If you think teenagers are weird now, you should have seen them in the eighties. There were hippies, nerds . . . oh yeah, and the occasional mutated turtles.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been through a lot. Four movies, an endless amount of TV shows, and an upcoming remake that, quite honestly, is probably going to be a bust. In the midst of the lacklusterness, at least we can fall back on the original film.
It’s a classic tale of turtles versus Shredder. The film begins with the turtles hiding in the sewers, still in need of training, according to Master Splinter. You have the leader in Leonardo, the angry one in Raphael, the crack-up in Michelangelo, and the … well, Donatello’s basically the only normal one. As normal as mutated ninja turtles come, that is.
They do, however, come out at night as heroes, and rescue April O’Neill from some muggers. Meanwhile, New York’s crime is soaring, and Miss O’Neill, a journalist, is trying to uncover the secret organization of The Foot, which unbeknownst to her, is headed by The Shredder himself.
The Foot takes troubled youths and turns them into criminals, stealing all sorts of goods in the name of being “a family,” not the first cult or gang to do so, for sure.
The turtles befriend April, and their lives appear to be very good. For all of them except for Raphael, who would be Grumpy if the turtles were dwarves. In the midst of their inner turmoil, Splinter gets kidnapped (*DUN DUN DUN*). Insert “Oh snap”s here, and a pretty big problem for the turtles. Because after all, their master himself had pronounced them unprepared and still in need of a lesson.
The turtles, along with April and vigilante-wannabe/hockey player Casey retreat to April’s old family house with old broken-down pickup truck, and prepare to take Splinter
So, you know, they beat all of the bad dudes up and the old rat beats Splinter. Then we say Cowabunga! and everything’s legit.
The premise of the film is really about the turtles’ ninja tradition. The ninja tradition is somewhat about invisibility and fighting, but it also has an inherent focus on discipline, self-control, and dignity. Self-control is shown especially through Raphael, whom Splinter tells to control his anger. They are taught by Splinter to be virtuous, and to use their abilities to help others. Even Splinter, who has a past with The Shredder, is not driven by revenge, but by a quest for honor and to help the people of New York.
Of course, it does all of this with a lot of corny fighting, humorous goof-off moments, and smart-aleck comments (mostly from Mikey), but that makes a really good contrast with the villain. Where the turtles are crack-ups, The Shredder is dark and serious. The turtles are serious when they need to be, but the difference is clear: the good guys are happy. The bad guys are not.
All in all, it’s a very clear definition of good and evil that is too often missing from modern film, and a cult classic that should live for the ages to come.