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The 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was almost a DIsney movie - here's how

How producer Kim Dawson kept the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from becoming a Disney film.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles poster
Image credit: New Line Cinema

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Nobody says no to the Mouse, except the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was almost a Disney release, but one producer held the line. During a panel at New York Comic Con 2022, TMNT producer Kim Dawson shared the story of how the Ninja Turtles turned down Disney.

According to Dawson, the film had already been shot, and New Line Cinema was set to distribute it. Director Steve Barron and editor Sally Menke were developing a rough cut, and that’s when Disney entered the story. “Steve Barron and Sally Menke had an unofficial screening with a Disney executive by the name of [Jeffrey] Katzenberg, who had turned the movie down for me,” Dawson recalled.

“I was working with Disney at the time, he had rejected my pitch to him two or three times and had also rejected it from another source at least once. And then when he saw the picture in rough cut stage, he loved it. It was being edited near Disney property, so as a result of that, that was an unauthorized screening.”

“He called up, I happened to be in the office with [producer] Tom Gray, and sure enough, Jeff said, 'I'd like to buy the picture. It's really a good picture.' And Tom said, 'I think we'll stick with New Line, thanks very much.' And then the next call is to the lawyer. I go, 'Tom, wait, we should find out more.' He goes, 'No, he's done.'”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in March 1990, and it quickly became one of the highest grossing movies of the year. The Turtles still enjoyed a friendly relationship with Disney, with costumed versions of the characters appearing at Disney theme parks in the early 90s. Still, I have to imagine that turning down Disney is probably scarier than facing Shredder.

Everyone's favorite Heroes in a Half-Shell turn 40 years old in 2024, and the Turtles are arguably bigger than ever, thanks to the hit Last Ronin comic book series, and a hit movie in 2023's Mutant Mayhem. If you want more, we're here with a watch guide, the chance to see co-creator Kevin Eastman tell all, information about their summer 2024 comic book relaunch, and... well, more! Cowabunga, dudes.

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Joshua Lapin-Bertone avatar
Joshua Lapin-Bertone: Joshua is a pop culture writer specializing in comic book media. His work has appeared on the official DC Comics website, the DC Universe subscription service, HBO Max promotional videos, the Batman Universe fansite, and more. In between traveling around the country to cover various comic conventions, Joshua resides in Florida where he binges superhero television and reads obscure comics from yesteryear.
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