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‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 30, 1990

If you're a parent, chances are something like this happened: You were knocking around the house one day, when you heard your preteen offspring referring knowingly -- even passionately -- to "Raphael," "Leonardo," "Michaelangelo" and "Donatello."

You rushed breathlessly into the living room to shower your brilliant progeny with praise. You were even thinking of lauding the school for its advanced art-appreciation classes.

Then you found out about the children's TV series called "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," featuring not four great artists, but four green, animated turtles, so-called "heroes on a half-shell" who, weaned on radioactive waste, have grown to human height, live in a sewer, can roundhouse-kick a bad guy better than Bruce Lee, and like to yell out such youthful surfer terms as "Awesome!" "Excellent!" and "Major pizza attack here, dude!"

By now, parent or not, you've probably heard about the movie version, which actually turns out to be a lot of fun, in a witty, pugilistic kind of way. This is thanks primarily to the masterful craftsmanship of Jim Henson, who transforms the cartoon creations into live-action, latexed puppets, radio-controlled, lip-synchronously believable and especially good with those roundhouse kicks.

"Ninja"-the-movie will obviously wow the average TV-viewing, presold, preteen viewer but some problems may occur to older viewers and sensitive parents. The script is a meandering excuse to serve the puppetry, rather than the other way around, from the slow beginning to the subplodding romance between turtle allies Judith Hoag (a friendly investigative journalist) and Elias Koteas (the friendly neighborhood lout). The fighting, between the green guys and a mean ninja gang called the Foot, reaches an alarmingly feverish high in the climactic finale. The word "babe," a regular part of the TMNT jargon, jars.

Also, given all the intimations of Japanese spiritual and technological superiority -- from the presence of Splinter, the Turtles' wisdom-spouting sensei-rodent, to Judith Hoag's quip when confronted by unfriendly ninjas: "Am I behind in my Sony payments or something?" -- you may have to repeat to your kids and yourself, "Japan is not the master nation, Japan is not the master nation."

Parents can vaguely console themselves, however, that amid the kiddie pollution available on Saturday morning TV, the Turtles rank slightly better than the rest. At least they care about each other and fight crime for other than fortress-destroying, fascistically gratifying reasons. And maybe, just maybe, this will make them curious enough, one day, to check up on the real Michelangelo.

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