Toonzone Attends the World Premiere Preview of Nickelodeon's TMNT at MCM Expo London
Attendees were ushered into the largest of MCM’s screening rooms to find some gifts waiting for them- every chair had a coloured bandana (in a choice of the 4 iconic Turtles colours), a TMNT branded bottle of drinking water and a copy of issue #4 of IDW’s TMNT comic book. Cameras prowled the vast room, eagerly taking footage of the overflowing fan enthusiasm. Eventually this energy was collectively harnessed as we were all urged to don our bandanas and emit cries of ‘I love being a turtle!’.
After this, comic book writer and artist Nick Roche took to the stage to introduce Nickelodeon’s Rich Magallanes (whose credits with the network include Rugrats, Fairly OddParents and SpongeBob SquarePants) and TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman. The pair explained that they felt the long term success of the franchise was down to the characters. With this new series, they wanted to deepen that, particularly exploring the Turtles first taste of life topside and making them act like real teenagers, giving them clear room to learn and develop as both heroes and characters.
The visual style of the series was described as ‘CG meets anime’, attempting to combine the two without simply repeating the familiar visual styles of both. The show will be an action comedy with very specific attention paid to the martial arts action. The storyboard artists studied real practicing martial arts masters and attempted to transition as much of this into the animation as possible. This also extends to attempts to really reinforce the ‘ninja’ element of the heroes with more active use of stealth and cunning.
A brief introduction to the core cast established their starting points. Leonardo (Jason Biggs) will be a leader whose enthusiasm outclasses his current ability, taking guidance from Splinter and a Captain Kirk-wannabe TV character. Raphael (Sean Astin) was described as a ‘pitbull with knives’ who will retain his famous rivalry with Leo along with his hotheadedness. Donatello (Rob Paulsen) continues as the team’s science whiz but now also carries a crush on April which is continuously made fun of by his brothers. His character design also boasts a gap between his teeth which we were told ties into a drive to make each of the Turtles unique both in terms of character and design, with small details such as this and a scar for Raph hinting at unseen escapades. Michelangelo (Greg Cipes) is still a joker but brings with it a unique viewpoint which offers solutions that escape his brothers.
We were informed that many of the staff of the new show were fans with great respect for the franchise’s history and that in the earliest stages of development, fans had been invited to the studio to ensure Nickelodeon understood the long term fans’ feelings. At the same time a consistent effort will be made to bring forth new ideas and make the series something unique for a new generation of fans, not simply repeating ideas that have already been done before.
A short preview was then shown which depicted Leo, Raph and Don using Mikey as bait for a killer robot, only to end with him frantically running back to his brothers whilst being chased by heat seeking missiles. In the resulting carnage, he finds comfort in dangling from a beam in clear view of a pizza parlour.
Following this we were introduced to the three other main regulars. Splinter will be ‘less Yoda’, being aged down slightly to make him more of a physical equal to the Shredder and more directly involved in his pupil’s training. However he will still be a fountain of knowledge that Leo in particular looks up to. April has been made younger, with the somewhat joking concern that a 30 year old hanging out with four teenagers felt off. This will serve to make her more directly relatable to the Turtles, being an independent rebel who isn’t afraid to take action when needed. The Footclan soldiers will now wear more traditional ninja garb and also frequently use shadows and stealth techniques. The intent is to make them a true force to be reckoned with, which also holds true for their master, Shredder. Described as ‘the baddest of the bad’, he’ll be causing trouble for the mutant family from the very first episode. The role will be brought to life by Kevin Michael Richardson, though Eastman joked he’d hoped to get Bobcat Goldthwait. The final character reveal was the alien race ‘The Kraang’, the series fusion of the iconic 80’s bad guy and the more traditional Utrom aliens. Only able to speak through their robotic bodies, they will have an agenda to colonise Earth that is linked to the mutagen which transformed the Turtles and Splinter. Eastman highlighted that visually, the robot design draws directly from the original TMNT #3 comic book.
We were then treated to the exclusive of the panel- a brand new world premiere trailer. Things start with the brothers darting across rooftops of NYC at night before settling in an alley. Mikey is goofing off playing kick the can, which causes his three brothers to angrily shush him in a Teen Titans-reminiscent sight gag. A group of Foot soldiers emerge from the shadows, and Leo’s cocky quip is met by several more. The Turtles still emerge triumphant and their demand for a better challenge is met with the sinister mocking laughter of the Shredder. Focus then switched to an encounter with a Kraang, visibly freaking the brothers out before Mikey starts beating it unconscious in another comedy sight gag. Waving his trophy around, he berates the other three for not believing him such a creature existed before it wakes up and latches onto his face, leading Raph to quip, “How can you be proven right and still look stupid?” While the earlier preview had received a positive reaction, the response to the new one was certainly higher, with the audience awed at the action and getting a good laugh from the comedy.
We were then introduced to some of the vehicles Don will make for the team from a mix of New York garbage and obtained Kraang technology. The first of these was the Stealth Cycle, a three wheeled motorbike with a body covering shield for stealth action. The second was the Shellraiser, the series take on the iconic Turtle Van. Made out of an abandoned subway car with heavy armour applied, it will be able to switch between running on tracks and running on the streets. A brief look at some of the locations was next, underscoring how the staff wants districts of NYC to feel different from one another.
When the floor was opened to questions, many involved the chances of other characters returning. Leatherhead, Baxter Stockman, and Karai will all appear in the series, and the staff is trying to find a way to use Casey Jones without having to lose the heart of the character. The popular Bebop and Rocksteady will not appear, but the show will offer its own take on that concept. Rich informed us that the show doesn’t just want to do back to back character debut episodes, exploring the characters first and involving new characters when it makes sense in the story. This extends to introducing brand new characters to the mythos.
When asked about the chances of some of the more exotic arcs from the comics being adapted, Eastman felt this highlighted the difference between then and now. When he and Peter Laird were creating the original comics, they were free to do whatever entertained them at the time, which invited pop culture homages. When producing a TV show now, more concern has to be taken to planning the story out and not rushing too quickly through ideas. Concepts like the Triceratons may be explored in time but for now the show will focus on the Turtles clashes with the Shredder as they learn of the world above.
The soundtrack is currently being composed and will play a key role in selling New York as a living city, using different types including drum and bass. When asked about the opening theme and if we’d hear anything of the iconic 80’s version, a subtle hint implied the new opening might be a remix of it. On a similar note it was revealed that Mikey’s new catchphrase will be ‘Booyakasha!’ When Rich asked if fans would like to see a return of the original ‘Cowabunga!’ at some point, there was strong support.
When asked why pizza was chosen as the Turtles favourite food, Eastman said it emerged from the limited diet he and Laird could afford at the time.
A few people asked Eastman for his response to the upcoming Michael Bay movie and most prominently the director’s plan to make the Turtles aliens instead of mutants. Eastman asked fans to be patient and said that between the film, TV show, and IDW comic fans would receive 3 different but respectful reboots.
The last question came from an enthusiastic little boy who wanted to know when the new toys will be released. Expect to see them this August for America, and January 2013 for the UK. Upon leaving the theatre, samples of these new toys were setup in display cases for public viewing.
In all, it was a noteworthy presentation which shows Nickelodeon are concerned with treating this property with respect. Fan feedback was the clear goal of the screening and clearly not just for the larger bases like America but smaller ones like the UK. I have to admit that when news first broke that Nick were planning to reboot the series so soon after the 4Kids version I questioned if it would work. Having now seen this, I think it’s clear they plan to do something unique and respectful that will both please existing fans and more importantly capture the imaginations of a whole new generation.