In 1994, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was on the tail end of its initial foray into the public’s consciousness. The live action trilogy ran from 1990 to 1993 and the animated series ran from 1987 to 1996. The trilogy featured rapidly dwindling results and you could see less and less money going into the costumes that were up on screen. The folks running the franchise kept testing the waters for interest, but they kept going cheaper and cheaper. First they did some live action actors on stage in a rock concert. Then, by 1994, they released a 25-minute musical direct to video. It was a TMNT Christmas special called “We Wish You a Turtles Christmas” and it was one of the worst piece of garbage ever commit to video.
The video starts on an okay note. We see the familiar Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles logo and it does a strange video wipe to a shot of a Manhattan neighborhood. The camera looks down on a street and a sewer cover is glowing. It looks cheap but at least somewhat accurate. They don’t rehash the origin, correctly assuming no one would buy this unless they were already fans. We see some poor pet turtles moving about in some glowing slime and then we cut to the Turtles full-grown dancing and singing that they’re the Turtles in a song that is accurately titled “We’re the Turtles.” But that’s when you see what they look like…
Oh my god, what happened to their faces? It’s all teeth. They are all locked in a single expression with teeth bared. The eyes look like something a dead doll lost and their bodies move like cadavers covered in saran wrap. It sure doesn’t help that the lighting is dialed all the way up to highlight every seam and tear in their fake rubber bodies. Just for comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at what they looked like 4 years ago in the first film:
Sure, they didn’t exactly look “real” but they were a hell of a lot more convincing. Jim Henson studios created faces that were capable of all sorts of expression, both broad and subtle. None of that can be found here. And trust me, every Muppet you’ve ever seen talking matches their mouths to the voices a million times better than what this video shows. When it’s time to talk, their mouths start chomping a bit before and quite a bit after they’re done talking. It’s pretty terrifying, actually.
The video eats up about a minute of its running time with really simple graphics. The song writers and director get credited with white text on black background as the first song trails off. It’s like they felt an obligation to hit a certain running time and had to start padding it the second they began the show. Everything feels like there’s a stagehand just off camera mouthing silently for them to slow down and stretch it out.
When even the main title can’t bother to use more than the generic fonts you get on your computer, you know what’s up. This is a pure cash grab at Turtles fans and everyone else is about to suffer. But trust me, Turtles fans will suffer, too.
We launch immediately into the first Christmas song. And every song is a Turtles version of a famous song. And by famous, I mean royalty free. The first ditty they sing is “Deck the Halls” but Leonardo is singing it with a Jamaican accent. Is that his voice in this, you wonder? No, it’s just that the first time you hear him he’s using a fake voice for no real reason. He’s singing about decking the halls with pepperoni and that the holiday is great because there’s no Bebop or Rocksteady. So wait, does that mean this takes place in the cartoon’s universe? Because there was never any Bebop or Rocksteady in the live action films. And don’t get excited, there’s no enemies in this either. They may be called the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but you’d be forgiven if you thought they were the Teenage Mutant Chorus Turtles because they do NO martial arts moves. No weapons. No real conflict. No real anything. Just four poor guys in rubber suits that don’t move very well.
Instead of any real jokes, what passes for humor seems to be whatever the actors felt like doing. Sometimes they just do a hula dance or wiggle their hands or something in the background. It feels like a totally improvised session. Like, they had the music already recorded so they just told the actors to move around however they wanted after they turned the mouths on their heads on.
The video doesn’t even attempt to hide how cheap it is. Their chests wobble around and you can almost always see the hole in the head where the actor is. There’s no attempt at illusion. If you put your sock on your hand and drew a Leonardo or Donatello face on it, you could be more convincing.
Those permanent rictus-like Joker smiles never go away. Their eyes stare blankly ahead. Sometimes they open their mouths extra wide and it’s just a black hole into pure horror.
Their teeth are always out like they want to hurt you. Just because there’s no ninja swords doesn’t mean a kid can watch this. This is a concentrated 25 minutes of nightmare fuel.
