The cast and crew of Cartoon Network’s “Teen Titans Go!” spoke with press at Comic-Con International in San Diego, discussing the return of the much-loved characters to the network – albeit in a somewhat different form than their original incarnation.
The original “Teen Titans” aired on Cartoon Network for five seasons between 2003 and 2006, before the network began airing “New Teen Titans” shorts during its DC Nation block, leading into “Go!” debuting in April of this year. And while “Teen Titans Go!” reunited the cast of the original show, it departed from its straightforward superhero roots by focusing on highly comedic plots and virtually no continuity. In fact, Producer Aaron Horvath said, “One of the rules on the [new] show is to keep it weird.”
Tara Strong, who voices Raven, told the press, “Initially, I was nervous about it because I know how voracious the fans were for more, as was I. But it’s just so good and so funny that you have to like it, even if you don’t want to like it.”
Greg Cipes, the voice of Beast Boy — and who came to the press event dressed in a giant raccoon-like suit immediately after shooting a music video for his band Super Space Fighters — described the tone of the new show as “South Park” meets “Teen Titans.”
“It’s a comedy. I had this idea during the original ‘Teen Titans’ that they should do a Beast Boy comedy half-hour, and it’s only ten minutes!” Cipes said. “It happened in it’s own way. [The new show] is a personification of Beast Boy’s energy as being the comic relief, but now everybody’s funny. I think Robin might be the funniest one in the show, now, which is so left field.
“The most surprising thing is having Beast Boy being a musician on the show,” Cipes continued. “Beast Boy sings a lot, and they’re actually using some of songs that I’ve written — they have Beast Boy sing them. That’s so cool! Actually, today, at the panel, they’re giving a sneak preview of one of my songs. Beast Boy’s singing the song to Tara, and Mixmaster Mike from the Beastie Boys is right there with the turntables spinning. That’s crazy! Beast Boy meets Beastie Boys!”
The voice of Cyborg, Khary Payton, sees the show’s evolution as staying true to the concept of the Teen Titans. “‘Teen Titans’ started in the ’60s, OK? And there was no Beast Boy and no Cyborg and all of that, and then it changed in the ’80s. Then it changed again in the ’90s, and in the ’00s, when we did the animated show, we totally did something divergent from the comic books. It’s innate in what ‘Teen Titans’ is; it’s constantly changing, it’s constantly pushing. What teenagers do is they look at the past and say, ‘You know what? Screw that — we’re gonna do our own thing.’ You can’t be Teen Titans and just do what you did before. You always push it.
“When we’re done with this series, we’re gonna do it again,” continued Payton. “And like I said, we’re gonna do like a Food Network show. It practically is a Food Network show; we got a meatball episode coming up!”
Scott Menville loves being back, but it took the normally straight-laced Robin a while to get used to the show’s new tone. “I’m having a blast on this show,” he said. “It’s just a gift. This show was gone five years ago, at the height of its popularity, and it’s a gift to come back and get to do it again with the same cast.
“[The new direction] was definitely an adjustment,” Menville admitted. “For the first two or three episodes, I kept asking them, ‘Are you sure? I don’t know that Robin would scream like this.’ Finally, I just jumped on board and committed. The character I’m playing is still coming from the same, truthful place — you just get to see these different sides of him you wouldn’t get to see when he’s out fighting villains with his proverbial armor up. You see him letting his guard down and you see him having a hard time doing things like not going on the mission and just relaxing, like in the episode ‘Dude Relax.'”
Despite the humor splashing across the screen in each episode, it hasn’t been all fun and games when developing the series for a younger audience. The show has had to tone down its over the top attitude and humor at times, specifically when it comes to the cast’s many deaths. “I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but we tend to kill the characters a lot,” Horvath said. “Most of the time they’re OK with, but there have been a couple deaths that we’ve had to pull back a little bit… They’ve been crushed, they’ve died of old age, there’ll be a drowning later. It’s hilarious!”
A lot of the show’s success can be traced back to the fact that the cast’s chemistry creates an environment conducive to ad-libbing, from the earliest script stage all the way through to the voice recording sessions.
“A lot of the show is actually inspired by our board teams and our directors, because we leave the scripts loose,” Horvath explained. “Initially, the idea was to do a premise-driven show, but with our schedule and the way we were setting up the pipeline, we realized that wasn’t gonna work. So we’ll do a loose script, where the action in the script just says, ‘the Titans dance,’ and then it’s up to the director to decide what kind of dance they’re doing. And that’s how you get Robin breakdancing.”
