Nickelodeon's latest animated series had a shocking start to its life when the first previews of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proved a hotly debated departure from stories past. But as the producers and stars of Rise tell it, the series is less a change from Turtles shows of the past and more a deepening of the franchise in a way that draws inspiration from both the TMNT's animated roots and its comic book origins.
CBR caught up with executive producer Andy Suriano, Turtles icon and current Rise voice director Rob Paulson and stars Eric Bauza (Splinter) and Brandon Mychal Smith (Mikey) for an inside look at the series as it prepares for its regular series debut with multiple episodes airing tonight at 6:30 PM on Nick.
"We always say 'Be respectful, not reverential.' We wanted to be respectful, but we never wanted to be hindered by that," said Suriano who holds years of experience both in comics with projects like IDW's Cosmic Scoundrels and in animation such as the recent run of Mickey Mouse shorts. The creator sees the version of the Turtles on Rise as no different than past takes at their core...this series just digs into new facets of the classic personalities.
"They've always had the same basic ingredients since 34 years ago when Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman came up with them. At its heart, we took those elements and said 'How can we add a little dimensionality to it?' We just went from there and kept adding layers and layers, and anything that didn't feel true to the inherent nature of the character, we yanked it out," Suriano said.
If there are notable differences in the new series, the producer says, they are in terms of the timeline (the show presents the Turtles much younger in their crimefighting career than when they face the Shredder) and in an injection of humor into the show that fits the modern sensibilities of the cast. "One of the things we looked at was that in other versions, typically Mikey was the only funny one. And we felt that people in general have more facets to them than a one note thing. It's not 'I'm the angry guy! I'm the leader!' We're also seeing the Turtles at a different point in their career. We asked what they'd be like just before we've seen them in previous versions."
Smith noted that part of that humor comes from his castmates' comedy backgrounds and their ability to play off each other in the recording booth. "The dynamic aspect of each one of us plays out in each character every week. Each one of us is a rock star," he said shouting out Josh Brener (Donnie), Omar Benson Miller (Raph) and Ben Schwartz (Leo). "There's so many unique colors that are very different from each of the brothers that stand out in the series. That is highlighted by the unprecedented writing that Andy and Ant are doing week in, week out. They're really putting in the work, and it's become easy for us to go in there and knock home runs every week."
Suriano agreed that the changes made were more updates than revisions. "The biggest change is that Donatello is not the meek wallflower. As our other producer Ant [Ward] says 'Coding is cool now.' It's cool to be a geek! Our Donatello as voiced by Josh Brenner is very confident."