Growing up a kid in the ’80s, I completely devoured everything the decade had to offer a kid my age. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, and of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were my world, and the films spawned by the latter of course became a monumental event for just about any kid around at the time.
Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the ‘heroes in a half-shell’ first came to life when their first comic book was published via Mirage Studios in 1984. But like many kids at the time, they didn’t appear on my radar until the animated TV series appeared a few years later in 1987, after which they became a household name, and a full-on worldwide phenomenon. From then on, every kid in America was clamoring for the action figures and having Ninja Party-themed birthday parties, where each kid wanted to be their personal favorite turtle (which most of the time was Michelangelo).
By 1990 the franchise was at it’s peak, and we were finally treated with a feature length film. It was an event that every young boy just had to take a part of at the time, and we all thought we were in on something ‘cool’ that our parents were just not hip to (in some cases movie goers were even given small promotional posters upon arrival to the theater, something I wish I had held on to til this day). Then just one short year later, we were given a second film when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, was released upon our young minds on March 22, 1991. Again I was right there in the theater watching the sequel with one of my older sisters, not knowing at the time it would ultimately be the beginning of the end of my Ninja Turtles craze.
Directed by Michael Pressman, the second Ninja Turtles film was much lighter in tone in comparison to it’s predecessor. And while many of the actors from the first film returned for the sequel, there were some changes to the cast, most noticeably Paige Turco taking over for Judith Hoag as April O’ Neil, and Adam Carl stepping in for Corey Feldman as the voice of Donatello. The turtles also befriend a new alley in the form of Keno (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) in a role similar to Casey Jones (who is strangely absent without any explanation). Another difference those with a keen eye might spot is the limited use of the turtles’ weapons. This was done purposely by filmmakers in an effort to reduce the violence in the movie.
In this entry, the turtles discover that The Shredder (Francois Chau) survived their final battle at the end of the first film, and still has a few remaining loyalists of the Foot Clan in his corner. They also learn their own origins when their master, Splinter (Kevin Clash) explains their mutation was the result of direct contact with a radioactive substance (i.e. the ‘ooze’) manufactured by a company called TGRI. The Shredder of course learns of this, and creates two mutants of his own, Tokka and Rahzar, in an attempt to combat the turtles (for whatever reason, these characters were used in place of Bebop and Rocksteady from the cartoon). The inevitable conclusion finds the turtles facing off and defeating The Shredder and the new mutants in a club where rapper Vanilla Ice (in his film debut) happens to be performing, and conveniently introduces the song “Ninja Rap.’
The Secret of the Ooze grossed over $78 million at the box office domestically, and was followed by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III two years later in 1993, which was panned by critics and signaled a decline in Ninja Turtles popularity. This was further cemented when a live action TV series, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (which introduced the first female turtle, Venus de Milo), came and went briefly in 1997-98.
The franchise laid dormant for several years until 2003, when a new animated series produced by Fox appeared. This helped lead to another feature film, the animated TMNT, in 2007. The series lasted until 2010, and was followed by yet another animated show, this time produced by Nickelodeon, from 2012-17, as well as a reboot film in 2014 starring Megan Fox and produced by Michael Bay, which in turn had it’s own sequel, Out of the Shadows, in 2016 (audiences finally saw the appearance of Bebop and Rocksteady on the big screen for the first time with the latter).
Today, the franchise is still in the hands of Nickelodeon, with Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being the latest incarnation as of 2018, and the Ninja Turtles are more popular now more than ever. This was evidenced when just this month, Vanilla Ice threw a Secret of the Ooze 30th anniversary show in Cocoa Beach, complete with appearances by both Michelangelo and Donatello on stage (see attached photos) that my family and I were in attendance for. It was a reminder of both a brief moment of time that those of us who were there ‘back in the day’ experienced together, and validation that that moment was truly something special to be a part of.