Strong said the cast is allowed to go off-script “a little bit” during recording sessions, though improvised lines often make it in to the final show regardless of how often the actors are chastised. “Cipes is the one who goes off-script the most. He’ll say the weirdest things and we’ll just be like, ‘OK — that kinda works,’ or, ‘You can’t say that word on TV!’ It’ll be one or the other!”
“There was one episode where Cyborg yells, ‘I am a genius! I am a genius! I am a genius!’ and that was all Khary,” Menville recalled. “Stuff makes it in, which is cool.”
“I think Hynden [Walch] rewrites every line of Starfire,” Hayden added. “Because she just knows how to work the grammar cause she’s a genius.”
While the show has inarguably built a loyal following — the series regularly ranks #1 in its time slot among its target audience — there was initially a lot of negative pushback from fans of the original show who resented the new direction. “Before it came out, I was super sad. I was like, why do they hate us already? Don’t hate me man!” Horvath said. “But it’s been really nice. At first it was 100% hate, and maybe there was that one dude who was giving it a chance. Then when it started airing, there were people who were like, ‘I still don’t like it,’ but there were also people who thought it was funny. Now, every time I see someone say it’s crap, there’s someone defending it. There’s people who like it, people who defend it and people who still don’t like it. I’m just glad people are watching it, honestly.
“I’m glad some people have turned around,” Horvath continued. “I mean, it’s really tough. We did a complete reset on this beloved universe, and that’s a tough thing, especially for people who have all these unanswered questions from the old series and they wanna know what happened. That’s not the story we were tasked with telling.”
Khary said he is loving returning the character of Cyborg because he “wears his heart on his sleeve. You never have to wonder what Cyborg’s thinking because if he’s upset he’ll tell you and if he’s happy you’ll know it.”
“I’m just having so much fun,” he continued, excitedly. “It really is just an extension of myself. Whenever I just get that impulse, I just blurt it out. Fortunately, this show is just nuts enough that they throw that stuff in there. We start singing songs. We’ve made up songs in the moment! It’s been great.
Strong is also enjoying her return to Raven, though she does cite one small change to her character. “For me, performance wise, I’m not changing anything except that Raven’s really bored and annoyed. It’s actually easier to do the voice that way, because you don’t have to project. When she’s really bored, it’s easier!
“Raven is certainly a departure from anything else I’ve played,” Strong continued. “She’s so interesting and dark. Obviously, not many characters are the [spawn] of the devil or a demon and have to co-exist with a bunch of other teenagers. It’s such an interesting character. Definitely very different from Bubbles [from ‘Powerpuff Girls.’] She’s probably the opposite of Bubbles. In fact, when I first auditioned, the Starfire breakdown said, ‘She’s a grown-up Bubbles,’ so I figured I’d probably get that one, because I am a grown-up Bubbles!”
Cipes also expressed his happiness at returning to the team, saying he holds a special place for Beast Boy in his heart. “The thing I love most about Beast Boy is the fact that he can turn into every animal that’s ever walked the face of the earth. For me, animals are the most loving things there are and love is the most powerful thing in the universe. So the fact he gets to turn into all these animals is so cool because it means he’s massive love.”
“It’s fun for my kids, they’re with me this time, to go for a walk and hear people go, ‘That’s Tara Strong’ and they’re like, ‘That’s my mom!'” Strong said of the level of celebrity voice actors experience at events like Comic-Con International. “It’s actually really nice. A lot of [voice actors] have been in the business a long time and because of Twitter, Facebook and just the internet alone, people being able to search for who their favorite voice actors are. It’s just nice to know that they appreciate what we do and love what we do. I don’t think my predecessors had that. It’s kinda nice for voice-over actors to have the internet.”
“In my regular life, I get recognized here and there but nowhere near as much as in the vicinity of a convention,” she continued. “I can’t go anywhere there. But part of that’s fun. When I see what it’s like to have that in these [convention] scenarios and then go back to my own life where I can relax and it’s OK if I don’t have make-up on at the grocery story, you actually feel bad for celebrities that are constantly hounded because there are those moments where you just want to be with your family and not care what you look like.”