The Turtles realize no one bought a Christmas present for Splinter so they leave the sewer in the longest, most drawn out way possible. Basically it’s just the four guys walking around a boiler room singing their third song “Up from the Sewer.” It’s completely forgettable because it isn’t a parody of a Christmas tune. When they finally get to the streets, it’s covered in homeless kids banging away on pots and pans as though they’re drummers.
The kids all seem to be totally cool with four green monsters ambling about. One poor kid has to roller skate up and high five Michelangelo and he couldn’t look much less enthused. This poor kid is probably wishing his mom had booked him for a JC Penny catalog ad instead.
This is also the first time we truly see their full bodies and take a look at those feet. Instead of bothering to finish the costumes, the wardrobe department just had them put on some socks. Anything to save a few bucks.
Where did the money go? Well, the credits say they filmed it all on location in New York City and it sure looks like they may actually be in Times Square for the next shot, but there’s never an establishing or wide-angle shot to show it off! Whose decision was that? “Yeah, here we are in Manhattan. Lemme get tight on that sign pole. Perfect. What a great shot!” I’d wonder if they didn’t want to show all the ads but they give the Sbarro’s behind them tons of screen time so I’m just not sure.
Michelangelo sings the next song, “Oh Little City of New York” which is a play on “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He also makes up a new voice for this and one of the other Turtles says, “Oh no, he’s becoming that opera guy again.” THAT OPERA GUY AGAIN?! Thank Crom we didn’t have to see that the first time. Again, everyone just seems to be making shit up as they go along. Raphael briefly borrows Santa’s bell but then gives it right back.
Here’s an example of their “Ah fuck it” choreography. Raphael and Leonardo act like they’re going to pick up Michelangelo but then instantly just give up. What was that?
After Michelangelo shuts up, all four turtles break into their next song, “Gotta Get a Gift for Splinter.” It’s an original song where they seem to just pick junk up off the street and think it’s perfect for Splinter. Um, no. He already lives in a sewer. He doesn’t need you bringing home more crap from a dumpster. Raphael says he found six yo-yos. But count how many are in the picture above. Just no attention to any detail at all.
Donatello either finds or puts an old pizza in a picture frame. Can you imagine if someone gave that to you for Christmas? How about just giving them the middle finger and calling that their gift in return?
The scene cuts back to the sewer lair and we have to suffer through another original song. It’s called the Wrap Rap. I’m sure you can guess what it is. Yeah, they wrap their presents and rap about it. It keeps cutting to a shot of two turtle mittens slapping at each other (ostensibly as a high five of some sort) while they shout “Wrap Rap!”
But they’ve saved the worst for last. Splinter wanders out and he couldn’t look more like a hairball covered in shit. He just looks like death warmed over and he sings “Twelve Days of Christmas” while the Turtles hand him the trash that they picked up. And yeah, they go all the way through from front to back, complete with reused footage for every time they get to the fourth and third days of Christmas. In case you are curious, here are the “gifts” they burden Splinter with:
A pizza with pepperoni
2 comic books
4 manhole covers
5 video games
7 silk kimonos
9 narrow ties
10 yellow yo yos
11 pairs of sneakers
12 something or other autographs
I literally could not figure out what kind of autographs he was saying. His voice is terrible. Anyone could do a better Splinter impression. I watched that clip 5 times and couldn’t figure out what he was saying so I gave up. But what would he do with most of that stuff? Is he supposed to appreciate 4 manhole covers? Would anyone? And do you really see Splinter putting on a narrow tie and sneakers, let alone nearly a dozen of them? After the song he tells them all he really needs is their love but if you read between the lines, I think he’s telling them to throw the junk out and stop ruining his life.
Even though everything’s been resolved, the Turtles and Splinter sing one last song, “We Wish You a Turtles Christmas” and all of a sudden there’s a bunch of bored kids hanging around. Since when can anyone drop in on the Turtles? I don’t think it’d be very healthy for them to be hanging out in a sewer. And they don’t seem to really want to be there, either.
Eventually they wrap up their song and the credits roll. But you can’t quite escape. While the credits pop up on screen, the Turtles keep on chattering about how great Christmas is and what a great job they did. I think it’s about time for Splinter to start teaching them about grades instead of giving them all gold stars for trying. These guys don’t even know how terrible a job they just did. But I think the actors involved might have.