TMNT fans at New York Comic Con were ready with questions for the producers and cast of Nickelodeon’s latest incarnation of the crime-fighting franchise, Rise of the TMNT, which premiered on Nick in July 2018.
Co-executive producers Ant Ward and Andy Suriano were joined on stage by principle cast members Kat Graham (voice of April O’Neil), Brandon Mychal Smith (voice of Michelangelo), Josh Brener (voice of Donatello), Omar Benson Miller (voice of Raphael), legendary voice director Rob Paulsen (Foot Clan Lieutenant), and Maurice LaMarche (Foot Lieutenant). Ben Schwartz, the voice of Leonardo was not present (we’re not crying, you’re crying).
Ward and Surino discussed what they’ve done to make this reboot different from previous ones. Ward explained how they really wanted to explore the mythology behind the turtles, which lead them to develop a strong focus on the “mystic ninja” by adding more supernatural elements to the show and exploring the rich history behind ninjas.
Rise of the TMNT focuses strongly on the family element between the turtles and their relationship with April O’Neil. Ward analyzed how he could use the turtle’s personalities to create interesting and unexpected storytelling, and the ninja’s personalities play into how they learn to harness their new mystic powers.
The family element that lives in the show is also evident among the cast members, who displayed strong chemistry and bond on stage at NYCC.
Graham said she grew up watching TMNT and has always wanted to play a female character that’s empowering to young women, adding that this is the first time that April O’Neil is portrayed as black on the show.
Smith was by far the most energetic member of the panel, wearing turquoise tiger print pants, a leather jacket and a biker hat. He told fans that he tries to bring his own personal flare to the character as much as possible, and shared that his mom recently sent him a VHS of him dressed up as Donatello, although he could have sworn he was Michelangelo as a kid.
Brener shared how landing this role has been somewhat of a journey of revenge against his older brothers, who never let him play with their TMNT action figures, and now he has his own, and exclaimed “So suck on that!” at his absent brothers.
A major change in Rise of the TMNT is the absence of a certain villain, which did not get past one small fan who boldly asked the panel, “Where’s Shredder? He’s in all of the other shows.” The audience burst out into laughter as well as a few members of the panel, however Suriano came back with a simple explanation, “If you have a bad guy like Shredder in each episode, you know where [the story is] going … At least for the first bit, we wanted to do something different … we wanted new villains”
The resident duo of villains, Foot Lieutenant and Foot Clan Lieutenant, are voiced by the Paulson and LaMarche, who have a long history working together, most notably as the voices of Pinky and The Brain. The two are pleased to be working together again, LaMarche remarking how “except this time he’s the dumb one, but [he] doesn’t mind” while throwing in a few Pinky and Brain voices for the audience.
There are a few other new villains with recognizable voices this season as well, such as Meat Sweats (Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols), Baron Draxum (John Cena of the WWE), and Big Mama (Lean Headey of Game of Thrones).
When asked what they’d like fans to take away most from this incarnation of TMNT, Suriano and Ward both agree that they want people to have fun.
“What more could we ask for if people look back at Rise of the TMNT and say, ‘wasn’t that fun?'”
Catch all of the fun with the heroes in a half shell on Nickelodeon, Saturday mornings at 9:30 a.m.