Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of the Ooze

Lightning struck twice for distributor New Line Cinema with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of the Ooze, the sequel to the original 1990 box-office bulldozer.  The franchise caught fire in 1991, reaching the peak of its popularity with kids and adults alike.  The cartoon series was launching its fifth season and the Playmates action figures couldn't be stocked on the shelves fast enough.  Less than a year after Part 1 blasted into theaters, this fast-paced follow-up received a budget twice the amount of its predecessor, the generous $25 million allowance once again benefiting the incredibly talented special effects virtuosos at Jim Henson's Creature Shop.  Though generally not as commemorated amongst fans, TMNT II's strength lies in its ability to expand upon the Ninja Turtles universe, exposing new elements to the origin story of our "Heroes In a Half-Shell" while still finding time to include a rousing musical performance by the one and only Vanilla Ice.

Picking up shortly after the conclusion of the first film, The Secret Of the Ooze begins with the enraged Master Shredder (François Chau, voiced again by David McCharen) digging himself out of the trash, having survived his plummet from a building into a garbage truck at the end of Part 1.  Vowing vengeance, the humiliated Foot Clan ringleader reorganizes his forces and plots to obliterate the Turtles and their guide Splinter, the family shacking up with news reporter April O'Neil (the charming Paige Turco replacing Judith Hoag) until they can find a new home.  Shredder employs the assistance of Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner), the reluctant egghead forced to use the same mutagen that spawned his reptilian pestilence to craft himself his own set of henchmen freaks -- Tokka, a spiky-shelled snapping turtle monstrosity, and Rahzar, a rough-and-tough killer wolf abomination.  While this trio of new roles could've easily been substituted with the already-established Baxter Stockman, Bebop and Rocksteady from the white-hot syndicated cartoon series, they remain memorable original characters of the TMNT movie roster.

Sorely missed from the action is Elias Koteas as Casey Jones, his position being filled by Ernie Reyes, Jr. as Keno, a quick-witted pizza delivery boy schooled in martial arts.  Reyes, who played Donatello's stunt double in Part 1, is enjoyable to watch as he infiltrates the re-enerized Foot Clan on behalf of his newfound mutant friends, but Casey's absence lingers on throughout the film's breezy 88-minute running time.  The Turtles set up shop in an abandoned subway station and formulate a plan of attack against the resurrected Shredder, leading to a four-on-two junkyard confrontation with the clumsy yet destructive Tokka and Rahzar.  The guys ultimately strike up an alliance with Professor Perry, using his knowledge of their aggressors' genetic pitfalls to gain the upper hand.  The gargantuans grounded, the Turtles turn to Shredder, but the faltering emperor exploits a sample of the ooze in a last ditch effort to bring his enemies down, and with horrifying results.  The climax unfortunately turns out even less thrilling than the first movie's... but did I mention that we're treated to a sprightly rendition of the timeless Vanilla Ice anthem "Ninja Rap"?

Director Michael Pressman, nowadays a seasoned vet of television drama (Grey's Anatomy, Law & Order, Weeds), took full advantage of his wondrous resources over at Jim Henson's Creature Shop.  The spirit of the deceased effects wizard lives on through stellar animatronics work that he pioneered, the Turtle costumes upgraded with lighter, more compact mechanics in order to give the actors more flexibility inside the suits.  The facial expressions more realistically convey emotion due to unprecedented advancements in nano-servo technology (well, advanced for 1991, anyway).  The improved look of the Turtles even inspired a line of "Movie Star" action figures -- Leo, Don, Ralph and Mike now sported spongy, rubbery skin to mirror their live-action counterparts.  All-in-all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of the Ooze combines superb production design with all the flash required to distract children of any age for an hour and a half.  And if the inclusion of rap sensation Vanilla Ice fails to spark one's interest, how about featured player and former WWE Champion Kevin Nash making his big screen debut as the mutagen-scarfing Super Shredder?

The Verdict: Even though not as cherished by TMNT fans as the original film, it's easy to assume that Jim Henson, memorialized in the credits after his untimely death in 1990, would've preferred the sequel.  Henson found the first flick a bit dismal for kiddies, but on the second go-around, the violence is toned down substantially, perhaps making it more appropriate for its target audience.  Predictably, the movie was a financial success, but it failed to live up to the immense box-office haul netted by Part 1.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of the Ooze has its flaws but remains a worthy follow-up that further explores the Turtles' mythology.  One thing is for sure -- it's hardly the worst Ninja Turtles movie ever made...

Rating:  out of

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