Apparently the 1993 third live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film (aka TMNT III; Turtles in Time) has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of all the Turtles films. I also follow enough TMNT fan instagram accounts to know that this is not a surprise. Personally, I find this a little sad.
I have complete and utter affection for this installment in the series. I remember the first time I watched it (on TV) and what I even had for dinner while I was doing so (pizza, obviously). Consequently, I may always watch it with rose-tinted glasses but I think it’s got a lot going for it.
Firstly, I will tackle the main reasons why I think others, including TMNT diehards, hate it so much. The plot features time travel, which makes it a radical departure from the previous two installments and the 80s cartoon series. Then again we are dealing with adult-sized talking turtles with mean ninja skills, so time travel shouldn’t really be that much of a stretch, plus the cartoon did deal with inter-dimensional travel, which one could argue is harder to comprehend than time travel. Furthermore, time travel was explored in the original comic book series so is very much in the TMNT lore. In fact the time scepter is directly taken from a 1986 story called Team up with Cerebus.
The other main reason why TMNT III is not muched loved is because the costume animatronics were not this time provided by the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Instead, a no doubt cheaper option, All Effects Company did the animatronics. Admittedly the efforts of All Effects are quite a few shells away from Jim Henson’s brilliant work, but they still look better than the CGI Michael Bay ones, so I win this argument.
So why do I think TMNT III deserves a second chance? I think it has a great deal in common with the original comics. Not as gritty, but certainly in terms of story and spirit it pays a lot more homage to them than the first two installments did. Issue 17 from the original comic book series, released in 1988 entitled Distractions, featured Michelangelo writing a story about saving a princess in feudal Japan. Sounding familiar? Growing up, I was always quite fascinated with feudal Japan, hence my appreciation for Akira Kurosawa films, Bushido, and the Samurai. So having a turtles film set in feudal Japan is a perfect blend.
TMNT III also saw the return of Casey Jones, who was missing from TMNT II, and was once again played by Elias Koteas. Impressively, Elias also plays the character Whit in TMNT III, so it’s no wonder Casey Jones didn’t get to time travel.
And finally, I love how 90s the ending is with the little dance number. The song in question is called ‘Rockin’ Over the Beat’ by Belgium dance group Technotronic, whooooooo formerly went by the name of Hi Tek 3, the same exact group responsible for ‘Spin That Wheel’ from the original TMNT soundtrack. Mind, blown!
So there you have it. I love TMNT III and I’m happy to accept that I may be in a small minority on that one. If I were to pick any TMNT film to watch right now, then TMNT III would always be very high on that list.
I also made a Leonardo costume figure that had TMNT III very much at the inspirational centre of my heart as I was making it.