Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE MOVIE (1990)

***

Directed by Steve Barron.
(Family Home Entertainment, color, 95 mins.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Few parents of American children between the ages of four and 12 can claim to have escaped the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As sheer marketing, the green good guys are up there alongside the guys with the proton packs, and if anything their mythology is more impenetrable. So as parents all too familiar with the animated Turtle videos, we'll begin with a selling point: concentrate a little on the live feature-length version and you'll at least know who wears what color bandanna. Won't that make dinner more fun?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is your basic PG action flick with less blood and more reptiles. Jim Henson's electronically enhanced protagonists, who probably have more facial expressions at their disposal than the actors inside the costumes, are on screen almost constantly. Their wisecracks are funny, and they completely upstage warm-blooded good ninja K.C. Jones, who fights with sports equipment and is in the story so there's somebody to kiss newswoman April O'Neill with the right-sized lips. (Once. Chastely. At the end.) Spinning off Pat Morita in The Karate Kid, their rodent mentor Splinter is also winningly humane. Human bad guy Shredder, who trains j.d. ninjas, couldn't be more mechanical if the part had gone to R2D2.

The sewer-locale murk of the lighting translates poorly to video, and Steve Barron's endless fight scenes are dully conceived--almost any karate chop-'em-up will give you better. But with four-to-12s you don't want better, because better means cracked bones and rent flesh. If you can stomach the tame message--stay with your real family and don't steal--there are less entertaining ways to spend an hour and a half with your kids. The worst thing you could say about this marketing tool is that it prepares children for gorier stuff. The best thing you could say is that it keeps them away from it.

Video Review, Oct. 1990