The Big Picture
- The live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films of the ’90s are still highly regarded for their realism and comic element, thanks to the animatronic costumes created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
- Plans for a fourth film in the franchise, titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: The Foot Walks Again, were considered but ultimately fell through due to various factors, including declining popularity and financial performance of the third film.
- The fourth film would have introduced new mutations for the turtles, featured the villainous Foot Clan, and included changes to characters like Casey Jones and April O’Neil, indicating a darker and grittier direction for the franchise.
For many, the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films of the ’90s are still the best iteration of the heroes on the big screen. Thanks to the state-of-the-art animatronic costumes created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the three films in the trilogy delivered a realism that CGI simply can’t match (sorry, Michael Bay). The “man in a rubber suit” aspect of the costumes only worked in the films’ favor, adding a comic element to the action on screen that fits the tone perfectly. While the first film was successful, the two sequels couldn’t quite match up, with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III effectively ending the era on a low note. Had its fortunes been more favorable, however, there were plans for a fourth film in the franchise: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: The Foot Walks Again.
There were reportedly two concepts for a fourth film. The first was an idea from TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, one that involved the turtles and Splinter mutating even further. Titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: The Next Mutation, these mutations would give Donatello telekinetic abilities (but take his eyesight), and Leonardo would get impenetrable skin. Michelangelo would have been able to turn into a human, Raphael would become raptor-like, and Splinter a “super rat.” While some concept art exists, there’s little else known about it as it didn’t progress much beyond that initial stage.
It would be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: The Foot Walks Again that progressed further along. The title alone makes it clear that the film would feature the villainous Foot Clan, long-time adversaries of the Turtles. Leading the Foot Clan would be Super Shredder, last seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze as played by Kevin Nash. Also returning would be Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), the hockey-masked vigilante and friend of the Turtles, and the ever-present April O’Neil, played by Judith Hoag in the first film and by Paige Turco in the sequels. However, both characters would have seen changes in the fourth film. Casey Jones would have had electric power, somehow, while April would have somehow switched allegiances and become Evil April, possibly as a result of the infamous ooze. These changes would suggest that the film, as rumored, would have been far darker and grittier than the previous installments, taking the franchise in a less kid-friendly direction.
New additions to the franchise would have been introduced, including a fifth turtle. The fifth turtle, Kirby (named after famed comic book artist Jack Kirby), would largely eschew the goofiness of the original four, being a far more serious and hardcore member. Other newbies to the franchise we know of, thanks to additional concept art, would be characters named Fang, Kasey, Talbot, Bugman, Spyder, and Nano Spyder. The last two are likely one and the same, with Nano Spyder an upgrade to the original in order to face the Turtle’s new abilities, which in turn suggests the movie may also have adapted the concept of a further mutation for the heroes from Eastman and Laird’s original pitch, a move that would have resulted in more action figures to sell.
Work was going ahead on a script for what would become Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: The Foot Walks Again. First-time screenwriters Christian Ford and Roger Soffer were hired to draft a script in 1994. That script went through multiple drafts, caused by conflicting messages between Ford and Soffer, Eastman and Laird, and executives with New Line. Robert McKee was brought in at one point during the process to contribute script revision notes. It was all for naught, though, as the project fell through, which allowed Ford and Soffer to pen Kazam with Shaquille O’Neal (and the world may never forgive them for it). The return on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III had fallen significantly from the first film’s take, bringing in only $42.3 million versus the $135 million the original brought in.
While it’s easy to blame the third film’s box office and critical beating for the demise of The Foot Walks Again, there were other factors afoot (no pun intended, just awesomely accidental). The TMNT craze had died down from its early ’90s heyday, with the long-running cartoon TV show coming to an end in 1996 after nine years on the air. A 1997 live-action TV series, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, only survived one season before being canceled, making it clear that Turtle Mania had indeed run its course, and wouldn’t be revived again until the 2003 animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which introduced a Turtles multiverse in a tie-in TV movie, Turtles Forever).
Some elements from the history of the failed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: The Foot Walks Again did actually see the light of day, albeit briefly. The aforementioned 1997 TV series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation didn’t just jack its title from those failed concepts, it kept Shredder and the Foot Clan as the primary antagonists. The series also introduced Venus de Milo (performed by both Nicole Parker and Leslie Sponberg and voiced by Lalainia Lindbjerg), a new, serious, female turtle to the crew (and yes, she does have arms). The idea of a fifth turtle-like Kirby was already likely going to be a tough sell, so needless to say a female turtle split the fan base and, according to TMNT director Kevin Munroe, was hated “with a passion” by Eastman, leaving Venus as a one-and-done contribution to TMNT lore (until she reemerged in the pages of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #127 comic in 2022). With the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem on August 2nd, 2023, it will be interesting to see if any concepts from The Foot Walks Again are utilized – purposely or incidentally – in the newest entry. Who knows – maybe we do get to meet Casey “Electro” Jones after all.