I hope it’s not too glib to say that every generation needs to have its own version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to call their own. For kids of the eighties and nineties, that meant the spectrum of those gritty original b&w joints courtesy of Eastman & Laird to the Technicolor wonder of the first animated series. As time has moved on, so have the Turtles. As tastes in pop culture have shifted, the Turtles have stubbornly remained entrenched in their shells to proclaim there is a never-satiated need to explore the exploits of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael and their universe. Since 2012, Nickelodeon has been the home for the lads in green. The series that debuted that year was not only a commercial and critical success (and a quick fan favorite) but pushed the television side of the franchise farther than most iterations had done previously.
Beginning this fall, the Heroes in a Half-Shell are back with the debut of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a vibrant re-imagining of the earlier years of the Turtles before they coalesced into the world’s most fearsome fighting team. Moving back to 2D animation from the previous iteration’s CGI aesthetic, the look of the show is more akin to a “moving comic book” according to co-executive producer Andy Suriano.
And it shows. Everything about this semi-reboot (is that even the right way to describe it? “There’s no reason to reboot it,” says Suriano ) screams forward momentum. This is a not a Turtles that seeks to rest on the laurels of the past. Rather, the brain trust and new cast strive to bring a fresh, contemporary edge to characters that have swirled in the pop culture ether for over three decades. But that doesn’t mean stepping back into the past to help clear the way for the future. As fans of the Turtle-verse might know, series veteran and legendary voice actor Rob Paulsen (Raph in the ’87 series; Donnie in the ’12 series) takes a new step into the role of vocal director for the show. “Honestly it is much more fun than I thought it would be,” Paulsen says with a broad grin. “It was a profound compliment to be asked to be the voice director. It’s an incredible opportunity. And on a personal level, it was a huge challenge.
“These guys are professionals. I don’t mean to tell them how to do their job,” Paulsen continues. “We really trust each other and we understand the magnitude of this whole circumstance.”
Adding to that challenge is the need to bring more individual flavor to each Turtle. No longer are they almost exact clones of each other. Indeed, from the shape of each turtle, to the diversification of each turtles’ species, the show intends to delve into the interiority and singular strengths of each brother.
And everyone in the roundtable agrees with Rob that, when it came to casting the show, the creators were firing on all cylinders. The already prolific (and hilarious) Eric Bauza, the new voice of “long-suffering single dad” Master Splinter talks not only to the professional commitment to create a voice for an iconic character, but the personal meaning of embodying the wise Rattus sensei: “These were the toys that I played with when I was a kid, and now you’re telling me I get to live out my childhood and create a new take on character that everyone I know loves?” he says. Brandon Mychal Smith, the new voice of Michelangelo, agrees, but also comments on the holistic adjustments that naturally occur when new blood enters the mix “It was a game-changing moment,” Smith notes, “I really wanted to bring color and a fun spirit but also wanted to bring an urban vibe with this character which I think no one else has done prior.” Smith brings up the point that Mikey is a “ball of Rockstar energy,” but that the heart of the show also goes back to the “direction of a legend” and nods towards Paulsen.
“From my perspective, seeing Brandon and Eric and all these kids who are so good and so excited about being a part of this… This is a big deal. Every single person that’s come in as excited to do this because that is where they are.”
Amen. Now pass that slice, because the time is ripe for a new adventure.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuts Monday, Sept. 17 on Nickelodeon. Fans can watch a sneak peek of “Mystic Mayhem” tonight, Friday, July 20, at 9:30 PM. If you are attending SDCC, there are many Turtle related exclusives over at the Nick Booth#4113.
AJ Frost is an editor/writer based out of Phoenix, AZ.