Over three decades after their original comic book debut, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” are hotter than ever in pop culture. And while the internet has been obsessing over early images from the upcoming film adaptation, diehard fans can get ready to continue the story of Nickelodeon’s acclaimed “TMNT” animated series this weekend when the show returns with the new “The Good,The Bad and Casey Jones!” episode on its new day and time, Sunday at 11:00 AM.
Featuring the first masked appearance of the Turtles human vigilante pal, the episode starts a new run of episodes that continue the stories of Season 2. To get an overview of this arc of “Ninja Turtles” and to absorb the success of the franchise, CBR News spoke with actors Greg Cipes (Michaelangelo), Rob Paulson (Donetello) and Hoon Lee (Master Splinter) about their lives in the CGI TMNT world.
“The cool thing is that the show is made by people who were fans of the original show, and they get it,” Paulson explained of the series appeal. The actor has a long association with the Turtles having starred as Rafael in the original ’80s cartoon. “Part of why what you see up there is so exceptional and why we have such a broad, cross-generational audience is because the people who get the show now arguably get the show better than the people who did it originally. It’s been around for 25 years, almost 30 years with the comic book. People like [exectuive producer] Ciro Nerelli — his dad owned a pizza parlor in Philadelphia, and he grew up drawing Ninja Turtles! So if anybody gets the mythology, it’s the people who are making this show. It’s a real labor of love, and it ends up on the screen.”
And the connections between creators and cartoon don’t just extend to the behind the scenes talent. “The Turtles was always my favorite cartoon as a kid,” Cipes explains. “I loved it, and I loved Michaelangelo most of all. It’s what got me into surfing and shaped a huge part of who I am.”
In fact, the actor’s connection to the laid back brother of the four Turtles extends to his personal life where the character inspired his early interest in surfing. “Mikey is like another side of my personality,” he laughed as his fellow actors razzed him on the uncanny similarities. But Cipes — who also plays Beast Boy on the comic comedy hit “Teen Titans Go!” — said that he’s not alone in his preternatural bond with his TMNT counterpart. “There are days when we’ll be in the booth, and Rob will be making jokes, and it’s almost like he’s Donny. They’re both kind of like know-it-alls and super talkative. And Sean [Astin] is a lot like Raph, and Jason [Biggs] is a like like Leo.”
Paulson agreed. “The best shows on which I’ve had the great fortune to work, the animators and writers start to animate and write things that work with your sensibilities and the context of that character. I worked on ‘Ninja Turtles’ 25 years ago, and Peter Renaday, who played Master Splinter, was and is a terrific actor. But the moment Hoon opened his mouth in the new iteration of the show, I got this tinge up my spine. It was a totally different vibe that was completely his own. It’s been so great to watch this new version of the show.
“I’ve been doing this a while, and it is always preferable — like any other acting job — to have the other actors there with you,” the veteran added, saying that whenever possible, the four Turtles try to perform together. “When you’re with people like Hoon and Greg, I’m better when I’m with the other guys. It’s an incredibly great amount of fun.”
As the relative newcomer to voice acting, Lee explained that one of his biggest surprises working on “Ninja Turtles” was the depth of character and style that has extended across Season 2’s stories. “When we first started the whole project, we were able to be together for an extended period of time. We were able to vibe off each other for a healthy number of episodes. You get a sense for how people move on a script,” he said. “They’ve allowed this to unfurl in a very dramatic way, which has allowed it to be serious at times and quite dark at times. As a fan, that’s exactly what I would want.”
As Season 2 moves along, the actors promised some new twists and resolutions to Splinter’s connection to Shredder through his daughter Karai, but in the immediate future, Casey Jones takes center stage in shaking things up. “I think it’s great [for Donny] to have a crush on April,” Paulson said of his favorite plot threat. “I love that there’s this interspecies romance! And one thing I hear a lot when I go to conventions is that we’re getting a huge female audience too because they love the interplay between April and Donny. Now bringing Casey Jones into the picture where he has a rival on whom he’s also dependent to get stuff done, it adds a great new level to that part of the show.
“You can make the story whatever you want. You can have all these subplots. Master Splinter and his desperate issues with his past, dealing with the Shredder and what that relationship brings to bear on the boys. It’s a love story, but in a way it’s a love story between Splinter and the Turtles. He loves these boys. They’re his real flesh and blood, and it makes for real drama. It’s TV 101.”
Some solo development for Michaelangelo is in the offing as well, as Cipes explained, “We’re going to see Mikey confronting a lot of new challenges and maybe even see what it’s like when he’s leader.”
The long plan for the series also includes more guest stars. “What I’m excited about is that every week we come in and they say, ‘Guess who’s playing a two-episodes arc?'” Paulson said. “We’ve had Corey Feldman in and Lewis Black. We’re always excited about that. The cool thing is that this opens up a lot of story.”
As for whether a voice crossover could happen between Cipes’ Turtles and Titans gigs, the actor said, “Oh yeah, man! I’m ALWAYS trying to bring my friends along.” But viewers will have to wait and see exactly who shows up as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” stakes out its new home on Sunday mornings at 11:00.