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ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze’ (1991), Part One

Chris Sims: Hello everyone, and welcome back to ComicsAlliance’s needlessly thorough review series on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise. Join us today as we embark on a journey… a journey to discover… The Secret of the Ooze.

Matt Wilson: That secret? Kids in 1991 would willingly go see a movie, not in spite of, but because Vanilla Ice was in it.Chris: When we covered the first TMNT film, you mentioned that you watched it a dozen times when you were a kid, but this is the one that was my jam. I loved this movie so much that I’m actually a little sad about the prospect of revisiting it with an older, slightly more critical eye.

Matt: I only watched this one once or twice as a kid. I’m not sure exactly what it was that just didn’t register with me, but I seem to remember the inclusion of animal-mutant bad guys who weren’t Bebop and Rocksteady, and what I knew even then was a weak, cash-in appearance by a musician being key reasons.

Chris: Apparently you had more sophisticated tastes at 9 than I did. As you might expect, this sequel was a foregone conclusion before the first movie even came out, which is probably why the first movie doesn’t actually end with the Turtles themselves beating Shredder, or really accomplishing much of anything other than, you know, ending all gang violence forever. Everyone already knew that they were just doing the first chapter of a longer story.

Matt: The producers did not wait around either. This movie hit theaters less than a year after the first, something that seems basically unthinkable now. And there are even changes to the tone of this one based on how the first was received. I honestly have no idea how they did it.

Chris: What’s crazy about that timetable is that they would’ve had to move almost directly into filming the sequel, but they swapped out some pretty big characters. April O’Neil is played by a different actress in this one (Paige Turco), and Corey Feldman is no longer the voice of Donatello.

Matt: The actress change for April is definitely something I noticed as a kid. I did not care for it. It’s not even that I was all that attached to Judith Hoag (though she did seem more like cartoon April than Turco). I was just a kid that liked consistency.

Chris: I get the feeling that we’re going to be exploring a lot of our childhood neuroses through the TMNT movies. You with your OCD, me with my fear of cities…

Matt: And our shared sense that Kevin Nash just doesn’t look right unless he’s covered in metal spikes and saw blades.

Chris: It’s funny that you mention Judith Hoag being more like cartoon April. While the first movie skewed a little closer to the original comics with scenes like Raph being beaten into a coma, Secret of the Ooze is most definitely a live-action version of the cartoon. Everything’s a little sillier and more broad, if you can apply those sorts of shades to a movie called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Matt: If anything, it’s cartoonier than the cartoon. In reaction to the uproar over the violence of the first movie, the producers stipulated that the Turtles, whose weapons are a pretty major part of their identities, COULD NOT USE THEIR WEAPONS IN FIGHTS.

Chris: To be fair, Mike can use nunchuks made out of sausages, and Raph can use his sai as a pizza fork. There’s… there’s a lot of food-based content going on here.

Matt: That explains the rash of grocery-based home accidents that swept the nation after this film opened.

Chris: So on that note, now that we’re bracing ourselves for a take that doesn’t treat the TMNT concept with the seriousness that it so obviously deserves, let’s jump right in and see how it all works out!

Matt: The very first thing that appears on the screen in this movie is a dedication to Jim Henson. That’s a lovely, classy gesture for the man who made so many of the practical effects in the previous movie look so good, but it is also a huge downer. Not a great way to kick off the movie. Maybe that could have waited until the end?

Chris: “What does ‘In Memory Of’ mean, dad?” “It means someone died.” “Oh… Who’s Jim Henson?” “He created literally everything you love.”

Matt: From that somber sentiment we’re thrust into the bustling streets of Manhattan. And you know how in the last movie, New York was being overrun by a crime wave in the first scene. In this one, it’s being overrun by a pizza wave. No one can get away from the siren call of cheese, sauce and crust.

Chris: As much as this movie might not hold up later, I sincerely, unironically love that it opens up with a Pizza Montage. The cops eating pizza while handcuffed to a hungry perp who doesn’t get a slice might actually rank somewhere between Donatello and Leonardo as my favorite characters in the entire thing.

