(Michael Pressman, 1991)
An entry for the 4th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only.
It’s sort of a cruel joke that I ended up with a movie aimed at children for the White Elephant Blogathon. With one young child and another on the way, my life is already bombarded with all things Disney, SpongeBob and Dora. As the good folks at Pixar have proven, kiddie movies don’t have to suck. But for every Wall-E, there are dozens of Space Chimps, Marmadukes and Squeakuels released each year to the chagrin of parents all over the globe destined to shell out for them.
As a child of the 70s, I can recall being on the other side of the conversation, which consisted of two words: Star Wars. There were the movies, and then there was the STUFF. There were Star Wars wearables, video games, comic books, trading cards, and fast-food tie-ins. Those little George Lucas projects introduced a generation to the collectible action figure — fun to play with, but more valuable if they were simply purchased and preserved for eternity. Of course, Star Wars merchandising set a new standard, and didn’t stop when the movies left theaters. Due to this over-saturation of product and the general crappiness of entertainment aimed at children, I’d never consumed a single Ninja Turtle-related film, cartoon or comic. So, as a Teenage Mutant Ninja virgin, were my fears realized? Or was I able to see the light?
The verdict came after the opening sequence.
Our story begins in the city of New York Only Seen in the Movies (TM), where a pizza delivery boy is dispatched to a female reporter’s apartment. Upon arriving, he witnesses some bad guys in masks in the midst of a robbery, which he attempts to thwart using his martial art skills. Unfortunately, he’s completely outnumbered and quickly overcome. However, then the Turtles arrive to save the day, and my soul started to weep. The ass-kicking reptiles proceeded to dispatch every baddie with a lame catchphrase delivered surfer-style. THUD! “Yee-ha, ninja cowboy!” POW! “Awesome!” In retrospect, Keanu Reeves could’ve sued.
At this end of this sequence, perhaps 10 minutes into the film, the turtles were completely unfamiliar and indistinguishable to me, and more or less remained so for the duration. All I knew is they were freaking annoying.
The reptiles apparently wore out the welcome of their female reporter friend as well, saddling her with housing and feeding them pizza after pizza in her luxurious New York Only Seen in the Movies multiple-level apartment (TM). The turtles and their spiritual guru/teacher, a rat voiced by Kevin Clash (the voice of Elmo from Sesame Street), vow to find different digs in the near future.
On top of this, there’s the title ooze, shown in eerily glowing canisters, which is being unearthed and disposed of by a nerdy scientist employee, played by David Warner. Apparently, it’s the original ooze that was responsible for the Mutant part of TMNT many years ago, which produced super-strong but freakish walking, talking turtles, among other crimes of nature. Last but not least, a shrouded nemesis called Shredder is back and angry enough to seek revenge against the crew, by stealing the ooze in order to create more mutant monsters at his beck and call.
Overall, TMNT II improves after its opening, but never truly engages the viewer, because the action and dialogue are pretty danged lame. The “ninja” violence is quite tame and comic and our heroes are never really in any danger. Upon many hours of research (read: Wikipedia), I discovered that the action in TMNT II was toned down from the “darker” original film. As a result, fight scenes seem rather empty, since there’s really no logical resolution. Veteran character actor Warner carries off his scenes well, and I was pleasantly surprised by a goofy performance from Vanilla Ice, timed perfectly when my attention was flagging.
With a child entering into this very target market, I see multiplexes filled with movies like this one, disguised as entertainment and merely the origin for parental bilking. I’m tired of seeing insulting movies aimed at a family audience. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze isn’t terrible, just dull, forgettable and driven right at your wallet. Sure enough, it killed at the box office.
Finally, TMNT II is dedicated to the memory of then recently-departed Jim Henson, whose Creature Shop supplied the mutants in this film. Don’t get me started about the injustice of this. RIP Mr. Henson, not for TMNT II, but for your impact on other green creatures.