April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) a beautiful, young television investigative reporter at Channel 3’s Eyewitness News, is doing a series of stories on the recent escalation of robberies in New York City. One evening after her nightly newscast, April encounters thieves in the act of robbing one of the TV station’s remote vans.
The street lights go out. We hear the sounds of a struggle. Shadowy figures lock in combat in the darkness behind her.
When the police arrive, they find April dazed but unharmed, with her assailants neatly tied up around her.
Inside the sewers of New York, April’s rescuers are revealed: Raphael, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Donatello – the illustrious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – who have returned to their subterranean den to report to their ninja master: an aging, four-foot tall talking rat named Splinter. After some pizza, the tempestuous Raphael goes to Central Park and gets into a fight with Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), a self-appointed vigilante who wields a variety of sports implements as weapons. A martial-arts athlete, Casey announces to himself that it is time to go into the dangerous, criminal world of the streets and save New York. “Somebody’s gotta do it!” he says.
Meanwhile, the silent crimes continue to escalate, despite April’s prodding of ineffective police chief Ross Sterns (Raymond Serra) to clean up the city. April does manage to incite the group responsible for the crimes: a clandestine organization known as The Foot, which attacks her again, this time in the subway.
Again, the heroic Raphael saves her.
This time, however, he brings her to the Turtles’ sewer den. Here, Splinter and his Turtles tell the spooked April the story of their origin, which involves a sewer encounter with radioactive ooze that caused them to grow to the size of men and gave them the gift of speech.
As the Turtles escort April to her apartment, Splinter is “rat-napped” by The Foot.
After the TMNT return home and find their Sensei missing, the heartbroken and confused Turtles return to April’s apartment, while The Foot takes Splinter to its headquarters: a huge warehouse that is a cross between Pinocchio’s “Pleasure Island” and a ninja “Fagin’s Lair.” It is here that The Shredder builds his empire, using an army of ninja-trained teenagers as his thieves.
One of these is Danny Pennington, the estranged son of April’s boss, and Danny tips The Shredder off as to where the troublesome Turtles are.
Armed with this knowledge, The Foot launches an all-out attack, demolishing April’s apartment in a knock-down, drag-out battle as she, the Turtles and Casey Jones (always on the lookout for a good fight, but overwhelmed by numbers this time) all flee.
The heroes arrive at April’s childhood home in the country, where the somber Turtles deal with their defeat, each in his own way.
In the calm serenity of the countryside Casey and April discover each other.
The Turtles now discover, through a mystical communique with their still-imprisoned Master Splinter, that the true ninja is not of the body, but of the mind. Accordingly, they all begin to retrain and hone their ninja abilities.
With their new knowledge and skills, the Turtles return to the city. While Casey manages to rescue Splinter with Danny’s help, the Turtles engage in their final battle with The Foot – in the sewers, on the streets and upon rooftops.
The battle climaxes with Splinter defeating The Shredder, who is revealed to be the assassin of Splinter’s own ninja master.
New York is saved, and the Turtles are reunited with their “father.”
An 888 Production and a Steve Barron Film directed by Barron and released through New Line Cinema, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a story of love and strength, humor and heroism. Based on the comic-book characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and produced by Kim Dawson, Simon Fields and David Chan with Graham Cottle as co-producer, and written by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck, it is the tale of four tiny green turtles owned by a little boy who accidentally dropped them into a New York sewer. Here, they were enveloped by a radioactive ooze which miraculously gave them the gift of speech, caused them to grow very large and to walk upright. Over the years (hidden behind dark sunglasses, low fedoras and high collared trench coats – while making regular forays into the city to see movies and go shopping), they picked up surfer jargon and other customs of their teenage human counterparts. Receiving special strength from the radioactive ooze, they become state-of-the-art super heroes on the half shell, imbued not only with a highly developed sense of humor but also with great physical power enabling them to fight for truth, justice and the American way – and then to sit down and party on with an extra-large pizza!
“We made this movie for both kids and adults,” says director Barron. “The tone is unique. Strange creatures living in a contemporary setting. It touches the subconscious of most people.”
