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NYCC 2013: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" Panel Report

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The 2013 TMNT panel, from left to right: Ciro Nieli, Brandon Auman, Rob Paulsen, Greg Cipes, Hoon Lee. Here the panelists look on in great amusement as Hoon Lee recites ridiculous lines seriously in his booming Splinter voice.

The evening of October 11th saw the return of a lively Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles panel to New York Comic Con, all to discuss the new second season. The panel was moderated by Rich Magallanes, Senior Vice President of Nickelodeon Animation. Members of the panel this year included Executive Producer Ciro Nieli, Story Editor Brandon Auman, and three of the series’ voice actors: Rob Paulsen (Donatello), Greg Cipes (Michelangelo) and Hoon Lee (Splinter).

When Rob Paulsen and Greg Cipes were introduced, short clips played featuring their respective characters in the second season. When Rob Paulsen was introduced, a clip played of Donatello talking to Michaelangelo about his problem with having zits all over his face, a result of “Mikey” consuming mutagen by mistake. To teach his brother a lesson Donatello tells him about the horrible symptoms he will suffer from his condition, causing Michelangelo to freak out. When Paulsen came on stage he made a point of of reiterating how he felt grateful to have the chance to voice two different ninja turtles in his career, first Raphael and now Donatello. Paulsen also jokingly thanked the parents in the audience since “my kids have straight teeth because of you!” because they reliably buy TMNT action figures. As for Greg Cipes, the clip introducing him featured “Mikey being Mikey” from the same episode. Donatello is chastising Michelangelo for touching the mutagen he’d stored in a glass container, prompting Mikey to explain that he did it because his brothers treat him like he’s a “goofball” and he’d read on the label that it’d make him “super cool”. An incredulous Donatello responds that it read that it was supposed to be kept super cool and that the substance is dangerous, causing Michelangelo to shout that his brother should have made it more clear. Without a word Donatello spins the container around, revealing warning labels covering the bottle all over. For his part, Greg Cipes truly channeled Michelangelo when he skated to his seat on the stage, screamed his catchphrase “Booyahkasha!” and then had the audience follow suit. Hoon Lee was ushered in by a clip of Splinter taking an emergency call for help at the Turtles’ lair – by picking up a phone resembling a wheel of cheese. Upon taking the stage, Lee was then asked to recite some silly recipe directions in his perfectly serious Splinter voice for the amusement of the audience.

With the panel introduced, Magallanes dived right into questions for the guests. Paulsen was asked what invention of Donatello he likes best, leading him to name the Turtles’ ground vehicle the Shellraiser as something he was proud of. Cipes was asked what it was about Michelangelo that made him so loved and valuable, causing Cipes to get in character and quip “I don’t know, ya’ll tell me!” Cipes then got (more) serious and said he thinks it’s because the character is so positive, a “nowist” that is focused on having fun in the present is and never fixated on the past or the future. “The Turtles wouldn’t be nothing without Mikey, actually!” Paulsen remarked that Donatello would say “Mikey, I love you, you are just the right amount of stupid!”, prompting a “What’s that mean?” TMNTKraangInvasionresponse from Cipes. Paulsen’s / Donatello’s response? “Doesn’t matter!” “Thanks dude!”, replied Cipes.

With the early banter over with, Ciro Nieli was asked to discuss the setup for the second season ahead of the premiere of its first episode, “The Mutation Situation,” at the panel and on Nickelodeon over the weekend. Nieli explained that since their victories at the end of the first season the TMNT have “softened and partied”, but in the meantime “…the Kraang have survived, and Shredder’s been scheming.” This point was illustrated for the audience all too well by the start of the episode, which as fans know by know features the TMNT celebrating and talking up their accomplishments, as well as reassuring April’s jittery father that the Kraang are definitely defeated…cue the Shredder communicating with the aliens from the safety of his lair.

With the episode screening concluded Brandon Auman talked up the second season, though not before messing with fans with a joke that they could look forward to the arrival of Venus de Milo from the not-so-fondly remembered TMNT: The Next Mutation live action series from the 1990s. That aside he promised that there’s plenty going on in the second season, and that something fans actually can look forward to is the inclusion of more villains from the classic series and the comics. Nieli chimed in part of the season involves a “monster scavenger hunt” and that they wanted to give Donatello a chance to show what he can do as a leader. He will be desperate to create a counter-mutagen to help April’s mutated father so that “April won’t hate him forever” over the the Turtles’ big-time blunder in “The Mutation Situation.” “It’s tough getting a chick when you’re a turtle, you know!”, Paulsen joked. Naturally the scattering of mutagen all over New York City means that it will be prominent in the second season, and that means new mutants as well. One that was showed off was the series take on the TMNT adversary “Pizza Face”, which in this case is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The panel also teased that something would be done with Mutagen Man and that the Shredder and Karai would also be important.

