The 1990 film adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an unmitigated delight, a perfect bolt of '90s raditude delivered directly to your amygdala and leaving the uncontested scent of pepperoni pizza smoking in your nostrils. But one of its finest delights has nothing to do with the ‘tude: rather, it’s just the simple joy of seeing a small rat muppet perform martial arts.
While the 1987 cartoon adaptation that rocketed the Turtles et al. to stardom took the horrifically dark turn of having Splinter be a human man mutated into a rat monster, the film remains true to the comic’s origin story of Splinter having always been a rat, the beloved pet of the ninjitsu master Hamato Yoshi. To be specific, he was always a hyperintelligent, sentient rat, because he managed to learn martial arts by copying all of his master’s moves.
This story is told in the film via the medium of beautifully lit, minimalistic flashbacks and, of course, the muppetry arts. That’s right, to illustrate the sad tale of Hamato Yoshi and Splinter, the Jim Henson Creature Shop created a small rat that could kick, punch, and, most importantly, emote. Rizzo, eat your heart out.
Not only will you believe a rat can learn ninjitsu, you will believe a rat can feel. When Splinter tells of how Yoshi was brutally murdered, we see the little rat hold his dead master’s hand and, reader, I cried.
So many romantic comedies try and fail to make me give one (1) single hoot about their leading men in their entire runtime; the Creature Shop gave me a few minutes of one (1) rat and I’m a goner. Here’s to you, actual rat Splinter, and here’s hoping you catch a break from your life of woe and responsible fatherhood one of these days.