Back in 1990, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles introduced Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s characters in living, moving animatronics. In 1991, a sequel furthered the gambit with lesser results. 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III fudges just about everything, with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop no longer responsible for the Turtles and director Stuart Gillard trying to style something from his dull screenplay.
Instead of the Creature Shop, the animatronics fall to the All Effects Company. Those scoring at home will note that the All Effects Company delivered such luminaries as the Energizer Bunny and Johnny 5 from the 1986 film Short Circuit. There’s still something organic and neat about the design and the operation of the Turtles.
The film opens in Japan in the year 1603. There’s some sort of trouble with a prince named Kenshin (Henry Hayashi), a certain Lord Norinaga (Sab Shimono) and an English trader named Walker (Stuart Wilson). The action sweeps to the present day, where reporter April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) is about to go on vacation when she stops by the Turtles’ lair.
She gives out some presents, including an ancient Japanese sceptre for Splinter (James Murray). Naturally, the same sceptre exists in 1603 and Kenshin and April somehow switch places and times. Kenshin encounters the Turtles, while April encounters life in feudal Japan. Soon, the Turtles head to Japan and get involved in the madness.
While The Secret of the Ooze explored themes like origins and ecological concerns, there’s not much to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. The concept of time becomes a mere device and this inanity is pressed when Michelangelo (Robbie Rist) returns home and grumbles about having to “grow up.”
It’s tempting to submit that Gillard intended some sort of send-up of samurai movies, what with all the simplistic Japanese villagers and the radical Turtles. And cinematographer David Gurfinkel competently covers the tepid choreography and not-so-sweeping vistas, attempting to add artistic zeal to dull layers.
But it’s a reach to suggest that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is about anything. It doesn’t feel like a peculiar parody of the samurai genre and it lacks the idiosyncratic charm and heart of its predecessors, which featured surprising depth, a broader sense of fun and more material of interest for viewers above the age of six.
In this picture, there’s nothing to care about. Nothing connects the Ninja Turtles to the cinematic realm. There are no meaningful villains to consider and the plot has little if anything to do with their actual existence, save for some lame attempt to connect the heroes to yōkai demons called “kappa.”
A romantic angle is tossed in for good measure, with Kenshin and Mitsu (Vivian Wu) sharing some kind of wobbly love for the ages. And Raphael (Tim Kelleher) is again disgruntled, as he wants to be somewhere the Turtles are appreciated and has a paternal relationship with Yoshi (Travis A. Moon).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is dull. The voice acting is shrill and irritating. The action is messy and dreary. The setting is flat and uninspired. The music is invasive and monotonous. Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) adds nothing and neither does Whit (Elias Koteas). And the pizza is burned to a crisp, for crying out loud. Talk about a letdown.