Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the new CG series preview

Feature Matt Edwards 3 Jun 2012 - 11:59

Matt went along to a preview of Nickelodeon's new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show, and here's what he thought...

Back in 2009, Viacom purchased the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property. Since then, various new Ninja Turtles projects have been set into motion. The new comic book series, published by IDW, is well underway, with several issues and reissues already on the market. A new movie, produced by Michael Bay and subject to much Internet fury, is currently targeted for a UK release in February 2014.

That’s not enough though, is it? After all, it wouldn’t be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles without a cartoon series on TV. Fortunately for us, Nickelodeon have been working on bringing the Turtles back to the small screen. A CG show will be launching in the Autumn and, much to the excitement of eager TMNT enthusiasts, the MCM Expo in London offered UK fans their first chance of a ‘sneak peek’ at the show.

I struggled through the repressive London heat because I had to cover the preview for this site. Er, and because I basically begged to go. Seriously, it’s Ninja Turtles. You don’t miss Ninja Turtles because of a bit of sun.

The Event

The event itself was a one hour session in a large room at the back of the Expo. I got there early and found myself sitting alone in the press area, while my wife and brother made themselves comfy in the general seating area, which was starting to fill up. On the seats were a free comic (one of the recent IDW ones), a bottle of Turtles’ label fizzy water and a coloured headband. I didn’t notice many of the other journalists checking their seats as they sat down, strangely, but I made sure to have a decent view and a Raphael red before picking my spot.

A host took to the stage (Nickelodeon doesn’t still have live TV hosts, do they?), and we were introduced to Nickelodeon’s Senior VP of Animation Rich Magallanes (who has worked on Rugrats and Spongebob Squarepants, amongst other things) and TMNT co-creator/the greatest person there is, Kevin Eastman. There were a few brief questions at the beginning, then Rich led everyone through a PowerPoint-like presentation of information about the new series, which included a couple of brief clips, and then the audience were invited to ask questions.

Early on in the presentation we were informed of the emphasis on the teenage element of the characters. In this new Nick series, the Turtles are still learning their skills and are behaving like four teenage siblings, arguing and fighting.

We were also told that, unsurprisingly, the show will be a mixture of action and comedy. While the look of the characters implied, and what we saw in clips (which we’ll come to in a minute) demonstrated the comedic element of the show, we were assured that work was going into the action scenes, too. In fact, Rich revealed, one of the production team studies Ninjitsu in his his spare time, and is an evening Ninja, and so apparently we can expect some authentic looking combat scenes. We were also told that storyboard artists would watch Ninja training sessions and incorporate what they had seen into the action. How this will work out, I don’t know, but it was a fun anecdote and suggests that they’re taking it seriously.

The Characters

Much of the presentation consisted of ‘character slides’, which told us who to expect and how to expect them.

Leonardo will be learning to lead. In this series, Leonardo has a hero – the captain of a spaceship from a 70s science fiction program. News that Leonardo will be voiced by American Pie’s Jason Biggs was warmly received by the crowd.

A bigger cheer came when it was revealed that Raphael would be voiced by The Lord of the Rings and The Goonies star Sean Astin. Raphael was described by Rich as a ‘pitbull with knives’. His rivalry with Leonardo over leadership and his temper will inform his character.

Michelangelo, who was pictured next to the catchphrase ‘Chuck you later’, will be voiced by cartoon voice actor Gregg Cipes, who I am not familiar with, but who I came to know about over the course of the event (every mention of his name at the event was greeted cheerily by Rich and Kevin). Michelangelo will serve as the comic relief, it seems, although he was described as being physically capable and witty.

Taller than his brothers (it was highlighted that each Turtle is visually unique, rather than looking the same but with a different colour headband), Donatello is also missing a tooth. No real changes to his role in the group – he’s the intelligent one and he makes all the Turtles' vehicles (including the Shellraiser, a van made from an abandoned train carriage). What is new is that Donatello has a crush on April, which the other Turtles will tease him about. Rob Paulson has been cast as Donatello, which is a fun choice as he provided the voice for Raphael in the 80s cartoon.

April O’Neil and Splinter will both be featured in this series, although they’ll be a little younger than we’re used to seeing them. A more active Splinter is intended as a worthy foe for the Shredder. April, meanwhile, was aged down to give girls an accessible character. April will be a teenager, the same age as the Turtles, which, we were told, removes the awkwardness of having a 30 year old woman hanging around teenage boys (who are mutant ninjas).

No actors were announced for these roles, but just as the information about who was voicing the Turtles has been available online for some time, information from the always reliable internet suggests that April will be voice by Mae Whitman (her?) of Arrested Development and Scott Pilgrim fame. Although I found it a little strange that Nickelodeon couldn’t announce information that was already public knowledge, I’ve never had to promote a multi-million dollar TV series before, so perhaps my insights are here are best consigned to my personal, tear-stained journal.

