My first memory of the Three Ninjas movies was in the early 1990’s when I watched Kick Back with some family friends. This is not a very good memory. I remember being bored, frequently wishing I was somewhere else, perhaps watching Terminator 2 for the hundredth time or laughing maniacally at Ren and Stimpy. Nearly 20 years later I have decided to revisit these films in order to discover what about them was so offensive to my young mind as I have completely forgotten everything but the distaste. Sitting through even a third of these movies was a real chore, and I was quickly reminded what garnered my hatred in the beginning.
Warning about the following clip: This is only a small sample of what 3 Ninjas has to offer, and watching the full length of these movies is like watching this clip over and over again for several hours.
There’s no point in going into the details of these movies with such a glaring and obnoxious presence in nearly every scene. 3 Ninjas is a treasure trove of horrible children’s media cliches and practices, but rather than try and dissect the films in a traditional sense, I would like to examine the reasoning for saturating these movies with the “Ay-Ya’s”. Below are some speculations I’ve made as to why the producers and directors thought it was a good idea to make this irritating sound so pervasive throughout the movies.
Karate Studio Marketing – Karate studios in the 90’s were in desperate need for an increase in enrollment. Since no individual studio had enough money to create effective advertising, they decided to pool their money together (much like beef and milk) and create a series of kids’s karate movies that would encourage youth to beg their parents to join a karate class. The idea behind the Ay-Ya’s was that kid’s would mimic this extremely irritating sound and yell it into their parents face while punching and kicking sofas and family pets. Parents would have no choice but to enroll their kids in karate class or they would have to face the never ending onslaught of Ay-Ya hell.
The New Catchphrase – Catch phrases are often an effective marketing tool for corporations to create greater awareness about their brand. Ay-Ya may have been an attempt by the producers of 3 Ninjas to create a catch phrase that would rocket the movie series into ever increasing popularity. Everywhere kids and teens would be saying “Ay-Ya” to all sorts of situations. “Ay-Ya” would replace such sayings as “I’ll kick your ass” or “Watch out there is a ninja behind you.” Decades later VH1 would remember “Ay-Ya” against the backdrop of flying toaster screen savers and high-kicking 4th graders.
Subtle Indoctrination – If you play the “Ay-Ya” sound in 3 Ninjas at very slow speeds you will notice something very eerie. It sounds like a deep growling voice saying “Invade Iraq”. The true rulers of the United States government knew long before the Bush administration and 9/11 that an invasion of Iraq was inevitable. In order to indoctrinate the usually rebellious anti-war youth into accepting and even joining the war effort, they placed this subtle message into pretend violent kid’s movies in order to expose as many children who would come of age in 2003 as possible. It’s no mystery that the target demographic for the 3 Ninjas movies would be between the ages of 17-24 when the invasion of Iraq began.