Back to the Sewers: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze (1991)

With the surprise success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, New Line Cinema quickly moved to put together a sequel.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze moves to cash in on the franchise while it was still hot, but also trying to address perceived issues with the original film.  I say ‘perceived’ because most of the issues they tried to address were those of parents with impressionable children.  What resulted was a terrible mess of a movie with a direction-less plot, poor humor, and schizophrenic tone.

The Turtles

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The first change made was to the Turtles.  Though it is less noticeable to the casual viewer, the Turtles in Secret of the Ooze have been given wider, more cartoony eyes, textured skin, and spots. The head sculpts were based off their original designs in the first movie, which is why some viewers don’t immediately recognize the difference.  Other changes involve a change to their humor, being less pop-culture referenced and more physical or annoying.  The plot does shift the focus to a different set of Turtles this time as well, which we shall cover individually.

Donatello

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Donatello is the turtle with the most changes in this iteration, which is odd considering he is the turtle most involved with the various sub-plots.  Corey Feldman was replaced with Adam Carl as Donnie’s voice.  Even though Leif Tilden still did Donatello’s suit work, it was clear this was a very different Donatello from the original film.  Donatello’s mannerisms changed to accommodate his new voice, such a clutching the strap on his belt like a suit jacket.  In addition, the character’s face changed the most drastically since his eyes were the most deep set of the four originally.  His nose was raised and the beak was rounded. so that his profile was more similar to Leonardo than before.  These changes are jarring when viewing directly after the first movie, but enough screen time is given with Donnie to help make the adjustment.

I say Donatello is the turtle most involved mainly because he seems to be the only turtle cognizant of what is going on.  On the one hand, this is good as it showcases Donatello as the more intelligent member of the team.  On the other hand, it makes the other turtles either look like dumb brutes or seem like window-dressing.

Donatello is primarily involved in the titular plot thread — seeking out answers to their origins after Splinter reveals TCRI were responsible for the canister that transformed them.  This plot thread, however, ends about two-thirds into the movie, just before the climax.  While the discovery of their origins and the inevitable disappointment of it affects Donatello deeply, it is swept aside to make room for other things.  Donatello has a deeply affecting scene with Splinter, which essentially ends with “suck it up, we got more movie to get to.”

Overall, Donatello’s changes were tolerable, and in some cases necessarily; the biggest affront was cutting short what could have been a strong character arc.

Raphael

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Raphael is played similar to his last installment, though cleaned up a bit for the kiddies.  He’s still the tough guy, and the loner, despite it causing trouble in the last movie.  Raphael in this movie is also very brazen.  When the Foot steal the last bottle of Ooze, Raphael decides to strike out and find the Foot almost immediately.  With the help of Keno, he infiltrates the Foot headquarters, only to get overwhelmed by Foot ninja.  If this sounds familiar, it’s only because this is exactly what happens in the first film.  In fact, he even has a squabble with Leonardo before he heads off, just like the first film.  The only redeeming factor was Raph’s insistence on Keno to run and get help once they are found out.  It’s possible that this was supposed to foreshadow a similar mistake Keno makes later, but we’ll get to that when we speak of Keno.

This installment really hurts Raph as a character, as he clearly doesn’t learn from past mistakes.  Aside from that, there isn’t really much else to say about him, as getting captured is his most significant contribution to the story.  The rest of the movie he’s just another mouth-piece.

Leonardo and Michelangelo

Leo and Mike get the least amount of devoted screen time in this installment.  Leonardo gets a couple scenes where he gets to express his frustration with Raphael, but there’s very little else for Leo to do this go around.  Michelangelo is again the resident goof-ball, his only real contribution to the plot is falling down an open hole into an abandoned subway (which we will talk more about when we speak about tone for this installment.)

Keno

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It’s important to segment out Keno, as he gets just as much screen time as the turtles, and even more than any of the supporting cast.  Ernie Reyes Jr performed stunt work for Donatello in the first movie, and was given a starring role for Secret of the Ooze.  His inclusion was possibly to showcase more practical martial arts, since the turtles themselves are now using the wacky/hi-jinx style of ninjitsu.  Not a terrible idea in theory.

The biggest flaw in this plan was that Keno is not an established Ninja Turtles character, so there’s less to build him off of.  Aside from being a pizza delivery guy who knows martial arts, Keno is basically a whiny teenager.  This is where I actually have to compliment the character of Danny in the first film, as even though he was the weak link in the cast there, at least he had motivation and some amount of depth.  Keno is basically a head-strong know-it-all.  In other words, Raphael if he weren’t a turtle and had no one else to play off of.

In fact, Keno has the same story arc as Raphael.  By the time of the climax, Keno has an argument with Splinter about helping the turtles fight Shredder and the mutants Tokka and Razar, and goes out alone.  The only difference is with so little screen time left, Keno barely affects the climax at all.  There’s plenty of room for that type of character to be a catalyst for growth in Raphael, but much like everything else in this movie, the potential is limited to a single scene and never brought up again.

