The Time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ultimately Failed
Discussing the ultimate letdown that is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is what critics and parents probably expected the first movie was going to be: dumb and cheap. Fortunately, the first film was a solid, fun action movie. The second film less so, more watered-down, but still enjoyable in a low-key way. Abandon all hope for much in the way of ultimate action goodness here. Or competent writing… even by Saturday morning cartoon standards, this is rancid stuff.
TMNT 3! Where to Begin?
Synopsis? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are drawn back into action when their friend April O’Neil (Paige Turco) finds herself thrown back into seventeenth-century Japan after bringing a mysterious staff to their lair. Apparently, magical MacGuffins are a hot item on the flea market. Using the staff to follow her, the Turtles get more than they bargained for when they become wrapped up in a confrontation between a simple peasant village, and an evil daimyo named Norinaga (Sab Shimono) and an opportunistic English merchant named Walker (Stuart Wilson) who seek to take over the land.
Time travel a la TMNT 3 also has strange rules which complicate the story, such as the fact that if one person goes back in time, another must be thrust forward to the same point, so as to keep the mass balanced in both periods… or something. This causes April to be replaced with Norinaga’s noble-hearted son Prince Kenshin (Henry Hayashi) in modern-day NYC, and the turtles to be replaced with four honor-guards when they follow after their friend.
Then, there’s the obligatory race-against-time element, where the turtles have sixty hours to set things right or the space-time continuum won’t allow them to go home again. Needless to say, this part of the story could be seen as a bit confusing for kids and even an adult has to do some mental gymnastics to put everything together.
Turtles Crave Action
Watching this back-to-back with Secret of the Ooze, one might think the filmmakers made improvements regarding the action scenes. For one, the turtles (gasp!) get to use their weapons during combat. Even April gets a hit or two! The awesome vigilante Casey Jones is back, once again played by Elias Koteas.
Unfortunately, there are far less action scenes than in the second film. Long-time internet reviewer James Rolfe points this out in detail in his hilarious take-down of the film, observing that only three of the four battles depicted in the movie feature the Turtles and only one has all four of them fighting together.
Also, Casey Jones never gets to do ANYTHING, being stuck babysitting the four honor guardsmen who were sent forward in time. Little to no comedy is milked from this fish out of water scenario either.
Even the Jokes Don’t Land
So, if the Turtles aren’t fighting, what are they doing? Well, we get some corny jokes, par the course with these movies, though this time around the jokes are painful even by old-school TMNT standards, sometimes not even making sense within the context of the scene. The most infamous gag might be when the bad guys burst into a room and the Turtles respond, “You were expecting, eh, the Addams family?”
(Apparently, this joke made sense when used in the original trailers, since Addams Family Values came out during the same year. In the film itself, especially when watching post-1993? No sense whatsoever.)
Still, at least a corny joke can elicit an emotional response, be it ironic laughter or pain. The film’s attempts at emotional depth are just so shallow as to be pointless. Take the subplots with the turtles getting attached to the past and not wanting to leave.
Raphael likes the simpler lifestyle of the past (seeing a body of water without beer bottles in it, he exclaims “NATURE!” in rapture) and Michelangelo appreciates how the peasants are quick to accept the turtles as they are, allowing them to walk around in broad daylight. Too bad these emotional through-lines go nowhere and are only addressed when the script doesn’t have a fight or bad slapstick routine to offer the audience.
A Jim Henson-less Production
Other elements are double-edged: the suits for one thing. As I mentioned in the reviews for the other two TMNT movies, those men in the turtle suits do great work. Alas, the turtle costumes look terrible this time around as Jim Henson’s Creature Shop did not return to do any work on this film.
Can we talk about the terrible costumes? They are so scary, with dead eyes and lips that move like possessed sock puppets. When the seventeenth-century characters call the turtles demons, you might find yourself agreeing—they’re so ghastly even H.P. Lovecraft would shudder. For Splinter’s part, he’s stuck sitting with his lower half always obscured, as though he were a second-rate Sesame Street creation.
The villains are boring too. Shredder and the Foot Clan were menacing, with Shredder being able to beat up all the turtles single-handedly. Norinaga and Walker don’t exactly have one shaking in one’s boots. They talk big and take hostages, but when push comes to shove, they’re neither memorable nor threatening. Their action scenes are rather pathetic. At least Shredder dealt some damage, even if he often ended up doing himself in.
I don’t even know if this movie is worth watching, even for the nostalgic. The action is decent, but not so ultimate or noteworthy. All in all, this was a sorry end to the classic TMNT trilogy, going out with a whimper… or in this case, a really, really bad joke about the Addams Family.
What are your “fond” memories of TMNT 3? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!