Matt: Soon enough we reach the epicenter of pizza pie’s vice grip on the city: Roy’s (not Original or Famous, though), the workplace of young, plucky Keno, played by Ernie Reyes Jr., who’s being sent to deliver some pizzas to April’s. And though Keno’s supposed to be the likable, human character we all root for, the second thing he does in the movie is call some girls fat.

Chris: Not to excuse his actions, but they do call him a dweeb first. I mean, that’s after he awkwardly hits on them, but… yeah, I guess Keno is kind of awful.

Matt: I really don’t get why that’s in there. I don’t think I even noticed it as a kid, but man, it really sticks out now. Do you think the screenwriters were thinking, “People will love him because he gave those girls who rebuffed his unwanted attention what for!”

Chris: I think it’s more that they wanted to characterize him as kind of an awkward smartass. Making him an outsider in that small way helps link him to the Turtles, and since they’re prone to quipping, he fits right in.

Matt: He’s just a Nice Guy in the Friendzone.

Chris: Keno’s not all bad, though. As he goes to deliver a pizza to April (who’s been ordering so much that he claims she should be buying ‘em wholesale, hint hint), he stumbles across burglary going down in this weird semi-underground shopping mall. At the age of 8, I thought this was the coolest thing. Shopping – downstairs?!?!

Matt: I had no conception of what this place could be, honestly. I still don’t. There’s an electronics store…and a butcher shop? And it’s this tiny space filled with ferns. It looks like no shopping facility I’ve ever been in, even now.

Chris: That’s just how they do things in New York, Matt. When your city is recovering from a ninja crime wave, retailers have to group together in underground fern facilities for safety.

Matt: Keno takes down a few of the burglars, clearly fans of Raising Arizona if the pantyhose on their heads are any indication, before a group of something like 30 more come piling out of a store. These burglars are not about precision at all. They steal through numbers!

Chris: I have a lot of affection for Ernie Reyes Jr. that’s pretty much entirely based on this movie. Intellectually, I know that the exchange “What are you, night security?” “More like… Pizza Delivery.” and his post-beatdown quip “Did I mention I study martial arts?” are pretty terrible, but I still kind of love ‘em.

Matt: I do like his little “Stay down!” quip, which was apparently ad-libbed. Once the mass of burglars faces down Keno, our titular turtles show up to jump into the air while the title card hits. Then they just…land. You might have thought they were jumping to do some kicks or something, but no. It’s just for the title card.

Chris: I’m not sure what Keno was so worried about, considering that he just effortlessly beat the living hell out of four dudes without taking a single hit, but he’s happy to let the Turtles take over for what might be the silliest fight scene ever committed to film. As previously mentioned, Michaelangelo grabs a string of sausage links and uses them as “combat cold cuts” to beat up some be-pantyhosed thugs, and at one point, Donatello pretends to be an inflatable clown.

Matt: The turtle costumes still look pretty good, but there are some very noticeable changes. The eyes are much bigger, I suspect to make them look more like their cartoon counterparts. And the expressions, well, they’re just more muggy. These costumes are apparently more advanced than the previous ones because of the bigger budget this time — the animatronics to control the expressions are in the actual heads rather than hidden in the shells like they were before. And yet there’s just something that seems to be lost.

Chris: I was thinking the same thing. They’re still not bad, but they definitely look less… “real,” I guess? Either way, it is genuinely hilarious that the Turtles were forbidden to use their weapons, because instead of using katanas or nunchuks, they end up swinging around yo-yos to bash people’s heads and whipping dudes with belts, which are way easier things for a kid to imitate. Donatello using a foam bat to annoy a thug into submission is still comedy gold, though, I don’t care what you say.

Matt: Using easy-to-find household items in place of bo staffs or katanas definitely does seem to take a step out of the at-home injury process, for sure.

Chris: The Turtles knock out or chase off all of the robbers, and while Mikey almost spills that they were watching him from April’s house, which would give away their secret ninja hideout, he manages to refrain after Leo gives him a stiff kick in the shell. I think it’s important to note that this is actually an evolution of the characters: In the opening scenes of the first movie, Mike was a total jerk to a pizza guy, but here he is saving one’s life and then being friendly. Until that bit where they definitely steal the pizzas while Keno’s out calling the cops, I mean.

Matt: They left him some money, though! And their taste in pizza has improved dramatically, I must concede.

