Cowabunga! The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back and ready to kick some shell.
"It's the first Turtles incarnation where they actually use their weapons besides just throwing them into the wall. I mean, they are ninjas." Turtles executive producer Ciro Nieli told the Television Critics Association during the fall previews Friday. That's not to say that the new Nickelodeon adaptation of the popular comic books will be too violent for its young audience. "The Turtles are always acting on the need of a greater good. They're always playing the hero role.. . We have no qualms about what we're making is a kids show. It's not that violent."
The new computer-animated Turtles, which premieres on Saturday, Sept. 29 on Nickelodeon, follows the adventures of four mutated, anthropomorphic turtles who learn martial arts from mutated rat sensei Master Splinter in the sewers of New York City. It was first adapted into a cartoon in 1987 and has also been adapted for a big-screen franchise, among others.
Nieli was joined on the panel by voice cast members Sean Astin (Raphael), Jason Biggs (Leonardo), Greg Cipes (Michaelangelo), Rob Paulsen (Donatello) and Mae Whitman (April). Check out what else to expect from the new cartoon:
"The Turtles taught me how to meditate and got me into martial arts," said Cipes. "I've spent thousands and thousands of hours in front of the TV just soaking in the turtles. The turtles have a big deal to do with who I am today, for better or worse... It's the coolest thing ever." Nieli added that Cipes was the perfect person to play jokester Michaelangelo because "he has that cowabunga spirit."
Astin appreciated his character's less laid-back attitude. "The character's got this toughness, he's cool and doesn't suffer fools. He's ready to fight and doesn't want to philosophize too much."
A Newer, Younger April
"The one component we really wanted to bring to the show was the word 'teenage,'" said Nieli. "With the other iterations, it was either glanced over or completely betrayed... With Nick it's great. It's like, 'Hey, let's actually make them teenagers and have these teenage kind of stories.'
"Making [April] more active and integral and actually part of the four brothers and their action, I think it was necessary to age her down," he continued. "I see her as the above-surface, above-sewer counterpart to Splinter. They're learning about martial arts and this kind of ninja code underground and that's how they're raised. When the come up above-ground, they need this hip, cool, young, energetic person to kind of show them, 'Hey, this is New York City. Let's do it up.'"
Whitman also points out another change from previous April incarnations, "And she loves pizza now."
Besides her love of a good pie, April has another trait, which was only hinted at during the panel. "There's something very special about her," Whitman teased. "I don't want to spoil things... but there's a good thing that comes up."
"I have a comic book mentor who taught me that if the characters aren't having fun, then it's not worth a damn," said Nieli. "The idea for this show was that it was a real world with dangerous stakes with weird characters having fun. It's about the balance of things. So if Shredder does something that truly is evil-villainous and vile, we react properly to find that balance."
Casey Jones and Other Friends
"Casey Jones will show up but in the second season. We take our time introducing him," said Nieli. "He'll be introduced not just to the Turtles, but to April at the same time -- to each of those parties separately. It has something to do with high school. Maybe he got pulled back a couple of years. He's a little older than April."
He also added that scientist Baxter Stockman would show up early in the series. Nieli cautions audiences to be patient for the other characters to be introduced. "The first season especially we didn't want to introduce too much because we wanted to put the focus on the Turtles," he said. "When you start introducing all these mutants, then these ninja-turtle mutants aren't all that special... Later we'll get into other mutations and later we'll get into the science fiction, the outer space side of it."
"There's quite a bit of pizza in the show," Nieli confirmed. "I think we might fight a Pizza Monster at some point. Actually, in the first episode, they discover pizza for the first time, and it's kind of this moment that speaks to the whole idea of, 'Wow this world of New York City above-ground is so amazing.' So many people come from all over the world to eat a slice of pizza. That's kind of where we're jumping in a little bit."
The cast also shared their favorite pizza toppings:
Paulsen: Hot fudge, marshmallows, tuna fish.
Whitman: Pineapple and jalapeno.
Biggs: Sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms... s'mores, gummy bears.
A one-hour special of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premieres Saturday, Sept. 29 on Nickelodeon.
Are you psyched for the new Turtles? What do you think about the changes to April?