TMNTPizzaFaceAt this point, the panel ran the first of multiple animatics, which are basically moving storyboards. This first clip featured Michelangelo facing off against Pizza Face, complicated by the fact that he also has to battle his three brothers, all of whom are somehow being mind controlled. This was followed by another animatic where Michelangelo is aspiring to make the perfect pizza with very dubious combination of ingredients, all while singing an impromptu goofy song about it. With the clip over, Cipes repeated the entire thing in person for the audience.

The threat of the Kraang will not be forgotten. In fact, according to Nieli, toward the end of season 2 “we’re actually going to spend a whole episode in Dimension X”. The TMNT will also have to deal with some “interdimensional trouble”, and that is how the callback to the 1980s TMNT will happen: a portal will open to where they’re at.  This prompted comments from Paulsen about how this means he gets to talk to himself since he played Raphael in the old cartoon. For him, getting to perform with the old TMNT voice actors again was “surreal in the coolest way” for him, while he also gets a “profound thrill” out of being able to work on an “evergreen franchise” like TMNT as much as he has. Paulsen also finds himself gratified by the support the show has won, recalling that in the early days he’d get people in the “25 to 35 range” coming up to him and saying they weren’t sure about the show and worried about it “ruining” their childhood. But now those kind of fans that were “on the fence” are now “so completely embracing the show” in his experience, which Paulsen expressed thanks for. The show wants to carry forward the idea that the Kraang have actually been among humanity for a very long time. This was illustrated by a completed clip, where the TMNT confront a new character named Kurtzen when they notice he’s following them. They learn Kurtzen was a journalist investigating the disappearance of April’s father, leading to him discovering the Kraang and investigating them on their own. Displaying a book full of notes, Kurtzen insists that the Kraang’s presence on Earth is “ancient” and actually goes back thousands of years.

As for Shredder and the Foot Clan, Nieli reveals that Karai will be left in charge of the Foot for a time when Shredder departs to find a new “cunning warrior” to deploy against the TMNT, who realizes he has underestimated.  This warrior will be the mutant Tiger Claw, who after his transformation went from being a circus performer to joining the underworld and becoming a powerful mercenary. Talk of Tiger Claw led to the panel’s third animatic, which depicts a scene where Tiger Claw has managed to capture the TMNT and has them headed for some kind of death trap. Enter Splinter, who thunders “Release my sons – NOW!”, beginning a fierce battle with Tiger Claw. Play the video below for a look at this and the other two animatics!

After the clip, Hoon Lee was asked about how he feels about how elements and characters from older TMNT media have been worked into the show. Lee echoed the sentiment that in the first season they wanted to “honor the legacy” while also forging a path to do things their own way. Now at this point, “Part of the opportunity now moving forward is to build off that foundation and start to really explore new terrain…Things that were maybe less developed in the comic books or characters that maybe weren’t so fleshed out are deepened or made richer. In that way you can keep focus on what has come before, but also start to round it out a bit more.” Also, speaking as someone who experienced the comics, he approves of how what was in them is being honored but also literally “pushed forward to a new dimension.”

A brief Q&A session took place in the closing minutes of the panel. In regard to how justice is done to old TMNT characters, for Nieli and Auman it’s about boiling down what the characters are all about and then crafting a story based around that assessment. One fan asked how the introduction of Casey Jones would affect Donatello’s relationship, prompting Paulsen to answer “He kicks his ass!” Paulsen divulged that many girls will come up to tell him that they like the idea of a relationship between April and Donatello, which would be “a felony in most galaxies, but not in ours!” On a more serious note Paulsen acknowledged that Casey is “badass” and he’ll create a dynamic where Donatello’s trying to compete and impress April. Yet another fan asked about the possibility of a “flash forward episode”, resulting in a joke from Paulsen that he’d end up being Michelangelo later and a comment from Nieli that time jumping turtles is “kind of cool”. Finally, the voice actors were complimented on their voices and asked if they’d ever consider putting out a music CD, which brought on a joke about doing something with Vanilla Ice.  This also brought on an appropriately humorous end to the panel when Greg Cipes spontaneously started up a rap with assistance from Rob Paulsen to end the panel and thank the audience for coming, most of which is captured on video below!

For more Toonzone coverage of NY Comic Con, click here. TMNT fans can also check out our interview with Executive Producer Ciro Nieli about the second season.

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