Chris: Speaking of people the Turtles are being jerks to, they’ve been crashing in April’s apartment since the last movie, doing all kinds of crazy loud ninja stuff and cheesing off her neighbors, who think she’s really into “aerobics.” I will almost guarantee you that there was an earlier draft of this script where the neighbors had very different ideas about what April was “jumping and screaming” about.

Matt: “Aerobics” could be a euphemism anyway. April returns to her no-longer-sentimentally-valuable-but-now-with-a-spiral-staircase home to find bits of detritus that remind her and us of the turtles’ personalities: Mikey left her a prank snake in the fridge. Leonardo’s been reading magazines. Raphael’s been working out. And for Donatello? A skateboard. Still no machines for him to do :( .

Chris: You were really frustrated with Donatello in the last movie, and he’s a hundred times worse in this one. This bit where they’re all saying their battle against the Pantyhose Gang was “radical” or “tubular” culminates in Don saying “acapella!” and “perestroika!” These aren’t appropriate things to say at all! They’re just four-syllable words! Donatello doesn’t seem smart, he sounds like a f**king idiot who got a Word-A-Day Calendar but never read the definitions!

Matt: This movie does that sequel thing where it takes a reasonably funny joke from the first one, removes it from context and repeats it well beyond what is welcome. It’s like they took a copy of the first one’s script, starred certain things and just wrote, “MORE OF THIS.”

Chris: April is legitimately uncomfortable living with the Turtles, too. They’re kind of awful as roommates, and she seems kind of nervous around them, as one would be if armed mutants were wrecking your furniture all day.

Matt: I’d feel odd when the mutant reptiles I live with suddenly change voices myself. The actor who took over for Raph is trying so hard to do an impression of the last guy that it’s actually distracting.

Chris: The Turtles give a recap of the first movie on the off chance that you were watching with, say, a goldfish or something, and then Splinter shuffles down the stairs to tell them that they must always hide because the outside world is cruel and will not understand them. This seems like a bit of a harsh moral in a movie for nine-year-olds.

Matt: It feels like the Splinter from the first movie transported into a brighter universe and is really annoyed by it.

Chris: Meanwhile, the surviving members of the Foot Clan, which sadly does not include Sam Rockwell, are convening at their designated fallback point: The Junkyard. This is rather convenient, what with Shredder being tossed into a garbage truck at the end of the last movie and all.

Matt: This is preceded by a scene of Shredder’s hand popping out from a pile of garbage and reaching toward the city. I have to say, that moment spoke to me more as a child than any other in this movie. It’s one I recreated basically all the time in my toy box. I’d have Shredder come back to life every five minutes or so. I like bad guys, if it wasn’t clear from everything else I have done in my life.

Chris: Tatsu declares himself to be the new leader of the Foot, but ohhhhh snap, guess who walks in the door and builds himself a new, more jagged helmet?

Matt: When did Tatsu get so chatty? This is more than he said in the entirety of the last movie.

Chris: He didn’t have much to say then.

Matt: Tatsu asks Shredder whether it’s time to rebuild the Foot and get the crime wave going again, but Shredder’s got other priorities: Revenge.

Chris: He dispatches his “best men” to see what April’s up to, which seems like a waste of energy considering that she is on TV all the time. Like, for instance, right now, where she’s interviewing David Warner, AKA Ra’s Al-Ghul, Motherf**kers.

Matt: If I can give this movie credit for nothing else, I can definitely pinpoint it as the reason I know who the voice of Ra’s Al-Ghul and The Lobe is. And yet, here, he is no full-throated bad guy. He is, as Raphael proclaims, a “spasmatic” scientist in charge of a toxic waste cleanup project.

Chris: No kidding. It’s interesting, and a little surprising to see (or at least hear) Warner doing something that does not directly involve murdering the Batman. He’s not without sinister connections, though: He’s working for TGRI, the company that produced… a very secret ooze. An ooze that has made some big ol’ flowers.

Matt: I have wondered since I was a kid whether he was originally supposed to be Baxter Stockman. It seems like he would have had to have been, right?

Chris: He’s certainly dressed like pre-mutation Baxter Stockman from the cartoon, complete with the bowtie and the glasses.

Matt: I haven’t been able to find anything one way or another, but it sure seems like it. TGRI’s guys find the big flowers, as does a Foot Clan goon. He brings one back to Buzzsaw Shredder, who decides that finding the ooze might be beneficial to him.

