We sincerely apologise for doing this but you’re about to feel old. Today, March 22, is the 30th anniversary of the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze. That means the film you probably loved as a kid is officially starting to find grey hairs, gain weight in new places, and consider a Friday night at home more appealing than going out.
Seriously though, when I think of the 1990s, one of the first things I think about is The Secret of the Ooze. Moreso than its predecessor, the second Turtles movie is quintessential ‘90s entertainment, complete with Vanilla Ice cameo and song, chirpy upbeat score, as well as Joan Rivers and Ralph Nader jokes. To me, and I assume many of you, it’s a film we watched a ton growing up and one that holds a nostalgic place in our hearts. But have you watched it recently? Does it hold up?
I’m happy to report that yes….yes, it does.
Released March 22, 1991, directed by Michael Pressman and written by Todd W. Langen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze brings back Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michaelangelo from the first movie (and don’t forget the animated series, toy line, and comic books!) and basically picks up where the original left off. Instantly, you’re transported back into the world with lots of energetic action and quippy jokes. Even now, jokes like “combat cold cuts” as Michaelangelo swings some sausages still make me laugh.
Beyond that, the main story is actually very simple and direct. The Turtles and their master, Splinter, finally get wind of the company that created the ooze that created them. As they investigate deeper into their own origins, the evil Shredder reemerges and hopes to use the ooze for his gain. He creates two new mutants, Bebop and Rocksteady Tokka and Rahzar, to fight the Turtles and almost succeeds. With that, The Secret of the Ooze won me over again because it’s so direct and simple. Look, I love Marvel movies, DC movies, Star Wars, all of that, but most of the big, family sci-fi fantasy films these days are overly complicated — The Secret of the Ooze isn’t. Toxic waste creates mutations, and that’s it. No need to go any deeper.
The downside to a simple structure is the film also touches on a few cool character details you wish would have been explored deeper. Like when the Turtles realise their creation from the ooze was basically a mistake. Donatello ponders the meaning of his existence for a few seconds but it doesn’t go beyond that. There’s also this notion of them as growing boys who are attracted to the outside world that shuns them. It’s mentioned, but not fully explored.
Things like that may have given The Secret of the Ooze a bit more depth, but honestly, you aren’t watching a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie for the depth. You want jokes, you want action, you want spectacle. And, for its time, The Secret of the Ooze delivers. Considering the main stars are actors in elaborate costumes, it’s still impressive to see such distinguishable personalities pull off so much martial arts choreography. No, these aren’t the most elaborate or exciting fights you’ll ever see, but it’s dudes in turtle costumes, so it works. Plus, they’re cracking so many football and pizza jokes as it’s happening, you barely notice.
There are certain things you do notice with a 30-year lens though. Like the fact that Ernie Reyes Jr.’s character Kino is severely underwritten and acts mainly as a plot device. It’s also weird to see that members of Shredder’s Foot Clan are almost all white men. The amou of women in the movie at all feels like a pretty big oversight: the recasted April O’Neil (The 100’s Paige Turco) — who does far less this time around — and a brief cameo from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman early in the film are pretty much all we get.
Overall though, watching The Secret of the Ooze 30 years after its release was a joyous occasion. That the film is still as exciting and funny as I remember speaks volumes about the passion everyone involved put into it. Which is fitting since, before the film even begins, there’s a dedication to Jim Henson, whose company worked on the costumes for the film and died soon before its release. It’s a film worthy of Henson and perfectly linked to a time and place where Vanilla Ice could spontaneously bust out a diegetic rap song about Ninja Turtles, who then break out into a choreographed dance number. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.