Issue 40: Top 10 - A Turtle Tribute (Part 3)


The third film in a franchise can be disastrous. There’s a fine line of originality and familiarity a movie must walk in order to be successful. Audiences don't want a clone of the previous films, but if producers push the plot in a completely different direction, a box office flop is very possible.

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a colossal success. The second flick also performed well and launched its own wave of action figures. The Turtles caught lightning in a bottle not once, but twice! Could they pull off a hat trick?

TMNT 3 was met with mostly negative reception when it was released in 1993. Critics and fans didn’t dig the Turtles latest adventure - which saw the green guys travel back in time to feudal Japan. But, the Turtles were still riding their wave of popularity and enough fans flocked to theaters for the film to open #1 at the box office. But, the damage had been done. The movie didn’t rake in the same money as its predecessors. This halted development of future TMNT movies. Fans had to wait 14 years for the wounds to heal…

Decades later, is the third film really that bad? 

Yes, yes it is. I could easily do a Top 10 on why this movie bombed. The major culprits are:

- Jim Henson’s Creature Shop is nowhere to be found.
- No new mutants. No familiar foes. No Foot Clan.
- The time traveling premise.

Like Luke with Vader, I believe there is still good here. Despite the flaws, it’s still a fun movie featuring the Turtles. They travel back in time to 1603, and I’m going back to 1993 by popping this film into my DVD player. The Sewer Den presents Top 10 - A Turtle Tribute for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3.

Counting down from 10...


The backdrop of the film is beautiful Japan. Each scene captures the luscious greenery, boasting massive trees and picturesque waterfalls. It makes you want to visit Japan, right?

Well, don’t book your flight just yet. The movie was actually filmed in Oregon. The budget allowed for time travel, but not international travel.

Feudal Japan, the pacific northwest - what’s the diff?

Despite her life constantly being threatened, April can’t help but love the scenery. She considers her trip through time a vacation.


On a road trip last summer, I visited the Oregon Film Museum. Since the film was shot in the state, there were a few TMNT 3 items on display. Not much, but any piece of Turtles history is cool. Oregon has Turtle pride and Turtle Power.



This seems like a silly entry, but I’m happy to see Hollywood made solid casting decisions with TMNT 3. The actors that won the roles of Mitsu, Kenshin, and Lord Norinaga are a breath of fresh air.

From Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai to Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin, I get exhausted seeing these American dudes portrayed as leaders amongst an Asian cast. TMNT 3 tosses the audience a diverse group of actors and four mutant Turtles. A cool combination that bucks the usual trend.

The Asian cast also gives Splinter a few opportunities to speak Japanese. The moments are few and far between, but it’s a nice reminder of the TMNT original story that has such deep, Japanese roots. They won’t make you bilingual, but the Turtles even spout off a few lines in Japanese.

Ohayou, wasabi.” Donatello

Hello mustard?” Raphael

Okay, so my Japanese is a little rusty. Uh, Suzuki, Kawasaki!” Donatello


With a new movie comes new toys.

The figures from TMNT 3 are awesome - specifically the Turtles. Donning a samurai getup, each Turtle comes equipped with a scepter, removable mask, and an array of weapons. These toys allowed kids to travel back in time from the comforts of their own bedrooms.

Not all the toys were winners. Since the film didn't have any wacky villains, most of the figures were human. Although I own this set, it didn't see much playtime. My mutants had no business riding horses.



The 80’s icon lends his vocals to the brainy Turtle once again - and it’s a treat. His voice brings familiarity to a film that is very different from the previous entries. Donatello’s wisecracks and witty lines are delivered with expert timing courtesy of Corey.



“Open wide the gates of time.”

The canisters of ooze drove the plot of Secret of the Ooze. In TMNT 3, the ancient scepter is the mcguffin and forces our heroes on a quest through time. Say what you will about the film, but it was a welcoming change to have the Turtles on the hunt for something new. The familiar ground of the Turtles seeking out canisters of ooze had been covered in the movies and TV series plenty of times. I love that the franchise took a chance and went for a different approach.

The design of the scepter is also super cool. As a kid, I had never seen anything like it. The scepter combined elegant Japanese art with the appeal of toy. I wanted one. Why didn’t they make these for kids?! I craved this prop so my imagination could run wild - to pretend I was like the Turtles, traveling through time and making friends with people from an ancient society. 