Commenting on the human stars of the Turtles’ picture, producer David Chan says that Judith Hoag is wonderful in the role of April and that it is “a charming sight to see her and the Turtles together. She brings life to April. And Elias Koteas is perfect as our Casey Jones. He and Judith look very well together.”
“She can’t help feeling something for Raphael,” explains Hoag, of her April character. “After all, he saved her life twice! Even though it is kind of a beauty and the beast thing, I think it was important that we created a special connection between them. Of course, that did help cause tension between Casey and Raph.”
Hoag adds that she thinks April does fall a little bit in love with Raphael and that the great challenge in acting out their on-screen relationship was to create something not written. “We projected a rare closeness between a human and a creature – an unspoken, unconditional loyalty and love,” she says. “He is such a hero! Why shouldn’t he be able to cause something to stir in April’s heart?”
When Casey Jones meets April and the Turtles, his character undergoes a metamorphosis. In the beginning, Koteas says of his role, Casey has all this pent-up anger against the thieves and thinks they should all be physically hurt by him for their crimes. He has one focus and that is to “get” these street criminals.
“Then suddenly this beautiful face comes along in the midst of all the scum on the streets,” he explains. “Casey falls for April. He changes. She softens him. He’s not so sure of himself now. He’s vulnerable. But he gets himself together and – along with the Turtles – goes out with her to ‘get’ the punks. She does it with her TV news, and he does it with his hockey sticks.”
James Saito, brings just the right touch of ominous strength to his role of the arch villain, The Shredder. Much like Fagin in “Oliver Twist,” the cunning Shredder is head of The Foot gang, a band of teenage thieves he has ninja-trained to rob unsuspecting citizens in New York City. Sait’s menacing, notable performance – sharp, clear and at times, frightening – is seen especially when he battles the Turtles’ aging ninja master, Splinter. The Shredder, it is revealed, is the demonic assassin who murdered Splinter’s beloved master, Hamato Yoshi, and Yoshi’s beautiful wife, Tang Shen.
One of the teenagers the Shredder has enticed into his Foot gang is rebellious thirteen year-old Danny Pennington (Michael Turney), the son of April’s “Eyewitness News” boss Charles Pennington (Jay Patterson). Restless, impressionable and often left to himself by his busy father, young Danny was easy prey for the Shredder. But finally realizing he must take the high road, Danny abandons his evil mentor to help the Turtles.
Of his Danny Pennington role, Michael says he has seen a lot of kids take the wrong road and is glad he never moved in that direction. The part he plays in this film, he says, is a good lesson for kids because it shows that if you break the law, there’s a good chance you might wind up in jail. “I was arrested in the movie,” he says with a slow smile, “but I’m glad it was only acting.”
Producer David Chan, who was vice-president of international production for the Golden Harvest group in Hong Kong , says that working with the creatures during filming was a slow and painstaking process. But he knew it was well worth the hard work everyone put in when he saw the first “dailies” of the film shot the previous day. An expert on action/adventure movies, Chan has supervised production on such films as “Death Hunt” (Charles Bronson), “The Cannonball Run” (Burt Reynolds), “The Big Brawl” (Jackie Chan), “Lassiter” (Tom Selleck) and “Bruce Lee the Legend.” He also produced the English version of “Jackie Chan’s Police Force.”
Steve Barron directed the much honored “Electric Dreams.” As partners, Steve Barron and Simon Fields made award winning videos on Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” Aha’s “Take on Me,” and the stellar “Billie Jean,” the first single from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album which became the biggest selling album in the history of music business.
When Steve Barron was preparing for the picture, he wondered how he would get a performance from an animatronic rat and four huge living, characterized turtles. The only way to do it, he decided, was to attempt brave new technology.
“It’s an unwritten law that you don’t try more than one new technology at a time in one film,” he explained. “But in this picture, we attempted six!” Even though there were some initial problems – everything fell into place in just the right way and “overall, we did get wonderful performances from our four hard working Turtles and Splinter – and all our other actors as well!”