Splinter getting revenge for the death of Hamato Yoshi, the turtles learning to fend for themselves without the help of their master, an arc about April’s boss’ son growing up, and lots more. This movie has a whole lot going on at once and isn’t nearly as cut and dry as one would initially expect.
The overall structure of the movie adapts all the Shredder-related issues from the first volume of the Mirage comic, through the “Return to New York” arc and ending in a rooftop battle with chromedome-himself, much like in the first issue of the comic. There are a few deviations from the comic simply for the sake of cramming a dozen issues into an hour and a half (such as Raph being injured by the Foot instead of Leo, Casey bonding with Don instead of Raph and Oroku Nagi being totally absent from the Shredder’s origin). Despite the small changes, the overall story is amazingly faithful to the source material, no doubt thanks to very close involvement from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, creators of the TMNT.
Several somewhat “dated” elements from the popular TMNT cartoon of the 80’s do manage to creep into the movie. Obviously, you’ve got the multi-colored bandanas as opposed to the all-red ones from the comic (I actually prefer the multi-colored bandanas to the all-red ones). The TMNT are psychotically obsessed with pizza at all hours of the day, one of the more annoying parts of the old cartoon. And April O’Neil is a news reporter instead of a lab assistant. However, that last part actually makes for a much better plot (especially since Baxter Stockman isn’t in the movie), with April being able to accomplish much more as a news reporter. She still runs the 2nd Time Around antique shop from the comics, though. Honestly, while a few distracting elements from the cartoon seep-in, they really aren’t that terrible and bring a great level of nostalgia to the movie. And it’s hard not to geek-out when they all shout “Cowabunga!” at the very end.
Jim Henson Studio’s special effects are impressive, to say the least. While the lip-sync at times can be a little sketchy, and the shells never look like they’re actually hard, they did a magnificent job. The turtles are brought to life in a very convincing manor and I have to hand it to the actors inside those suits, they pull-off some great martial arts moves considering the weight of what they’re wearing. Splinter is also done exceptionally well, and much like Yoda, you forget that the character is actually a puppet. Shredder’s costume also looks pretty menacing, though you can tell that he’s really just a tiny Asian guy in a very big outfit.
Seriously, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is one of the better comic book adaptations out there. I also consider it to be one of the quintessential “90’s movies”, capturing quite a bit of nostalgia on film. I give it a B+. Great stuff, lots of fun and suitable for most ages.