Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThere was once a time when I thought this movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the greatest martial arts movie of all time.

I was 6, and I had just walked out of the cinema in awe.  Hey, it was the highest grossing independent film of all time making over $133 million in the box office!

Now in adulthood I thought it time to revisit what was quite possible the first seed in my passion for martial arts!  At least until I discovered the inspirational Bruce Lee (who made is name through Golden Harvest, who also produced this film!). 

So the movie begins telling the tale of a massive rise in crime throughout New York City.  Mysterious robberies, and theft without any eye witnesses are becoming more and more common, but one reporter, April O’Neill has done her research. April believes it could be a Ninja organisation from Japan known as ‘The Foot’

After a day of work she is mugged outside near her truck, when suddenly the street light is smashed and the muggers are defeated and tied up before police arrive.  This is when we meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  A group of 4 humonoid turtles mutated from a type of radioactive ooze when they were younger.

Of the 4 there is Leonardo – the most mature of the team who tends to be the leader – he carries two Samurai style katanas and wears a Blue headband.  Donatello who uses his bow staff and wears a purple headband.  He is a bit of  a joker (as opposed to a brainiac as in the cartoons) and tends to spend a lot of time conversing with Michaelangelo – who is the clown of the group.  He wears an orange headband and uses a pair of Nunchaku to fight his opponents.  Finally we have Raphael, who wears a red head band and uses his Sai’s against his enemy.

Raphael is the most angry of the group, and the only one returning form their ‘first battle’ (saving April) as he lost one of his Sai’s in the fight, and watched April pick it up and put it in her bag.  From that moment he has a feeling of being incomplete and becomes extremely angry with himself and the world.

Donatello and Michaelangelo

He follows April in hopes of being able to get his Sai back, when she is attacked by the foot.  He saves her from harm, gets his Sai back but is forced to bring her home as she is unconscious. She awakens, learns of the Turtles and their mentor Splinter before the foot return and tell their master Shredder about these ‘freaks of nature’ interfering with their business.

Naturally Shredder sends out his foot soldiers lead by Tatsu to capture the turtles but they instead end up kidnapping Splinter.  From there both sides fight against each other as the Turtles try get back their master with the help of April and their new friend – the Hockey mask wearing Casey Jones.

It’s still pretty damn cool.

Although dated, this movie stands the test of time.

Unlike most kids movies TMNT has a dark and serious tone to it to compliment the light hearted nature of the turtles.  They all face their emotions and the fear of being without a father figure when Splinter is kidnapped.  But the deepest character in the film would have to be Raphael.

Raphael is the most angry of the 4 brothers.  Splinters works with him to channel is anger but fears for his future, telling him that ‘Anger clouds the mind, turned inward it is an unconquerable enemy’  and that as he faces his anger, not to forget his family.

Raphael in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.

He faces his own demons before having to deal with the loss of Splinter, not knowing if he is alive or dead. He challenges Leonardo’s leadership decisions and goes off before being attacked by a small army of foot soldiers which lead him to serious injury.  The other 3 turtles then must come to terms with the possible loss of Raphael, not knowing how serious his condition is.

Of course upon awakening the 4 team up again and summon the strength to return in search of Splinter.

Meanwhile Splinter meets a young boy named Danny, who has run away from home.  Splinter offers Danny a friendly ear to hear about his problems.  While Danny doesn’t share his thoughts he finds a friend in Splinter, who shares his wisdom and his story which eventually turns him away from the violent path of the foot.

The Turtles and Splinter

The serious tone and dark nature of the film is backed up by some very real and well thought out situations. While it has it’s moments of cheesiness the movie’s tone more than compensates.

The Action & Martial Arts

It’s a combination of decent martial arts movement, ‘ninja-turtle-ish’ fighting & comedy.

They have spread comical moments throughout the film in the fight scenes to appeal to the younger audiences of the time.  The ‘Wheel of Fortune’ when Michaelangelo spins on his shell knocking soldiers off their feet and Donatello Skateboarding through the sewers knocking out baddies with his bo staff really keep the spirit of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles very family friendly while still offering decent snippets of action.


There are serious moments in the film that demonstrate authentic martial arts movements and techniques – Raphael’s fight on the rooftop shows a few good moves while Michaelangelo’s Nunchaku battle with the foot soldier is pretty cool.

My only complaint is that they weren’t able to use the ninja weapons to their full ability due to the ‘family friendliness’ of the film, relying more on hand to hand techniques while merely holding the weapons.

Perhaps the most emotional driven and entertaining fight is between the Turtles and Shredder.  The turtles each have their turn at Shredder, losing rather quickly.  They then conclude that he must know where Splinter is which leads to some very vicious fighting between the Turtles and Shredder displaying emotion and determination previously unseen by the Turtles in this movie.

Overall the style of the film makes for some decent action, especially for a kids film.

The Turtles face Shredder

Do I Recommend it?

I watched this movie remembering what I saw as a kid, so I didn’t expect some of the dark and serious tone of the film – I was pleasantly surprised with a well thought out movie that really caters for audiences of all ages.  It may not be the best film of all time, but if you saw it as a kid, watch it again – you may be surprised too!

If you didn’t watch this as a kid, I’m very in the middle – check it out and decide for yourself!

On Blu Ray –

Region FREE (plays anywhere)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [Blu-ray]

On DVD –

Region 1 (US & Canada)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4 film DVD Collection

Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the Movie [DVD] [1990]

Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, etc)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on DVD 

More info on Movie Regions here.

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