If you celebrated the 25th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze this week by watching it and its predecessor back-to-back, you probably noticed a startling discrepancy of the sort adults see whenever they watch movies or cartoons from their childhood. Except for Donatello, who brandishes a traditional staff called a bō, none of the turtles use their designated weapons against their opponents. That’s, from all evidence, because parents and others reacted so strongly to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ violence the previous year. And because the filmmakers wanted children, their target demographic, to fill seats again for the sequel, they toned down Secret of the Ooze.
Sure enough, Leonardo’s katanas and Raphael’s sais only leave their slings to serve as threatening decorations. As for Michelangelo’s nunchucks, they generally stay at his side — except when he replaces them with sausage links in the opening scene for comedic effect. All of the second movie’s major action sequences feature hand-to-hand combat, but even these battles take the form of extended conversations rife with one-liners and the occasional escape plan.
In the summer of 1990, months after the first film was released in theaters, the Los Angeles Times published an article about concerned doctors and parents who didn’t think young children should be exposed to the turtles. Kids were becoming so infatuated with — and eager to imitate — the animated TV series and the live-action movie that daycare centers were banning or limiting all things Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Or as child-care provider Mary Alvidrez put it:
“We’re saying goodbye to the Turtles,” she recently announced to her 12 charges. “No more Turtle T-shirts or toys; no more words like ‘cowabunga (a Turtle favorite).’ Turtles are fine at home, but not at Mary’s.”
In an interview, Mary Alvidrez, a West Los Angeles child-care provider, said: “My decision was based on the children’s actions, the way they were playing. They would play Turtles and imitate them. They got a little carried away. The older kids would do karate on the younger ones. They were very much into fantasy play.”
Clinicians like psychiatrist-to-the-stars Carole Lieberman, whose expertise came up more recently in discussions of video game violence, agreed with the daycare bans at the time. “Kids become more violent in reaction to the Turtles,” she told the Times. “It gets other kids more riled up and play turns more aggressive.” In other words, the violent behaviors of children that caregivers, doctors and parents were witnessing were due to their “reaction” to the fantasy characters.