Chris: This is actually a nice plot development. Shredder was totally disgusted by the Turtles and Splinter in the first movie, referring to them as freaks, but now that they’ve defeated him, he’s totally ready to pump himself up to Big Daddy Cool Diesel proportions to get his revenge.

Matt: And create some animal mutants of his own while he’s at it. But that’s for later. Right now, Donatello is dancing with a mop and Michelangelo is making Karate Kid references.

Chris: I like that Donatello has a staff with a mop head at each end, which is impractical for both combat and cleaning without getting filthy water everywhere.

Matt: April comes home and ruins the half-assed cleaning surprise. She asks where Splinter is, and just like that, he comes down from the roof and pauses after saying, “Coming…” and KEVIN CLASH JOKE OVERLOAD COMEDY MATRIX POWERING DOWN

Chris: To a decision, you perv. Specifically, after fifteen years, he’s finally going to tell the Turtles the truth of their secret origin: That the ooze that mutated them came from David Warner at TGRI.

Chris: Also, this definitely gives us a definitive age for the TMNT, which is a little younger than I would’ve expected.

Matt: They mentioned “15 years” back at the cleanup site, too. It does seem a little young, given that the cartoon turtles drive a van and all.

Chris: Well, it’s not like we expected them to have a license. Donatello has a weird angsty moment where he walks into the foreground lamenting “after all these years of wondering who we are…” and… really? The Turtles knew they were mutated from some ooze; they talk about it in the first movie. Have they always agonized over questions about their origins?

Matt: Honestly, how much more is there to know? “Oh, some scientists made it. Okay then.” Apparently, the original draft of the script really did have a big-reveal “secret” of the stuff (more on that later), but here it’s seriously just, “It was an accident.”

Chris: The Turtles decide that the only way to get answers is to break into TGRI and HACK THE PLANET! We get some awesome Windows 3.0 computer hackery from Donatello, who has to break into a “coded database,” risking a system crash! I hope nobody left any nastygrams in the link farm!

Matt: I do have to say it’s nice to finally see Donatello at a computer, even with all the movie-hacking lingo. The turtles sadly arrive at TGRI — which they repeatedly remark looks like an arcade but really looks more like the set of a Nickelodeon game show — too late to stop Tatsu from taking the last active canister of ooze from Dr. Perry. Why he doesn’t leave with it instead of coming back to fight the turtles so they can almost take it from him? Man, I do not know.

Chris: Once again, the Turtles refrain from using their weapons, instead just opting to punch each other. This movie had some odd ideas about violence.

Matt: And surf on office furniture. This scene reeks of someone saying, “Hey, we need another fight scene.”

Chris: I think my favorite part might be Tatsu’s gentle, underhand toss of the smokebomb, accompanied by a “NINJAAAAA VANISH!” that I know I imitated ad nauseam when I was a kid. And a teen. And in my 20s.

Matt: I’ll give you a dollar if you make it your epitaph. But yes, Tatsu and the Foot escape with the canister they had safely in hand to begin with, leaving the turtles coughing while the shot lingers on an oddly brain-shaped item in the center of the lab. An item that will not come into play in the movie at all, but there were some plans.

Chris: Back at Casa O’Neil, the Turtles are finally planning to move out when Keno shows up, smirking his way inside on false pretenses – using pizza for evil, instead of good!

Matt: How did the turtles get so much worse at hiding since the last movie?

Chris: Exactly. The scene in the first movie where the Turtles hide is actually really neat and a good example of how they’re, you know, ninjas. Here, Raph stands behind a changing screen with his foot out and Mike leaves his nunchuks right there on the counter, prompting April to claim that she “likes to do a little chucking every now and then.”

Matt: Another question: What exactly is Keno’s plan here? I guess he’s following up on Mikey’s slip-up back at the underground mall, but there’s a weird feeling he’s trying to buy off April’s affections with pizza.

Chris: It’s pretty easy to tell that April is not eating four large pizzas every night by herself, so he seems to be just thinking things through logically, at least until he decides that it’d be a good idea to stomp on the mutant karate master’s foot, anyway. Which he does, bringing the turtles (and Splinter) out of hiding and giving us even more origin story. Yay?

