The “Teen Titans Go!” panel at WonderCon in Anaheim filled its 1,000-person capacity with an enthusiastic crowd composed of young children, tweens, teenagers and adults. On hand to discuss the rebirth of the beloved “Teen Titans” animated program were showrunners Michael Jelenic, Aaron Horvath, and voice actors Greg Cipes (Beast Boy) and Khary Payton (Cyborg). Prior to any discussion of the new series the panel’s moderator, Warner Bros. Animation EVP of Creative Affairs Sam Register, introduced the two-11 minute stories that will serve as the show’s official premiere April 23 on Cartoon Network.
The first episode, entitled “Legendary Sandwich,” sees Raven send her teammates on a wild goose chase after a mythical (AKA fictional) sandwich in an effort to enjoy a favorite cartoon program called “Pretty Pretty Pegasus” alone at Titans Tower.
The premise of the second episode, “Super Robin,” finds Robin, the spiky-haired leader of the Titans, yearning for super powers despite his teammates’ warnings.
Preceding the two episodes was the updated rendition of the “Titans” credit sequence complete with theme song by Puffy Ami Yumi. This time, remixed to a thumping drum-and-bass beat by music producer and DJ/turntablist extraordinaire Mix Master Mike.
The new series follows a run of animated shorts that aired during Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block last year. Like those shorts, these episodes as well as the new title sequence have a decidedly different feel from the original “Teen Titans” animated series. That said, the series still feels very much in the same vein as the original. Two of the largest differences between the previous incarnation and the new series is the uptick in comedic situations and the 11-minute stories. Even still, the many devoted “Titans” fans in attendance were very pleased with what they all saw, having laughed and cheered throughout the screening. Their cheers only grew louder when Register introduced the rest of the panelists.
Right off the bat, Register posed the question of how easy or difficult an undertaking it was to develop “Teen Titans Go!”
“It was scary. I don’t know if those of you in the audience were terrified of what we were going to do with the characters,” said Jelenic. “But the easy part was that we were brining back the same guys. They created characters that were so iconic, that it was really easy to take them from an action setting to the weirdest comedy setting.”
“The old show already kind of had that comedy sensibility,” Horvath, whose previous animation credits include having served as a director on the first few seasons of Cartoon Network’s “MAD” series. “For me, it already lent itself perfectly to what we were going to do.”
Register turned to Payton and Cipes, whom he referred to as the “loony bins,” about what it was like to return to the characters after ten years.
“It was a relief!” Payton replied with an extra bit of breath. “Greg had been calling me everyday for three years going, ‘Did you hear anything? Did you hear it’s coming back?'” Then Payton joked, “I think it was literally the aura of Greg Cipes that brought this show back.”
Register and Payton then credited the loyal “Titans” fanbase for their support in bringing back the characters, with Payton citing the “snail mail” letters that were sent in by fans.
While the other actors in the cast were voice-over veterans, the original “Teen Titans” gig was the first foray into voice work for both Cipes and Payton.
“We were just a couple of nut-jobs going, ‘Dude, can you believe we’re getting to do this job?’ And here we are ten years later. It’s awesome.”
Register said that it was at last year’s WonderCon that he told Payton that the series was coming back to a full series. In turn, Payton said the only other person he told was Cipes via a text message.
“Stop. For real?” was Cipes’ initial reaction. “For a long time, I would get in trouble. They’d say, ‘You can’t say that the show is coming back when it’s not.’ But I’d say ‘I’m telling you, it’s coming back — it’s coming back in your hearts. Prayers go up, and blessings come down. Our prayers were answered.”
“He talks crazy, but it works!” Payton said referring to Cipes’ unique energy.
When asked why these five characters seems to work and click years after the original series went off the air, Cipes credits the fact that the five actors — Cipes, Payton, Hynden Walch (Starfire), Scott Menville (Robin) and Tara Strong (Raven) — are like a family.
“There’s a character for everybody, and the coolest thing is that we come together as a team,” Cipes continued “We have the best time ever, and that’s why this incarnation of the show is perfect. It’s a perfect personification of the essence of these characters, which is about having a great time, and not taking life so seriously.”
Payton then talked about how each character is an extension of each actor. He noted Walch’s sweetness, and that she is equally smart as she is strong; Strong’s versatility and powerful ability to voice a myriad of roles; Menville’s consistent tenacity to get the job done; and Cipes, who Payton joked is “almost green.”
Later in the panel, Register commended Payton for helping raise Cyborg’s popularity in the comics, as well as in other media.
On the subject of 11-minute episodes, Jelenic offered that it was “just long enough to allow us to do some really weird episodes but not too long that we overstay our welcome. If we stretch it out any longer, you’d start to get bummed out about what happened in Robin’s life.” The latter comment in particular referenced how the “Super Robin” episode that was shown ended, with a decidedly dark comedic conclusion. “The abrupt end is sort of a funny punchline. So I think 11 minutes is the perfect length for the type of comedy we’re trying to do.”
In trying to find a balance between the comedy and the action, “I think it’s either you want to have the action either funny, or the action is low stakes, and you play it straight,” Horvath said.
“The action is a bit silly, but we didn’t want to make fun of the characters. As superheroes, they’re the best superheroes in the world.” Jelenic added. “But maybe when they come home, they’ve got some flaws, and we can poke fun at some of those flaws.”
Before the panel took questions from the audience, Register talked about Glen Murakami, the original series showrunner, and his tepidness about the new series. “He’s very excited that it was happening, but he was a little afraid. When we finally sat Glen down to watch the show, and some other people who worked on the old series, they loved it. Glen absolutely loved it, but had a problem that Beast Boy talks as an animal.”
“‘Beast Boy never talked as an animal.'” Cipes deadpanned in an impersonation of his former boss.
“It’s an 11-minute comedy. Go make Batman.” Register joked in reference to Murakami’s new gig as the show runner of the new “Beware the Batman” animated series, which Register also commended, and said it will “blow your minds.”
During the question and answer portion of the panel, it was revealed that any character that appeared in the original series is not off the table from appearing in the new series. Moreover, do expect to see Speedy, Mas y Menos, and Titans East to show up in upcoming episodes of “Teen Titans Go!”
Asked if the Justice League would appear, Register told him, “Geoff Johns has been so cool about some of the weird stuff that these guys have been putting in this show. So the answer is most likely, and DC approved.”
“Teen Titans Go!” premieres April 23 on Cartoon Network.