The (Rest of the) Cast

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The only other major supporting role in this story is David Warner’s Professor Jordan Perry.  A TCRI scientist who seems to deeply regret his company’s experiments, he is captured by Shredder and forced to create more mutants for Shredder to enact his revenge.  Of all the concepts thrown at the wall in this movie, Perry seems to be the only one that is realized to any degree, due in no small part to Warner’s performance.

Perry seems fascinated by the turtles to the extent that when he first meets them all, he has to stop and express this despite them only being barely out of harm’s way at the time.  He also seems deeply concerned for the turtles’ well-being, despite admitting that their existence was an accident.  He willingly works with the turtles in order to undo the mistake of Tokka and Razar, showing more his regrets over the situation.  While there is certainly more that could be done with this character, this is one of the few characters that feels realized.  This could be because there is a character in turtle mythology that plays a similar role, all be it more bumbling — the cartoon version of Baxter Stockman.

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Professor Gordon Perry’s inspiration?

Paige Turco takes on the role of April O’Neil in this movie, and unfortunately both the actress and the character are wasted here.  April mostly acts as the link between the turtles and Keno, and gets captured only to get a message to the turtles from the Foot.  Aside from those few things, April is hardly even noticeable in this installment.

Aside from those, we have the Shredder and Tatsu returning, who are both very one-note and uninteresting; their goals in the first movie apparently abandoned for generic vengeance.  Raymound Serra shows up in a glorified cameo from his appearance in the first movie, and Mark Doerr plays Freddy, a foot ninja undercover with April’s news crew, which amounts to a way to explain plot convenience.

Oh yeah, and Vanilla Ice tries to play himself…

Story and Script

I think it’s evident by this point that there is very little actual plot going on.  Instead, there are a plethora of sub-plots and motivations, only a few of which are touched on or realized to fruition.  The only driving force in the story is Shredder wanting vengeance on the turtles and creating his own monsters to destroy them.

Everything else seems like ideas that were thrown on all wall in the brainstorming stage, and rather than picking one or two to focus on, the writers just went with all of them. The turtles need to find a new home, which is found and moved into before we’re even halfway through the movie.  The turtles learn of their origin just before the climax, and once learned, it is subsequently dropped.   Keno’s story-arch is unresolved, thus Keno doesn’t learn anything.  Keno’s relationship to Raph is glanced over.  Meanwhile, everyone who isn’t specifically given a sub-plot is just standing around with nothing to do or making poorly written jokes.

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Tone

This is the biggest struggle in this movie.  It’s obvious that the team going into this were divided on whether to emulate the first movie or focus on working in cartoon show aspects.  Secret of the Ooze chooses the former, but tries to keep it appropriate for younger audiences.  The result is a mess.

The first film was filmed darker both to emulate the original comics, and to help sell the turtles’ as real walking, talking turtles.  In this film that’s all but done away with.  The dark lighting is replaced with brighter, even TV-esque lighting.  This is seen most clearly in the turtles new home in the abandoned subway station.  While it is a very lovely set, the lighting in it is ridiculously bright.The turtles can be seen very clearly, and their illusion is not sold to the audience nearly as well.

Jokes, as noted before, have been cleaned up.  The turtles don’t use foul language or reference other movies or television shows as often.  Instead, we have Michelangelo crunching on a candy bar to annoy Raphael, the turtles playing football indoors with a slice of pizza, and April trying to swing nunchuku.   While it’s not toilet humor, it is far more low affect than fans of the first film would be used to.  Let’s not forget the tacked on and pointless Ninja Rap as well.

The other aspect they took from the cartoon was one that does not translate well to the big screen — the turtles rarely use the weapons that they carry.  Leo uses his katanas once, to cling to the ceiling.  Raph holds his sais out ready for a fight, only for them to go back into his belt between cuts.  Michelangelo uses sausage links more than his nunchuku.  Donatello’s bo gets the most screen time, likely because it’s mostly just a big stick.

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Ranking – 5

The reason this installment did not come out as early as I hoped was partly due to the amount of deliberation I had on this ranking.  However, I honestly feel this is the weakest entry in the Turtles movie franchise.  The direction focused too much on trying to imitate the first movie and the cartoon, rather than finding it’s own niche.  In addition, the script spent too little time on any one concept.  While there are some minor successes here and there, there is not a single scene I can point to in this movie and say “This is where it works.”  Also, of the turtles’ silver-screen ventures, this is the one with the most dust on it.

Secret of the Ooze succeeds only in being a movie featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and brings very little else to the table.  The Ninja Rap is the most memorable part of this movie, but it really doesn’t even hold a candle to Partners in Crime’s “Turtle Power” from the first movie… which is still used at the close of this movie also.

This of course means I must prepare to defend my position next time, as I take a look at the installment that was the most hated prior to the Micheal Bay film:  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3.

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