After making literally all of the money that 1990 had to offer, a sequel to the adaptation of Eastman and Laird’s gonzo comic concoction was as certain as an all pizza diet causing extreme gastric problems.
However, complaints about the original movie being too dark unfortunately didn’t fall on deaf ears and before you could scream “Bogus”, a conscious effort was made to soften up those sharper edges as the scriptwriters contorted themselves in unnatural ways to take the “ninja” out of the Ninja Turtles and lean more overtly into the cartoonish tone of the hit Saturday morning cartoon. Making things palatable for a Saturday morning audience wasn’t exactly a rare occurrence for a ruthless, 90’s licensing executive, with many cartoons litering the landscape based on properties that had no business existing in kiddie friendly form in any way shape or form (Robocop, The Toxic Crusaders, fucking Rambo?) but at least the Turtles made some sort of sense…
After cleaning up New York City of villainous ninja clan, the Foot, the turtles are taking a break by thwarting ordinary criminals and crashing rent free at ace reporter April O’ Neil’s apartment. While she takes refuge at work from constantly screamed surfer jargon and empty pizza boxes (despite being turtles, they live like pigs), she breaks a story about an alleged chemical leak which ties in the mysterious ooze that created the four brothers and their rodent sensei, Splinter. However, also searching for the secret of this toxic ooze is their old nemesis the Shedder, who has managed to shake off his apparent demise-by-garbage crusher, reformed the Foot and uses the mutagen to create his own mutant animals that would cause PETA to have a collective aneurysm. While his creations Toka (a giant snapping turtle) and Rahzar (a giant, Jimmy Hill chinned wolf) have the minds of children, they prove to be quite adept and kicking the living shell out of our heroes and Shredder threatens to unleash them in a populated area unless the turtles face these monsters in combat. Aided by April and Keno, a pizza delivery boy who has stumbled upon the turtle’s existence by accident (look, it’s not like the damn thing was written by David fucking Mamet, so settle down), the foursome and Splinter take the fight to the foot, but can anything else help our heroes when it’s revealed that Shredder intends to weaponize the ooze even further?
Would you believe the music of Vanilla Ice?
How much you rate this far sunnier sequel really comes down to how much you can tolerate Michelangelo walloping robbers with a makeshift pair of nunchucks fashioned out of a string of sausages. Pretty much every thing dark about the original has been noticably expunged from this universe in order to play more to the kiddies that the franchise is (mostly) aimed at – the amphibian foursome’s signature weapons are used sparingly with wiffle bats and other such PG rated stand-ins being employed, baseball bat wielding vigilante Casey Jones isn’t even named-dropped and the intense blood feud between Splinter and Shredder which was temporarily settled days ago seems to have been amicably settled – I guess getting dropped into a garbage crusher really changes a man’s perspective. As a result, there’s not even the slightest shred (pun intended) of legitimate threat left in the whole film which even goes as far to use cartoon “boink” sound effects used to further water down the violence – although, it has to be said that for a film that’s trying to dull down the usage of lethal ninja weaponry in a kids film, an awful amount of people get kicked in the face…
The Turtles themselves, while looking decidedly more rubberised than their first appearance, still burst with character thanks to great voice work and the tireless efforts of the alchemists at the Jim Henson Company – also the great man himself had passed on at this point and the film is dedicated to his memory. However, in the case of their monster foes, I have to beg the eternal question: if the budget could accommodate giant, burly animal mutants Toka and Rahzar, why exactly couldn’t we have gotten Bebop and Rocksteady instead (short answer: rights issues)? The choice to go with original creatures isn’t terminal and they also have pretty cool designs; Rahzar in particular looks like a Disney-fied version of the perpetually grinning ginger haired Wild Man from Big Trouble In Little China, so that’s nice.
On the subject of new additions, Paige Turco’s takeover of the April O’Neil role doesn’t really add much and if anything, is quite weak compared to the more pro-active version we got in the first film and while it was refreshing to have an Asian-American lead in a large, family movie in the 90’s, Ernie Reyes Jr. falls into that stereotype of being a natural at martial arts and barely has anything to do with the plot.
Speaking of the plot; there’s few things on this earth as aggressively 90’s as the last twenty minutes of this movie which feels the need to gift/punish us by making us bare witness to the turtles vanquish the Foot thanks to the devastating effects of Vanilla Ice’s Ninja Rap which gives us the immortal (and possibly cursed) image of respected actor David Warner dancing to the 90’s rapper while four giant rubber turtles body pop to a horde of screaming teenyboppers.
As endings go, it’s fairly painful but at least it’s more satisfying than the final battle with a mutated Super Shedder (played by wrestler Kevin Nash), when all his enhanced strength seems to be good for is punching out support beams and roaring a bit – although I’m not exactly sure why drinking biological mutating liquid would make your costume have bigger spikes, but whatevs…
When all is said and done, this is a kids movie that’s well and truly aimed at it’s target audience (and die hard fans) so in that respect it’s a perfectly acceptable and very colourful action runabout that features energetic, if harmless, fight scenes. In fact, the Turtles as indvidual characters are arguably better served here than they were in the original as their constantly bickering, brotherly, banter is often legitimately funny.
Sadly sacrificing the ingenious balance between light and dark which made the first movie so interesting, Secret Of The Ooze is nevertheless still a casual dollop of kiddie friendly trash that has no problems shelling out the fun.