Matt: Keno passes out at the sight of Splinter, because giant talking turtles are a-OK, but a rat is just a bridge too far.

Chris: Raphael makes a big distinction about how the mutagen was ooze and not slime, presumably to avoid a lawsuit from Nickelodeon, who had yet to purchase the franchise outright. He also reveals that the Foot is recruiting in order to strengthen their numbers, and then launches into a daring plan to go undercover. They sure do trust this kid that they met for five minutes.

Matt: With the completely inexplicable disappearance of Casey Jones, he’s all they’ve got.

Chris: That’s another weird thing about this movie: From all indications, it takes place, like, the day after the first one – Shredder’s still in the garbage when he shows up. So where’s Casey? Did they just not click at all after they started making out in the street?

Matt: It’s really hard to place in time. April’s all settled in her new apartment, which isn’t something that happens overnight. Shredder must have been in that trash for weeks.

Chris: In order to keep the Foot from coming after April, the Turtles decide to head back into the sewer and look for a new place to live. They bicker for a while, and then end up finding an abandoned subway station, another thing that blew my mind with how cool it was.

Matt: It’s probably the best set in the movie. For a movie with twice the budget of the last one, April’s apartment and the Foot HQ sure look chintzy. Speaking of the Foot’s base, Shredder’s ordering Professor Perry (who the Foot kidnapped) to combine the mutagen with the “two most vicious animals you can find.” Ever the coward, Perry gives in to the request pretty fast.

Chris: Shredder wants to pit “freak against freak” to get his revenge on the turtles. Meanwhile, April’s boss is trying to get her to drop the story about radioactive mutagen being leaked into New York City’s water supply – something that seems kind of important – so that she can cover a sexy “Swimsuits of the ’90s” puff piece to get ratings. As interesting as Swimsuits of the ’90s were, I’d still think that, you know, talking karate mutants would probably get some viewers.

Matt: Those high-sitting bikini bottoms warranted a whole special. Her boss is a new actor too, now! Everyone at Channel 3 has been replaced! There’s a conspiracy! Why aren’t the turtles investigating this?

Chris: The Turtles call her up — which involves a pretty great scene where Don is walking around with a payphone tucked under his arm — and ask if she’s seen Raph, who ducked out during the bickering five minutes ago without me even noticing. The scene then switches again (there’s a lot of fast cuts in this part) back to the junkyard, where the Shredder reveals his two mutant soldiers: Tokka and Rahzar!

Matt: I always did wonder why these were new characters instead of Bebop and Rocksteady. IMDb informs me that Eastman and Laird specifically requested they not be, because I suppose they didn’t like their own comic’s cartoon adaptation? So instead of a warthog and a rhino, it’s a wolf and a snapping turtle. Snapping turtle really seems like an uninspired choice.

Chris: I have to say, though, this scene is great. Shredder commands the new monsters to call him “Master,” and instead, Tokka says “Ma-ma?” and it turns out that they are giant mutant infants that have imprinted on him like a pair of baby ducks. The bit where he storms out and growls “BAAAAABIES?! THEY’RE BAAAABIES!” is so amazingly Cobra Commanderish that I cannot help but love it.

Matt: Yes, in their attempts to keep this movie from emulating the cartoon, Eastman and Laird may have been responsible for the most cartoonish scene in the whole movie. Perry even has a great Dr. Mindbenderish line, “What did you expect, for them to come out quoting MacBeth?”

Chris: Shredder decides to just kill them and figure out a new plan, but Perry is horrified by this, because he can’t stand to see “living creatures” killed. I actually really like this bit, as it gives him a good reason to do some classic Bad Guy stuff — showing off his monsters for their raw, brute strength and convince the Evil Mastermind to use them in his ninja army — but with a core Good Guy motivation that still makes him likable.

Matt: The turtles have found their new home, but the ooze and its secrets still lies in the hands of Shredder, the Foot and his brand new mutants! Will the turtles find out what the stuff is all about? Where’d Raph go? Can Keno successfully pass as a Foot Clan member without calling anyone fat? We’ll have to find out next week!

Chris: Finally, we will answer the question: When the evil Shredder attacks, will these turtle boys cut him slack? The answer might surprise you.

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