The Daily Stream: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze Remains A Relic Of A Bizarre Era Of Children's Entertainment

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze" (1991)

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: There was once a magical time when children's entertainment reached its pinnacle with a decidedly bizarre rushed sequel. It featured a heroic pizza boy, goofy mutated bad guys, Vanilla Ice playing himself, a theme song that '80s kids can still sing word-for-word to this very day, and the esteemed British actor David Warner, who spends the entirety of the movie running around in a lab coat trying to protect a glowing green vial of slime.

Why it's essential viewing

In the pantheon of all cinema, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze" isn't gonna be anywhere near the top, but it does serve as a fascinating landmark of its time. As someone who was 10 years old in 1991, there was no cooler thing on this earth than the Ninja Turtles.

The cartoon was everywhere, the toys were always sold out, and then New Line's first live-action movie hit in 1990 and it was way better than it had any right to be, propelled by a gritty New York backdrop and top-of-the-line puppet work from Jim Henson. To say I was all-in on "TMNT" is an understatement. All I wanted for Christmas was the toys, most of my wardrobe had some kind of turtle on it, I pumped most of my arcade money into the "Ninja Turtles" game, and I broke an NES controller or two trying to get through that damned sewer pipe/swimming level.

Hell, I even signed up for Tae Kwon Do because I wanted to know martial arts and be like Michaelangelo. Once I realized they didn't hand out nunchucks and katanas to the 10-year-old students and actually learning martial arts took patience and concentration I fell out of it, but not before I took advantage of some pretty cool perks.

The heroic pizza

My mom must have done her research because I went to Ernie Reyes Sr. Tae Kwon Do. His son, Ernie Reyes Jr., was one of the martial arts doubles in the first "Ninja Turtles" movie and ended up playing Keno in "The Secret of the Ooze." He was a child actor that popped up in films like "Red Sonja," but to me, all that mattered was he was connected to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

As a member of his father's dojo, I was invited to two pretty cool events. One was seeing Jr. get his second-degree black belt, at which time I did the very cool thing of having him sign my "Ninja Turtles" notepad. Then there was a regional premiere of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze" that all of us kids got invited to just for being members of the Reyes family dojo.

I was never the cool kid at school, especially in elementary school, but you better believe I was the talk of the playground for a few magical days because I saw "The Secret of the Ooze" before everyone else.

Nightmarish children's entertainment

Does the movie hold up well into adulthood? Maaaaayyyyybbbeee not so much, but it is an odd relic of a period where children's entertainment was all about creating nightmares. This sequel is a bit goofier and closer to the cartoon than the first film, but neither is exactly shot like kids' entertainment.

The first film in particular is grittier than you'd expect, packed with the trademark early New Line grime. Pre-"Lord of the Rings" New Line's biggest hits were the Freddy Kruger films and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and both franchises share similar tones. 

Like I said, it was a wild time for children's entertainment. Disney went dark in the '80s with "The Black Cauldron," and the movies made for kids were, like, "Neverending Story," "Return to Oz," "The Dark Crystal," and "Legend."

All of those movies caused countless nightmares for us children of the '80s, and I'd be lying if the relatively goofy "Secret of the Ooze" didn't inspire some restless nights as well, specifically the 'roided out monstrosity that Shredder turns into when he's dosed with that tube of mutagen in the final act. It's like The Hulk, except with razor-sharp blades poking out in all directions.

They're babies!

The story of the sequel is about as slight as you'd expect from a movie called "The Secret of the Ooze." Shredder was beaten at the end of the first movie, but he's not down for the count. He wants the power of building his own mutant army using the same mutagen that created the Ninja Turtles, and it's up to our favorite shell-heads to stop him.

He creates two wholly new characters to be his dumb muscle, a mutated wolf named Rahzar and a mutated snapping turtle named Tokka. As a young fan of the cartoon, I couldn't understand why they didn't use Rocksteady and Bebop for Shredder's henchmen. Grown-up me understands the company wanted to sell new toys, but it was still a big missed opportunity. Who wouldn't want to see Jim Henson's company create punk warthogs and rhinos?

The Turtles must team up with a pizza boy who knows martial arts (Keno, played by my boy Ernie Reyes Jr.), their red-headed reporter friend April O'Neil (played this time out by Paige Turco), and TGRI scientist Jordan Perry, played by the great David Warner ("Titanic," "The Omen") in order to stop Shredder from reassembling The Foot Clan and taking over New York with his newly mutated army.

Rap stars and puppets

By 2022 standards this thing is all kinds of wonky. Despite getting double the budget of the first film, all the creatures look more rubbery and cartoony than before, and someone decided it was just too cool to have the turtles fight with their weapons like they did in the first film, so the fight scenes are slower and more telegraphed. 

That said, there's a kitsch factor at play here. Maybe it's just my own personal nostalgia talking, but I do miss when kids' films could be weird as hell and this one is a prime example of that. Want the Turtles to randomly end up in a Vanilla Ice concert during the climactic fight? Sure, screw it. Why not?

How about they dance with Vanilla Ice who will in no way mark a very specific two-year period of popularity thus freezing any cameo appearance in time?

Here's a fun life hack: if you want to start a flash mob, just go to a crowded place and yell out "Go Ninja! Go Ninja! Go!" and everybody between the ages of 35 and 45 will be forced to join in the chorus. It's just a law of the natural world, like water always flows downstream and everything living will someday die.

It wasn't long after the release of this movie that Pixar entered the field and children's entertainment was taken down a cleaner, less-nightmarish path, but "The Secret of the Ooze" remains one of the last benchmarks of the weirdest time to grow up. We may not have had the internet or iPhones, but we did have a metric crapton of traumatic movies.