If you’ve never seen My Blue Heaven, please don’t take that as a cue to skip this post. This is less about an old movie and more about RIDICULOUSLY CUTE BABY TURTLES, and only a fool would miss those.
…but of course, since I so rarely get the opportunity to do so, let me at least make mention of what a ridiculously great movie My Blue Heaven is. Steve Martin hamming it up as a mobster in the witness protection program. Rick Moranis as the straight-laced FBI agent, in his best role outside of Spaceballs. (Yep, I even put his work here above the Ghostbusters movies. Merengue > Melnitz?)
Released in 1990, it’s one of those films you can watch a thousand times and still love just as much. Every last line is just so utterly quotable, and I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to prove that. “You’re wrinkling your pants” is still my go-to non sequitur whenever I need to end a line of questioning.
But above all of the movie’s other triumphs was its inclusion of RIDICULOUSLY CUTE BABY TURTLES. This is the story about how about ten seconds of big screen reptiles kicked off a lifelong fascination and an untapped lust.
Okay, okay, let me set it up.
Joan Cusack plays Hannah Stubbs, the by-the-book D.A. who might be considered bitchy if she wasn’t so adorable. Divorced, raising two kids and constantly at odds with her ex, Hannah’s focus at work contrasts with an all-over-the-place home life, and…eh, you know, fuck it. Fuck Hannah’s origin story. This isn’t about her. This is about her son’s TURTLE!
That’s him, up there. The film referred to it as a “water turtle,” which, I’m guessing, was just code for “baby version of the regular pet turtles every pet store sells.” I never claimed to be an expert. I’m just a guy who wants a tiny turtle.
I fell in love with that kid’s turtle IMMEDIATELY. I’m not ashamed to admit that the flame still burns.
I wanted one BAD.
The problem was, I didn’t just want “any” turtle. I wanted THAT turtle. A baby one. I don’t know what kind of devilish torments surrounded your childhood, but over here, we weren’t allowed to have baby turtles. We weren’t even allowed to go NEAR baby turtles. A massive salmonella scare made them strictly off-limits. To touch one was considered instant death.
Pet stores could only sell adult turtles, and even if Chinatown street vendors still peddled the things out of converted spackle buckets, ten-year-old suburban kids really couldn’t get to Chinatown without adult supervision. And adults knew better.
It drove me nuts. These days, many pet stores sell those miniature land tortoises (a plausible substitution), but that wasn’t the case when I was a kid. If you wanted a turtle, you were only going to find the “standard” variety. Never a tortoise, and never EVER a baby water turtle.
Even with the two minutes of research that went into this article, I see that baby turtles and salmonella outbreaks still go hand in hand. There are times when you should accept the facts, and there are times when you should kick and scream like a five-year-old child. I WILL NEVER BELIEVE THAT TINY TURTLES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING NEGATIVE.
In my kingdom, to say otherwise is treason.
Course, this baby turtle passion has taken me off course, because I’ve totally neglected to freak out about that shot of Hannah staring into A WHOLE TANK OF THEM. Man, I’m finally beginning to understand this whole “feels” concept. I HAVE TURTLE FEELS.
Anyway, Hannah managed to flush her kid’s turtle down the garbage disposal, and sought to replace Turtle 1 with Turtle 2 before anyone could notice. Assuaging her fears was William Hickey (YES!) as the pet shop owner, who’d seen this situation play out a hundred times before. “Trust me…they all look alike.”
(Actually, they didn’t “all look alike.” The turtles in the pet store were clearly different from the type Hannah’s son had, or at least, much younger. I didn’t care, because these new turtles were even cuter.)
By that point in the movie, owning a baby turtle had already become my #1 goal. God could’ve given me the choice between eye lasers and a baby turtle, and I wouldn’t have spent a moment deciding. “SHOW ME THE SHELL,” I’d yell. But God wouldn’t chuckle, because I guess, in truth, it wouldn’t be that funny.
And yet, somehow, the movie made me want one even more. While completing the sale, William “Uncle Louis” Hickey packs the turtle not in a standard “fish bag,” or even one of those cardboard pet shop boxes with the little holes on the sides. No, he uses a CHINESE FOOD CONTAINER. I don’t know why I was so infatuated with that, but I was, and I still am. The gift was what drove me, but that was the best wrapping paper ever.
I’m an adult now. I can accept that there was a reason for the way things were, and that even if baby turtles had been disease-free, it probably wasn’t healthy for them to be housed in two-gallon tanks with a billion siblings – much less be transported in containers that could barely keep fried rice in check. I accept these things, but I wish they weren’t true.
The thought of leaving a pet store with a baby turtle in a Chinese food box thrills me. The thought of getting home and setting that turtle up in some kind of Pyrex baking dish makes me howl with delight. I am so often reminded that the world is imperfect, and the fact that I’ve experienced neither of these things is just more proof.
Later in the movie, Steve Martin’s character tries to blackmail Hannah. “How’s the turtle, Mrs. Stubbs?” The implication was that if Hannah didn’t get off his case, he’d tell her kid about the reptilian ringer.
But I think there was more to it than that. Steve Martin was in the pet store. He saw the turtle, and he saw the damn oyster pail. You can’t see those things and just move on. Somewhere deep in his sociopathic heart, Vincent “Vinnie” Antonelli secretly pined for his own tiny Donatello.
I feel you, Vinnie. I feel you.