The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a big part of my childhood. I grew up in this sweet spot where the cartoon was incredibly popular and we got the first few movies and a slew of video games. I entered into Friday’s panel at Room 6BCF with hesitation. A few animated films that never took off and some jittery cartoon series have since come out and I’ve grown older. I can safely say, though, that while there are some big changes afoot, I think showrunner Ciro Neili knows just what buttons to push to revitalize this franchise. During a lively panel we were shown some brief character intros, Neili’s concept art, clips of test footage, and much more. Jason Biggs (Leonardo), Rob Paulsen (Donatello), Sean Astin (Raphael), Greg Cipes (Michaelangelo), Mae Whitman (April O’Neil), Hoon Lee (Splinter), and Kevin Michael Richardson (Shredder) were all on hand to share their experiences and individual love for the property. Hit the jump for more details.
First off, let’s get the release date out of the way. September 29th, 2012 is the day to mark on your calendar, though they weren’t set to reveal the show time. Second, I think the blend of animation is quite interesting. Neili is clearly a fan of animation, anime, and comics. This can be seen in dramatic moments of levity when a character’s face will suddenly be super-imposed on a blank background with a flat, dramatically large facial expression. He loves the classic bandaged aesthetics but he also enjoyed being able to tweak the character designs. For instance, The Rat King, instead of being “jacked up on steroids” will be dilapidated looking. As Neili put it so gracefully, he lives in a sewer so he isn’t getting a lot of protein. He can’t look like a body builder. There are many more instances I will get to where he inserted a realistic logic towards the character designs but also went wild for things like Dimension X favorites. However, before we go any further, let’s reintroduce the voice actors.
Long-time fans may recognize the name of Rob Paulsen, and for good reason. Rob was the voice for Raphael 25 years ago during the original series. So they have someone in the group that didn’t just grow up influenced by the Turtles, but actually portrayed them as well. He quickly went on to thank the audience for building his house and putting braces on his kid’s teeth. He also mentioned how the enthusiasm for the show has gone straight to the top of not just Nickelodeon, but parent company Viacom. During a preview of the opening credits Rob said that the CEO of Viacom was dancing to the theme song. So the series has a lot of support.
The wild and zany Greg Cipes should be the perfect voice actor for Michelangelo. He was constantly joking around and came donned with facial war paint of some sort. Cipes went on to mention owing his love of martial arts to the show and even having a turtle named Spike. Jason Biggs mentioned how he was a “neophyte” to voice acting. After he paused and told the audience that they were welcome for the use of that word, Paulsen chimed in that, “you can’t be arrested for being that.” The crowd quickly exploded in laughter and it started what was to become a lot of back and forth between the various voice actors. The deep-voiced Richardson talked fondly of how he was in his neighborhood in his 20s and suddenly stumbled upon the arcade game in a corner store.
He then imitated being a “big chocolate man” joyfully playing the machine, and saying that the clerk would come over and ask if he wanted to buy anything but Richardson would just barely break elated concentration to say no. Then he kept on playing for hours at a time. Whitman was asked what the most exciting part of being in the show and voicing April was. She quickly mentioned the incredible family atmosphere of the voice cast and crew, and how she loves the humor. Emotion seemed to well up within her as she also said she was star struck to play April and be introduced as the voice actor for her.
Astin was next in line and was asked about Raphael. Paulsen looked to his left and slyly said, “Yea, tell me about playing Raph.” After some back and forth, Astin joked how he really was honored to play Raph and even called up Corey Feldman to ask if he was cool. “OK, OK, we get it. You have Corey Feldman’s number,” Paulsen joked. Astin also mentioned that despite the feeling of having battery acid poured down his throat after long voice sessions, he loved every minute of it. Earlier Neili had mentioned The Goonies being an inspiration because of the young four friends being so close, and Astin added that he didn’t think of The Goonies but the hobbits from Lord of the Rings films, which he was a part of. Right before moving onto Hoon Lee, Biggs joked, “I think it’s time to admit I’ve been slipping battery acid in your drink.”
Lee was asked how it was different coming from the stage to the voice acting arena, and he said it was definitely building up trust because you come in and voice something you may not know how it will work out. They read off a script, so the immediate payoff isn’t there versus a live audience. Lee went on to say that the entire cast and crew really helped make a smooth transition and added that having Paulsen on board was a huge benefit. “He’s a legend and so gracious. And despite his advanced years, he’s so coherent.” The cast also chimed in praise for voice director Andrea Romano who is a legend in the field.
As for the nuts and bolts of the show, the blocky animation gives everything a very unique texture. April, in this iteration, is 16 years old, which garnered some grumbles from the fans. As for other noticeable tweaks, Casey Jones was never mentioned and Master Splinter is significantly younger (more grumbles). The justification here is that he can finally be a worthy foe to Shredder and also get in there and mix it up. He is sarcastic at times but he has the Turtles’ full respect as well. This should result in an interesting dynamic as it was never indicated that Splinter typically joined the Turtles on most missions. Shredder, meanwhile, looks fairly standard though he does have a bad right eye. Perhaps it was a showdown between him and Splinter.
While there were a lot of changes, Neili had a notable reverence for the material. He mentioned that the ‘80s was all about ninjas, with several movies and the successful films and TV show. Another influence was that the ooze gave them the ability to create monsters unlike any other property. We were then shown some concept art of what appeared to be a pizza/mantis hybrid of some sort. The color palette is vivid and Neili enjoyed playing with the size of the characters. For instance, General Traag is now 17 feet tall and “vomits lava.” Leatherhead was shown as well as Metal Head. Neili went on to explain that Dimension X allowed them another colorful element and that what was missing in a lot of the newer versions was the “heart factor.” He mentioned The Goonies as a reference point, but also said that they had to have a conduit to the real world in the story. Shredder is a great villain, but he’s underground. April is the one that will bring them into the real world. This was when a few concept sketches of a young April hanging with the Turtles garnered a lot of awes.
As the panel wrapped up we were shown a clip during the upcoming season of the Turtles sparring that highlighted the animation, humor, and detail. The feel is very humorous and fun. I had a blast despite my initial hesitations and think the show will find an enthusiastic following, both young and old. The main title sequence was also shown, with the highlight being the song that they tweaked. Now sporting a hip-hop feel, it is lively and very well done. This is definitely something that gets you wanting to join in. Kids and longtime fans may find themselves wanting to catch the show early to make sure they don’t miss it. Even some older women I talked to after the panel said the song was great.
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