Villains were covered, too. The Shredder (voiced by Michael Kevin Richardson, although Kevin Eastman joked that he’d suggested Bobcat Goldthwait for the role) was described a serious villain, as opposed to a couple of the more bungling incarnations we’ve seen previously, who is obsessed with going after Splinter. He has a huge scar across his eye and armour featuring oversized blades. The Foot Clan were shown to be wearing traditional ‘Ninja’ dress, and will be a menace that travel in large numbers.

Finally, we got a look at the Kraang. Brain-shaped aliens with tentacles, fans will recognise the Kraang as being similar to either Utrom aliens or Krang. Unable to speak outside of their exoskeletons, the Kraang intend on colonising the Earth, but are unsure of how to. They also like to experiment with mutagen. Amusingly, they are all called Kraang, but can tell which Kraang is being spoken to regardless.

The Footage

The first of the two clips we got came tacked onto the end of a short behind the scenes feature. It was brief, but offered us our first look at the Turtles in motion and in their new setting, as well as letting us hear their voices.

Showcasing the Turtles in a bit of rooftop action, I’m thrilled with how the clip showed the series to look. You can see the Turtles from the pictures in this, and the world around them is nicely matched. There was a fun, silly tone throughout and, as I’ll come to in a moment, Michelangelo’s mischief dominated the clip. As far as the voice cast goes, they all work well, and I really like the casting of Jason Biggs as Leonardo.

The second clip was essentially a trailer and repeated some of the footage from the previous clip. However, we got a look at the Foot Clan in this one, and we got to see Mikey battling with a Kraang that had attached itself to his head.

There was not a lot of footage to base any opinions on, but what I think we can take from the clips is that it’s going to look great and that Michelangelo is going to be a ton of fun in this new series. Gregg Cipes stands out amongst the voice cast and it looks like Nickelodeon are really onto something with this take on the character. Silly, wacky and fun.

The Audience Questions

Finally, the audience were invited to ask questions. We got a lot of questions asking if a particular character or catchphrase would be back (which were nearly all met with a ‘we can’t really say’) and a couple of less than hilarious non-questions about the Michael Bay movie/alien Turtles saga (which Kevin Eastman responded to by telling people he was working with Platinum Dunes, that he wishes he could tell us about it but that the story is respectful).

We learned that Bebop and Rocksteady won’t be back, that the theme song will possibly be a bit like the one from the first cartoon, that Baxter Stockman and Leatherhead will be featured (although it was not referenced, artwork for a toy of the robot-turtle Metalhead is about, so assume he will be too), that Casey Jones is being considered for a return, that the Triceratons aren’t currently planned but are possible and that people still don’t like the girl-Turtle Venus (although Kevin Eastman seemed to have genuine affection for the character).

The most interesting things to come of this section were confirmation that there would be a new computer game, release dates for the new toys (August in the US, January in the UK) and information on the way episodes in the new series will work. In response to a question about whether the episodes will be standalone or whether they will follow an ongoing story (and whoever asked this question deserves a high five), we were told that they were doing a ‘soft serialisation’. Episodes will be accessible, but due to the amount of story they have to tell, there will be some on-going stories.

The Toys

Not part of the ‘event’, but on a stand outside, were preview displays of the toys that are coming out. Pictures were released online earlier in the year, but it was great to see them up close. The Nick Turtle toys look great, but I was particularly excited by the upcoming ‘classics’ range, which will feature the Turtles from the first cartoon. Incidentally, I am nearly thirty years old.

Wrap Up

So, to summarise – I think Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles looks brilliant. It’s too early to tell, and a bit more footage and a less coy attitude with information might have generated more of a response, but so far so good. When the response is that you want more, it’s fair to say that the preview has done its job. The attitude from the people involved was enthusiastic, and they were keen to stress that they were open to listening to the fans. If you want a character to come back, make some noise about it, was the message. The Twitter hashtag #NickTurtles was written everywhere I looked, so maybe use that.

To me, this reboot looks like great fun. Expect to see coverage of the series on this site.

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I don't think I'd ever really realised that the turtles were meant to be teenagers, despite it even being in the blooming title!

Great coverage! I'm really glad that a lot of work is being put into the series, and that is looks brilliant - it's high time TMNT are back on TV. 

I liked the fact that April is a Kick-ass journalist. Making her into a teenager, is only going to make her into a moany bitchy girl, who complains about her love life. I think it is stranger that a Turtle would be in love with a teenage girl than a 30 year old journist, who works beside a bunch of crime fighters.

Nope, April is going to train with Master Splinter. Sure she's rebellious, just don't assume they're going for the Twilight angle ;)

 That sounds a bit interesting that she's going to be able to fight for herself and not be rescued all the time. If they are going down the teenage angle, I hope she's more like Buffy than Bella.

 in cutting edge early 90's CGI to boot.  i guess they spared no expense for this cash cow.

Could be okay...not sure about the direction they're going with April, though.  It probably means no Casey.  And Donatello's crush on April is hardly new - maybe they're being more blatant about it but they did that in the last series.

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