While watching the early 1990s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trilogy over the past few days, a series of inexplicable choices emerges. For example, why did they decide to have Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) in the first installment, not bring him back for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991), only to insert him into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and do . . . virtually nothing. At least they kept the same actor for the hockey stick wielding vigilante. Between one and three, the cast was seemingly replaced with a callousness probably born of the desire of the studios to squeeze every last penny out of the franchise. Then we arrive at the last iteration and we get feudal Japan. Why? Beats me. By the time it was released I had moved on from my love of the Turtles, so I cannot rely on childhood experience to provide insight into this decision. At any rate, my adult self sat down, resigned to another hour and a half of nonsense.
So, yeah, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III starts in Japan in 1603. Whether or not you had seen the previous films, or care enough to have feelings on the matter, it has to be somewhat confusing to be seeing samurai galloping through the woods when you are expecting turtles in sewers. They spend about five minutes in this period before inexplicably whisking you away to the Turtles subterranean abode in modern times. I am guessing they ran out of money to shoot in New York, so we see April O’Neil (Paige Turco) descending a ladder to greet her mutant friends. She has brought gifts for each of them, and the one intended for team mentor and leader Splinter (voiced by James Murray) is an ancient Japanese lamp that April refers to as an egg timer. While holding it up to show the Turtles, suddenly lightning begins shooting from it and in a blinding flash she is replaced by Kenshin (Eidan Hanzei), the son of Lord Norinaga (Sam Shimono). Now April has to deal with the political intrigue of Lord Norinaga’s court, with the mysterious European trader called Walker (Stuart Wilson), who are trying to put down a rebellion by Mitsu (Vivian Wu). Why any of this is going on is never explained. It is just happening. And they accuse April of being a witch because she seemingly spontaneously appeared in their castle. Now the Turtles have to figure out how to replicate what had happened with April because somehow they know that she had been transported elsewhere using this mystical lamp. Thinking that another four people would arrive in their own time, they enlist the help of Casey Jones to watch over these strangers in a future time. Hence while the Turtles fight for their lives in the seventeenth century, Casey lets the Japanese warriors watch hockey on television and get up to all manner of just so hilarious shenanigans. I mean, I could not stop laughing. Wait, did I say laughing? At moments during this film I was banging my head on the table in front of me, so maybe I gave myself a slight concussion? Anyway, in the process of going after April, the Turtles get enmeshed in the rebellion, primarily saving Mitsu’s village from attack. They also manage to lose the object that brought them to this time and place, and which they need to return. Never fear, though, as it magically reappears among Mitsu’s villagers. Before they leave, they manage to take care of Walker and his henchmen and give peace back to, at least, some small part of feudal Japan.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, like its immediate predecessor, is another plotless mess. In talking about the first of these films, I described as being like the Three Stooges had learned martial arts. The last ratchets up the “zany” antics by a few orders. By part three, I was fed up, hence me bouncing my head off the table a few times. It is an unexplainable movie, but also one not aimed at my age group. I do not know if kids were loving this movie in 1993, but I certainly was not among them. Yet as I alluded to at the beginning, neither are these films meant to be fine art. I would hope that anyone involved in the movie-making business wants to turn out good products for their audiences. This is why while watching them and noticing some of the people involved in these productions, I surmised more than once that there were a whole lot of people who lost bets and had to be in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. Elias Koteas twice. Corey Feldman twice, though that is less surprising. Michael Jai White and Sam Rockwell, each briefly. And with the last film, apparently the entire country of Japan.
There is one last thing to say about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: the Turtles desire to protect the young and innocent. There, a Catholic aspect.