The Big Picture
- Steve Barron’s 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was the most faithful adaptation of the original concept by Laird and Eastman, setting the bar for future cinematic endeavors.
- The movie’s gritty, real-world setting and excellent balance of action and comedy gave audiences a grounded take on the series.
- The movie’s realistic depiction of the Turtles through costumes created by The Jim Henson Creature Shop and its lasting impact on the franchise help make it the most accurate and authentic version.
Since their creation in 1984 by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have gone through their share of adaptations. Whether in comics, movies, or television series, many have taken a shot at presenting their vision of our beloved mutant turtle boys, but none have hit the mark so well as 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Released during the height of Turtlemania, which is when the franchise peaked between 1989 and 1991, the New Line Cinema flick came closest to delivering a cinematic vision of the brothers in the real world. Although it was criticized for its violence, which led to a more family-friendly sequel, the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was arguably the most true adaptation of Laird and Eastman’s original concept. As this was the first time fans of the franchise could see the series’ characters in a way they hadn’t seen previously, the movie set a bar for each cinematic endeavor that followed it within the franchise.
The 1990 ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Is the Best at the Origin Story
The premise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a ridiculous, yet captivating one. Put simply, four pet shop turtles and a rat are exposed to a strange mutagen which anthropomorphizes and imbues them with “super” attributes. Add to this that they’re highly trained, pizza-loving assassins (as well as a direct connection to Marvel Comics’ Daredevil) and it’s hard not to chuckle at the concept. While the look and personalities of the 1990 flick’s Turtles were inspired by the cartoon series that was popular at the time, the movie used their comic origin nearly verbatim and pulled tonal inspiration from the 1989 Batman movie as well as the first Ghostbusters film which provided a grittier, real-world setting for the story.
Objectively, one of the best choices that could have been made for this movie was New Line partnering with Golden Harvest Productions, a company based in Hong Kong with a deep history in martial arts entertainment. This granted them a crew that understood how to cinematically honor the Turtles’ connection with ninjitsu and incorporate it into the film. Teaming this with the gritty, live-action format as well as an excellent balance of action and comedy throughout the film presented the audience with a truly grounded take on the series. As a viewer, it’s not hard for anyone to feel like they’ve been transported to an alternate New York City where the lean green heroes actually exist in the real world.
Steve Barron’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Puts the Turtles in the Best Light
It’s common Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle knowledge that “family” is one of the group’s strongest values. Almost every iteration understands and upholds this, but what’s often lost are the nuances found within the siblings and their interactions with one another. This is especially evident between Leonardo (Brian Tochi) and Raphael (Josh Pais) who, in most cases, are portrayed as constantly butting heads and on the verge of a physical altercation. The reasons why are often varying and mostly due to Raph’s volatile temper, however, this is only half of their relationship and a fraction of the brothers’ overall dynamic.
Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck‘s screenplay does an excellent job of showing the audience throughout the movie. Raphael’s rebellious attitude and moments where he storms off are often brushed off as just part of who he is, as evidenced by Donatello (Corey Feldman) telling April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) “He does this all the time.” Even after Leo and Raph have their biggest argument in the movie, which led to the “cool but (c)rude” brother being put in a coma following an ambush by the Foot Clan, the blue-masked leader never left his sibling’s side during the team’s recovery at April’s family farm.
It’s actually during the time between the Foot Clan attack and the farm that the Turtles are given their best individual light. During the attack, Michelangelo’s nunchaku skills and his laissez-faire nature are on full display as he’s teasing the Foot while battling them. Leonardo is also shown to be a very capable leader, knowing when to have his team stand their ground and when to flee. While they’re recuperating at the farm, in addition to Leo and Raph rekindling their kinship, Donatello’s aptitude for mechanics is also on display as he and Casey repaired the van they used to escape.
The 1990 ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Left a Cultural Impact
Criticisms towards the Steve Barron-helmed movie may have resulted in a more family-friendly, comedy-driven sequel, but much of those same things which the movie was chastised for are actually what caused it to have a lasting impact. While it holds mixed reviews, it’s otherwise held a positive reception from both the fans and the industry. The New Line Cinema flick is so highly regarded that, while there’s no official confirmation, it’s clear that the 2012 Nickelodeon animated series directly references the movie’s farmhouse segment during the first half of that show’s third season, complete with narration by April.
Additionally, one of the most memorable aspects of the movie is its realistic depiction of the Turtles through costumes created by The Jim Henson Creature Shop. Despite the various issues the actors encountered while wearing the suits, the realistic look and expressions of the characters, as well as the actors portraying them are what brought them truly to life. While it’s certainly fun to debate, it’s hard to argue that the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the most accurate for the franchise. It pulls much of its origin story from the comic book series, it brought the Ninja Turtles to life in the most realistic way possible and is well-regarded by the fans of the franchise.