Saturday’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego started with a shout. Moderator Rich Magallanes, SVP of current series animation at Nickelodeon, asked the audience to yell “Booyakasha!” and chant “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to welcome the panelists to the stage.
This series is the third animated television series about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the first to be computer animated. Currently in its second season, the series premiered in September 2012, and Nickelodeon has ordered a third and fourth season. Season 2 episode “The Manhattan Project” was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
Magallanes was joined by executive producers Ciro Nieli and Brandon Auman, as well as voice actors from the series: Sean Astin (Raphael), Rob Paulsen (Donatello), Greg Cipes (Michelangelo), Seth Green (Leonardo), Josh Peck (Casey Jones) and Kelly Hu (Karai). To celebrate the 30th anniversary of TMNT, Magallanes also called Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Turtles (along with Peter Laird), to the stage to high-five the panelists and greet the audience. “I just want to say how much I love this show, the new season, I’m so excited about it,” said Eastman.
Discussing the global reach of the show, Magallanes announced that “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” won this year’s Golden Monkey King Award in China and that the series just launched in Japan. The show’s opening title from Japan was shown, with a theme song by rock/pop band GReeeeN, to an enthusiastic response from the audience.
Magallanes asked Hu about Karai’s transformation into a snake in the Season 2 episode “Vengeance is Mine.” “I love voicing this character,” she said. “She gets to walk over, back and forth, on both sides, good and bad. That’s kind of like my own personality.” Nieli added that this was the first time Karai has been mutated in TMNT history. “We did think about mutating her into Venus de Milo, because we know you guys love Venus de Milo,” he joked.
Green was also enthusiastic about his involvement in the show and connection with his character, Leonardo. “I am a lifelong fan of the Turtles,” said Green. “I’ve been reading the Turtles and loving them as icons for as long as I can remember. They’re the characters that I can draw most quickly. Getting to be a part of this, a new generation of it, is incredible.” Though he claims to relate most closely to Michelangelo, Green said that the opportunity to voice Leo was too good to pass up. “My wife is, legitimately, totally long before this series was even an idea, hot for Leonardo. So when they were like, ‘Hey, would you even consider playing Leonardo –‘ they didn’t even finish the sentence, I was like, ‘Yes of course I would.'”
Though Peck has also enjoyed being a part of the show, he admitted that playing Casey Jones was a new direction for his career: “I’ve been waiting my whole life to play a bad boy. It seems like the only way they would accept me was if it was animated.” He said that he was happy to be back in the Nickelodeon family, especially working on a show with “the dopest lineage ever.”
There was much discussion of romance in the series, particularly focused around the turtles’ feelings towards April O’Neil. Paulsen threatened Peck on behalf of Donatello: “I’ve been a turtle twice, so I’ve got it figured out. And the whole inter-species forbidden romance thing, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care if it’s a felony in this galaxy, I’m going to be all over April like white on rice.” Paulsen joked that voicing Donatello was disconcerting because he has known Mae Whitman, voice of April, since she was very young. Paulsen said that Nieli has brought a great dynamic to the show by making April the same age as the turtles, replacing her previous big sister role with a love triangle. “It really brings a whole new aspect to the show that has never been there before.”
Nieli expanded on his choice to include a younger version of April in the Nickelodeon show: “I really wanted to make her have a certain bond with each of the turtles. It was almost like she was their conduit to the real world, as they were leaving the lair and that relationship with Splinter was compromised. Now they’re learning different things from her and they each fall in love with her in a different way.” After seeing the chemistry with Paulsen and Whitman in the booth, April’s relationship with Donatello has come to the fore for Nieli.
Astin said that he had been having a great time with the series. “You said that Casey’s the bad boy, which is cool,” said Astin. “But we know who the bad turtle is.” Astin said that working on the show has been a different experience than his other projects because of the timelessness of the property. “With ‘Lord of the Rings,’ the trilogy came, and it passed, and now it’s got this wonderful place in history. But the Turtles go forever.” He also said that a highlight of his experience on the show has been “Goonies” co-star Corey Feldman’s appearance as the voice of Slash.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic panelist was Greg Cipes, voice of Michelangelo. “The turtles inspire everything in my life,” said Cipes, “including music.” He grabbed a guitar from offstage and premiered a song that he had written for the panel. It featured a call-and-response section (Cipes said “Yum yummy,” and the audience responded, “I wanna eat ya.”), and a verse about pizza toppings that all of the actors joined in on. The song drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd. “Let’s see ‘Game of Thrones’ do that!” said Green. The performance was swiftly uploaded to YouTube.
