The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ arrival in the UK in the late eighties was shrouded in controversy. British viewers were thought to be of a sensitive disposition and censors quickly replaced the word ‘ninja’ with ‘hero’ to deter a suspected outbreak of ninjitsu in school playgrounds. The Ninja Turtles, as we now accept them, will be back in 2014 in Michael Bay’s infamous live-action reboot (with Transformers cohort Megan Fox rumoured to be attached). In the meantime however, the crisp Blu-ray release of the original live action trilogy should be enough to whet the appetites of fans.
The first entry in the trilogy, Steve Barron’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), thankfully pre-dates CGI, utilising animatronic suits made by the fabulous Jim Henson Company. Although the four green protagonists lack individual identity, together they form one watchable collective. The story follows the exploits of the turtles and their master, human-sized rat Splinter, all of whom have been mutated by a mysterious green ooze. When Splinter is kidnapped by evil New York gang leader Shredder (David McCharen), the four green brothers must use their ninja powers to save him. The first in the franchise has enough cheese in the dialogue to top one of the turtles’ beloved pizzas, but it never forgets its audience.
The first sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991), returned just one year later with a brand new cast. Whilst not as firmly focused as its predecessor, the ambition in its intention is evident. The performances, fight sequences and overall production live up to the original, and is only let down is a try-hard screenplay and the loss of Casey Jones. The plot focuses this time around on the origins of the heroes and the mysterious green fluid that mutated them at birth. When Shredder (Frances Chau taking up the helmet) attempts to use the ooze for personal gain, the turtles do everything in their power to stop him. Maintaining the ethos of the brand, the animatronics are equally as impressive as the first film and director Michael Pressman maintains the original’s lighthearted tone.
Unfortunately, with its bizarre Back to the Future-influenced premise, the third in the franchise falls flat. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) draws little from the source material and instead sees the four “bros” propelled back in time to save reporter friend April (Paige Turco) from 17th century Japan (!?). Director Stuart Gillard and screenwriter Kevin Eastman show little regard for the previous outings and a distinct decline in quality as far as effects are concerned. Although this third entry is somewhat disappointing, it doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the caboodle and it is certainly more superior than the digimated TMNT (2007). Children will rejoice in the harmless action scenes, whereas adult viewers may well revel in the innocence and simplicity which still oozes from this cult nineties trilogy.