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COUNTYWIDE : Cowabunga! Little Ninjas Turn Turtle

Warning! Little Ninja People have descended on Orange County! Head for the hills!

Or, if you want to catch a glimpse of them, head for your local theater.

You can’t miss the Little Ninja People--they look surprisingly like children. But they’re odd little creatures. They congregate in dark auditoriums. They communicate in a strange language, using words like “cowabunga.” And they worship mutant turtles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to be specific.

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After months of anticipation, the totally tubular turtles from the sewers made their big-screen debut Friday, and the Little Ninja People came out in droves to pay homage to the awesome amphibians.

At the AMC Orange Mall 6 Theaters, where “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was showing every hour on two screens, each theater was packed to its 300-seat capacity from the first showing at 11 a.m.

Michael L. Tieger, the theater’s general manager, said the movie will be shown almost nonstop from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. today.

“I am expecting a tidal wave of little ninja people,” Tieger said. “I’ve had a good turnout already. I think it’s going to be bigger than ‘Batman.’ ”

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If the reviews from the kids are any indication, Tieger’s prediction could come true. Giggles, laughter and applause rang through the theater during Friday’s 1:30 p.m. showing, and the Little Ninja People were happy to recall their favorite scenes. Among them:

“When they’re getting their butts kicked by Shredder,” said Ryan Lundstrom, 10.

“When they fight the ninjas,” said Jeff Montalbine, 7.

“When Shredder gets killed,” said Mary Bruack, 6.

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“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Whatever happened to those nice little fantasies I used to watch when I was a kid?’ ” said Mary’s mom, Rosemary Bruack of Anaheim Hills, who braved the crowds and brought Ryan, Jeff and Mary to see the movie.

For whatever reason, the nice little fantasies have given way to Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, the four lean, green, armed-to-the-teeth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For those not up on Ninja Turtle lore, they became human-size mutants after they were soaked with radioactive goo. They became ninjas after taking a few lessons from an enormous mutant ninja rat named Splinter.

Confused? Doesn’t matter. The Little Ninja People understand.

Among them at the theater Friday was Ryan Cobb of Yorba Linda, who was celebrating his sixth birthday accompanied by seven other Little Ninja People.

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“We gave him two options,” said his mother, Paula Cobb. “Go to Knott’s Berry Farm, or take his friends to see the movie.”

Before the movie, Cobb said, Ryan was treated to a Ninja birthday party, which included a Ninja pinata and replicas of Ninja swords for the Little Ninja People to use to tear the mutant flesh from the pinata’s body.

At the theater, Ryan and all of his friends posed for pictures, at $2 each, with their little Ninja heads atop cardboard cutouts of big Ninja Turtle bodies. Tieger said proceeds will be contributed to the Center for Marine Conservation and used in the fight to save--what else?--Ridley sea turtles.


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