If TMNT 2 felt like a slap in the face, then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III will feel like getting hit by a car after finding out your girlfriend is dumping you for your best friend. There are few franchises that get out of a trilogy with their dignity intact and TMNT 3 is no exception. Almost everything you loved from the first one is gone. No brilliant Henson Muppetry, no Shredder and the visuals have degraded to Power Rangers tv show levels. Its only saving graces are some brief appearances by Casey Jones, some dumb but funny one liners and, of course, April O’Neal’s legendary legs.
The story has April and the Turtles temporally displaced in Feudal Japan by way of magical
streetlamp scepter, where they struggle find a way back home while helping a local village defeat an evil warlord. Its such an odd choice for a setting. They had a 21 million dollar budget on this picture and instead of choosing to dive into the galaxy of cool characters and settings from The Turtles rich history, they stuck us in an old timey setting so generic that you half expected to see Xena or Hercules walk past. Its legendary cheapness is both is best and worst quality. If you can get past the heartbreak of watching your beloved childhood characters being humped to death on screen this cash grab of a movie has some awesome camp appeal. Hearing Corey Feldmen as Donatello talk fake science is hilarious and there is a seemingly endless stream of awesomely bad dialogue like “I love stuff”, “What’s up with those tears”, and “Oh no guns – there goes the neighborhood”. To add to the cheesiness, a different studio was chosen to handle The Turtles suits and facial puppetry. I always found the TMNT III Turtle to be creep looking. Where their Henson created predecessors had an earthly natural quality to them, the neon green suits and boggle eyed heads look wholly alien. The spaced out slightly randy expression they wear makes for some unintentionally creepy hilarious moments especially when involving women and children.
I think the cast and crew went into making this movie with the understanding that in order to make this film kinda work, they would have to play it pretty campy. You can see evidence of this mentality in the Turtles relentless one liners and in the performance of Stuart Wilson as stock old timey baddy #1, Walker. He plays every beat so over-the-top it’s beautiful. The way he beams during the delivery of lines like “Go head Witch, shrink me”, is brilliant. With so much of TMNT III being devoid of the sets and characters the you associate with TMNT, it’s amazing how thrilled you are to see a familiar face. I literally cheered out loud when Casey Jones first popped on screen in The Turtle den, even though his entrance was written like it TMNT 3 was a sitcom on an early 90s TGIF lineup. Also why use him as a babysitter when splinter could have done that? Would it have been more interesting to see Casey Jones back in time busting some heads alongside the Turtles instead of this similar character in from Feudal Japan thats played by the exact same freakin’ actor?! If your going to starve the fans of anything recognizable from the comics or cartoons at least give us a little more of the one character other than April and the Turtles that we recognize. I supposed the writing sessions for this movie were not filled with a lot of “hey maybe we should try something better” moments. I wonder if the writers ever read the comic or saw the cartoon series. I bet if you asked them who Baxter Stockman is they would probably say he’s solid CPA in The Valley.
I too was one of those many kids who walked out of the theater confused at what I’d just seen. That confusion was looming sense that what I just witnessed had actually made me dumber. They brought back the weapons and took away the story, they brought in coolest character Casey jones but had him babysit instead of fight. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is a movie I can only recommend to super-fans under the influence of powerful chemicals. Its occasionally funny but consistently disappointing, especially if you are a diehard TMNT fan like this humble manchild.