On a more serious note, Cipes said, “Honestly, the turtles inspired who I am, ever since I was a kid. I’m glad to be Michelangelo.” Astin said, “I think Michelangelo is glad to be Cipes.”
Auman spoke about his favorite parts of the series, from breakout character Tiger Claw to Karai’s arc this season: her discovery that Splinter is her father and her transformation into a serpent. “We got either love or hate mail for that one,” said Auman.
To come up with story ideas, Auman said, the writers pull from the comics, the old cartoon, the movies, and their general love of the property. He said that season three will be full of surprises for fans, and that the final episodes of season two were some of the best episodes of the season. He found it difficult to talk about season three without spoiling the season two finale: “You just need to watch it.” The last three episodes will air on Fridays in September. He revealed that the turtles would be going to Dimension X in an upcoming episode, as shown in a sneak peek of episode 224, “Into Dimension X.”
Auman showed a trailer for the Season 2 finale. “It’s kind of epic. Like, Michael Bay epic,” Auman said. “It was a really hard trailer to cut because anything we showed, would have spoiled it.”
Moving into season three, Nieli showed designs and rudimentary animations for a number of new characters that will be introduced. The Creep, a new plant-like mutant, will feature in an episode that takes the turtles out of the city and puts them in a forest. John Heder will voice Napoleon Bonafrog, a character that first appeared in the 1987 TV series. Auman also showed designs for Muckman, another character from the 1987 series..
Nieli showed storyboards for a fight scene between the turtles and new characters the Dream Beavers. One Beaver had a familiar laugh: Robert Englund, known for his role as Freddy Krueger, will provide the voice. Also making an appearance in Season 3 is Mondo Gecko, voiced by Robbie Rist, who played Michelangelo in the 1990 film.
Nieli said that he was excited about Rist working on the show because he liked the idea of two Michelangelos fighting each other. Cipes joked that they had a bit of a rivalry: when Rist signed the poster hanging in the recording booth, he wrote his name over the image of Cipes’ Michelangelo. “And then I wrote on it, ‘the old one,'” Cipes said. Auman said that there may be a “Cowabunga” coming from Cipes’ Michelangelo in Season 3.
Magallanes had one more Season 3 preview to show the crowd: a redesigned Party Wagon. “We kind of hit the wall with driving a subway car around Manhattan all the time,” said Nieli. “Well, nothing says low profile like a lime green VW with a bunch of weaponry and oversize rear tires,” laughed Green.
In the last few minutes of the panel, Magallanes opened it up to questions from the audience. The first question was if Tokka will be appearaing in Season 3, which was greeted with a shout of, “Best question ever!” from the back of the room. Auman was hesitant to give away too much, but he and Nieli both reassured the crowd that they love Tokka, in all forms. “But it’s not going to be fish-face mutating,” said Auman.
Another fan asked about flashback episodes featuring the turtles in training. “I’ll have to talk to the baby turtle wrangler,” joked Nieli.
A 7-year-old fan asked about action figures for the series. “I think everything we’ve shown today will get a toy,” Nieli said.
The next question was about each panelist’s favorite moment in 30 years of TMNT history. Nieli liked Leonardo getting thrown through the window in issue 10 of the comic. Auman’s favorite moment was Karai’s mutant transformation. Green said that he loved the “tender moments” when the turtles reaffirm their friendship. Paulsen talked about Donatello’s quest to help April get her father back. Cipes said that he loves “every time Splinter shows up.”
“I like it when the turtles trade off who’s the leader,” said Astin. “I like when, in particular, Raphael gets to be the leader.” “I don’t think they’ve seen that episode yet,” said Green, hinting that Raphael would take a leadership role before the end of Season 2.
Peck said that he was a fan of the fact that Raphael and Casey Jones “are finally squashing their beef and working together.” Hu said that her favorite scenes are those between Karai and her father. Magallanes said that his favorite moment was the first episode of the Nickelodeon series, though he admitted his own bias.
In conclusion, the panel thanked the entire turtle crew, asking those in the audience to stand up for applause. “They’re all amazing,” said Green. Paulsen thanked voiceover director Andrea Romano in particular for her contributions to the show. Green, Cipes and Astin all joined into express their appreciation for her work on the series as well.
The series is currently on hiatus around the opening of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film, set to release on August 8. New episodes will return in September, and there will not be much of a break between the finale of Season 2 and the premiere of Season 3.