Looking back at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze
Our look back at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies continues with The Secret Of The Ooze, a sequel that raises the budget, and introduces Vanilla Ice…
As an ambitious young writer, I actually wrote an outline for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II. Unfortunately, it was never developed into a full script as I was unable to get it to anyone at the studio before Secret Of The Ooze was in production. I suspect that my difficulties in getting my outline read were due to a lack of Hollywood connections, something I attribute entirely to the fact that I was seven.
Truth be told, it may be for the best that my work stayed unseen by the rest of the world, as I wrote the outline before I’d had a chance to see the first film, starting my version where I assumed it left off – with Shredder helping Krang repair his robot body in the Technodrome. I’m also not sure that I had formatted my pitch entirely correctly (is crayon an accepted standard in Hollywood?) or that I even finished it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze picks up shortly after the first film. With the location of their sewer lair compromised, the Turtles and Splinter are living with April O’Neil in her swanky New York apartment. Mike, Don and Leo head underground in search of a new dwelling, while Raphael steps out with new ally Keno, the Turtles pizza delivery guy, to investigate why the Foot Clan are recruiting young martial artists.
The reason, it turns out, is that Shredder is considerably less dead than previously thought (he somehow survived what looked like a very fatal building fall/garbage truck crushing) and is back with Tatsu plotting his revenge against the Turtles.
The Foot raid chemical company TGRI for the last remaining canister of animal-warping chemical mutagen, and kidnap top scientist Professor Jordan Perry. They have him whip them up a couple of mutants of their own to battle the Turtles.
TGRI is of interest to the Turtles, too, after Splinter reveals that the company logo appeared on the side of the canister of mutagen that was responsible for their mutation. While his brothers move Splinter into their very cool new lair, an abandoned underground station, Raphael is caught by the Foot and taken prisoner.
Leo, Mike and Don rescue him along with Professor Perry, but are nearly thwarted by Tokka and Rahzar, The Shredder's physically giant but intellectually tiny mutant underlings. Perry helps Donatello create an anti-mutagen to use on Tokka and Razhar. The Turtles head to a construction site to face down these two mutant enemies, to take on the Foot, to defeat The Shredder once and for all, and to, er, have a bit of a dance.
Secret Of The Ooze is not a good sequel. Clearly taking influence from the cartoon series, it discards many of the best elements of the first film and replaces them with nonsense.
The best example of this is the disappearance of Casey Jones. In his place is Keno, a character so annoying that, even in a film with multiple talking mutant animals, the least believable part is that he isn’t frequently punched in the face.
Essentially a human take on Scrappy Doo, Keno seems to exist solely for the purpose of irritating the parents who took their children to see the film. It’s nothing to do with Ernie Reyes, who plays Keno, either. What is the guy meant to do with a script that attempts to show that his character has ‘attitude’ by having him harass women on the street?
Gone, too, is Judith Hoag as April O’Neil. Her replacement, Paige Turco, is badly miscast. Sure, she looks quite a bit like April does in the cartoon, but she’s too placid and soft when compared to how the character was in the previous film. Also replaced is Donatello’s costume. Secret Of The Ooze is really Donatello’s film (his curiosity about their origin driving the story), so it’s a shame that he spends his moment as the centre of attention looking rather warped.
The dignified, poised Shredder of the first film is now more like the villain we all knew from the cartoon. He spends much of his time exclaiming in surprised outrage as his best laid plans are bungled by his mutant assistants. He’s like a dreadful ninja version of Larry David.
His Shredder outfit is now purple to match his animated incarnation, and for some bizarre reason, his new Shredder helmet is ridiculously big, making him an easy spot for any heroic reptile mutants watching for him from a distance. This somewhat wacky take on Shredder is particularly frustrating as he is essentially the living dead, and a film about the Turtles fighting a zombie Shredder (with zombie Foot soldiers!) would be incredible.
Shredder’s new mutants Tokka (a snapping turtle) and Razhar (a wolf) are a strange addition to the fold. Presumably taking the spot intended for Bebop and Rocksteady, the bungling warthog and rhino duo from the TV series, they’re actually not such a bad inclusion.
Given the tone of this film, there a quite a few laughs drawn from the idea of having Shredder’s huge mutant weapons turn out to be babies. In the first film, they would have been a catastrophe, but in this mess they’re at least fun.
Fun, in fact, is the key word here. Because, if Secret Of The Ooze is not a good film - and it’s not - it is at least a fun one. There are some chuckles to be had from the dialogue (which works best when it’s not trying to recreate gags from the first film), with the ninja pizza line (“Pizza that vanish quickly, without trace”) being a personal favourite.
It was when I considered the physical movements of the Turtles, who theatrically wave their arms and dramatically posture every second they’re on screen, that I worked out what I think is the most apt description of Secret Of The Ooze. The film is a pantomime. Everything is very big, very bright, very camp and very silly.
While this is a disappointing way to follow up the genuinely strong first film, it does mean there’s a lot to laugh with (and, unfortunately, at) when you look back at it now.
The thing Ninja Turtles II seems to be most remembered for is its club scene, which sees early 90s rap icon Vanilla Ice stop his on-stage performance to come up with a new song about the Turtles, Ninja Rap, complete with a full dance routine.
Granted, this is truly nonsensical, but it’s not like it’s out of place. It’s not the worst thing in the film, or even the scene (we’re talking about a scene with a set-up where Shredder is defeated using loud music). It’s a bizarre spectacle, though, and is amusing to look back on.
The real highlight of the film comes after this scene, when the Turtles find themselves faced with a mutated Shredder. The Super Shredder is awesome; a giant mass of muscle and jagged spikes. We get only a few glances at him, which is just enough. It’s a great idea, and means that the film gets to finish on its highest point.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze, then, while a fun little film to look back on, is a disappointing follow-on and a sign of the direction the franchise was being driven in. As well as falling short of the first film in terms of quality, Turtles II was unable to match its predecessor in terms of box office returns.
Pulling in a little less than $80m at the US box office makes the film far from a flop, especially when you consider that it presumably made at least ten times that in Vanilla Ice-featuring soundtrack sales, but with almost double the budget of the first film, it must have concerned those who financed it – though not, unfortunately, to the extent that another sequel didn’t soon follow.
Come back tomorrow, when we revisit the third film in the series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.