Your childhood is just days away from being forever crushed by Michael Bay and his CGI turtles in a half shell. There’s still time to enjoy some of the TMNT nostalgia before the franchise is forever altered, and that’s where movie trivia comes in. The 1990 film was a monster success, spawning a number of sequels, as well as the very popular “Coming Out of Their Shells” live tour — I’m still bitter about missing out on that. As much fun as the 1990 movie was, it didn’t stay true to the comic books and took most of its cues from the popular cartoon. The turtles’ love of pizza, Michelangelo’s surfer speak, and the overuse of “cowabunga” can be attributed to the cartoon.
It’s little tweaks like that though that made the cartoon and movie that followed so damn appealing to a 90s kid. Bringing the turtles to life wasn’t an easy task, in fact, it was actually quite a grueling process for the actors and creature creators involved. Consider these 12 pieces of childhood nostalgia a look behind the shell.
1. Actor Josh Pais had anxiety about wearing his Raphael mask. The actor was the only one to provide his own character voice, but wasn’t a fan of wearing the turtle mask because of severe claustrophobia. Pais would immediately remove his mask after every cut.
2. The costumes were incredibly hot, way too big, and fell apart. The costumes had nearly 60 pounds of animatronics inside them, so this coupled with the summer North Carolina humidity caused each of the actors to lose almost 20 pounds. The costumes also didn’t hold up that well and took a lot of wear and tear. Replacement limbs were kept on supply so they could be switched out when needed. Besides being hot, heavy, and prone to damage, the turtle costumes were also too big to fit in a manhole, forcing producers to have custom manholes built.
3. For a time it was the highest-grossing indie film. Not even the big, bad studios of Hollywood could stop the wave of turtle power, and the turtles were making bank in 1990. At the time of its release, TMNT was the second highest-grossing indie film ever, raking in $201 million at the box office. The turtles’ indie crown was lost a few years later when Pulp Fiction passed it by making $213 million.
4. The actors who played the turtles all have cameos in the movie without their turtle suits on.
Josh Pais “Raphael” — Plays the passenger in the back of the cab when Raph leaps onto the cab’s hood.
Lief Tilden “Donatello” — Plays the foot messenger that meets April in the subway station.
David Forman “Leonardo” — Portrays a gang member at the warehouse when Casey Jones fights with Foot Clan leader Tatsu.
Michelan Sisti “Michelangelo” — Is the pizza delivery man who delivers the turtles pizza in the sewer.
5. Actress Judith Hoag wasn’t a fan of how the movie came out. The actress has said that she enjoyed making the film, but there was a “mystical through-line” with the turtles that was cut she wasn’t happy about. “But one of the producers called those parts ‘fluff’ and said that ‘all the kids wanted to see was the fighting.’ I disagreed with him then and I disagree with him now.”
This was the primary reason that Hoag did not reprise her role in Secret of the Ooze. Well, that and money. “I wanted the ‘fluff’ back in the script and I wanted conditions on the set to improve. I also wanted a raise.”
6. Sam Rockwell gives a shout out to the comic’s creators. When Sam Rockwell’s character tells the police to “go check out the East Warehouse over at Lairdman Island” this is a nod to the comic’ creators: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
7. Bringing Splinter to life was a three-man job. Giving the turtle’s rat sensei sense of life wasn’t any easy task and required the use of three puppeteers, including Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash who provided Splinter’s voice.
8. Jim Henson wasn’t happy with the violence in the movie. Henson’s creature workshop did all of the turtle costumes, using some of the most advanced technology at the time. Despite the success of his company’s reptilian creations, Henson was reportedly unhappy with the film’s finished product, viewing the violence as “excessive, pointless and not his style.”
9. The producers kept the movie from having a punk rock soundtrack. Danny’s Sid Vicious t-shirt was added at the advisory of director Steve Barron who wanted the film to have a punk rock soundtrack. The producers wanted something a bit more commercially friendly, which is why we got a soundtrack that included M.C. Hammer and songs like “Turtle Power.”
10. The movie caused a battle of the corporate pizza giants. Never before had a movie caused the pizza business to see so many dollar signs and Pizza Hut and Domino’s both wanted a piece of the pie. Pizza Hut was able to secure a $20 million marketing campaign with the movie, but it was Domino’s who got the privilege of feeding the reptiles in the movie. In the end though, Pizza Hut steamrolled over everything turtle-related, sponsoring the “Coming Out of Their Shells” tour and all video games.
11. The producers were concerned about a particular death scene. The scene with Foot Clan leader Tatsu beating up one of his soldiers raised some concerns with the producers, because they thought it was too violent. In the comic book and the movie’s script, Tatsu is said to have killed the boy, but that’s not the kind of thing that gets a movie a PG rating. The scene was re-cut at the last-minute with Tatsu sparing the boy’s life to let the audience know that he wasn’t murdered in a children’s movie.
12. An alternate ending included April pitching a comic book. An alternate ending was filmed, but cut from the movie that included April and Danny pitching their story about the turtles to a comic book publisher. The publisher dismisses the idea as being far-fetched as the turtles watch on from outside of his window.