Despite being another sequel, the trademark sense of humor that made the Turtles so incredibly popular is just as strong in this film. Their green machine charm lights up every scene. The witty banter and goofy gags are incredibly entertaining.

A few mondo moments...

Dance montages. 

Mikey groovin’ in his undies. 

Wet willies.

The phrase, "Schwing!"

Ancient pizza.

Not bad for a sequel.



The battles aren’t against the Foot Clan, but they’re still loads of fun. The typical period piece gets mutated in TMNT 3. The movie is a roller coaster ride through time that never eases on the action. 

Castle climbing!

Chases on horseback!

Wild weapons!


Samurai attacks!

Crazy costumes!

Towering sets!

There’s also catapult. Swashbuckling adventures ALWAYS feature a catapult.

We’re not stuck sitting in the sewers on this cinematic excursion. Plenty of eye-popping action in this flick.



The man, the legend. This guy ranked #1 on my Top 10 list from the original film. When he was absent from the second film, it was a major bummer. Fans found themselves in tears. But in TMNT 3, Casey Jones comes out of the shadows and back into the limelight.

Elias Koteas once again portrays the masked vigilante. Much like the first film, he steals the show. His brute charm and sarcastic demeanor grab a hold of you and don’t let go. 

Casey isn’t involved much in the main storyline. Instead, he guides the subplot along. Back at the sewers, the man plays babysitter to a group of Japanese time travelers. The premise brings nothing but laughs. Unfortunately, this subplot also minimizes Casey’s screen time. Even in small doses, the guy doesn’t disappoint. He leaves you wanting more.

In addition to Casey, Elias Koteas also portrays the character Whit. Although he does a fantastic job at playing two characters with plenty of range, Whit just doesn’t pack the same punch as Casey Jones. Elias Koteas set the bar so high with Casey, it’s a tough act to follow. 



She’s snarky, sexy, and has a Walkman. In the 2nd TMNT film, she was present, but didn’t offer much in terms of character. It was almost as if the writers didn’t know what to do with her, but were forced to shoehorn her in. 

Not here. Actress Paige Turco really shines. She’s a spitfire of energy. Her character kicks off the adventure and is the heart of the story. Whether sharing the screen with the Turtles or other humans, her performance is top-notch. She could have easily been overshadowed by the Ninjas and their time traveling antics, but she’s at the forefront. 

April is the Dorothy of this adventure. Her companions are a bizarre group of dudes and she’s thrown into a mysterious Oz-like world (filled with samurais). She may not have ruby red slippers, but like Dorothy, she’s just trying to get home. 



Despite the encounter with Vanilla Ice in TMNT 2: Secret of the Ooze, the Turtles have lived a sheltered life in their movies. They’ve been buried in the sewers, hiding out in a farm house, and crammed into a small apartment. However, the Turtles don’t dwell in the shadows in this flick. In TMNT 3, they finally get some leg room. 

The other movies used the Turtles in hiding as a plot device, but TMNT 3 goes in a completely different direction. 

Once the guys reach feudal Japan, they roam the world candidly. Instead of lurking on rooftops, the Turtles openly explore the land and mingle with the common people along the way.

There’s an element of freedom at play - and it adds to the character depth of each Turtle. By the end of the movie, Raphael & Michelangelo don’t want to go home. Life in Japan has opened their eyes and given them an opportunity that NYC does not. It’s the final conflict in the film. Stay in Japan or return to the sewers? 

This is a powerful theme for such a dippy movie. Instead of the usual good guys defeat bad guys story arc, TMNT 3 digs deeper and presents the audience with a bittersweet ending. The Turtles defeat their enemy and return home, but are left wondering if life in the sewers is a life at all..

But then, Splinter puts a lampshade on his head and that somehow erases any doubt.


A few years ago I watched this film and was shocked how bad it was. My memories betrayed me - I had always appreciated this flick as a kid. But watching it again now, my faith was restored. The movie is no Oscar contender, but still has its merits. There’s enough Turtle Power within the 95-minute running time to keep fans happy. TMNT 3 won’t be reeling in any new supporters, but crazed fans (like me) can appreciate a silly story that puts our Turtles in time.


1 comment:

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