On Thursday at San Diego Comic-Con the Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their panel debut to screaming fans. They dropped a new trailer and announced a new lineup of famous voice actors as baddies. If the new hard-edged animation reminds you of Samurai Jack, that’s not an accident; the show’s co-executive producer Andy Suriano was a character designer on Jack. Not only are we getting a new storyline and some new baddies, but instead of Leonardo (played by Ben Schwartz) leading the crew, the turtles will be headed up by the oldest and biggest brother, Raphael, played by voice actor Omar Miller. Another first? The Turtles’ biggest ally, April O’Neal (voiced by Kat Graham), is going to be portrayed as a little black girl. I got a chance to sit and talk to Omar and Kat, as well as Josh Brener, who pays Donatello, and the show’s other co-executive producer, Ant Ward, at SDCC about what to expect from the new show.
What's it been like meeting some of your fans here at SDCC?
Kat Graham: There is something so amazing about being a part of Ninja Turtles and seeing those fans and also playing the first black April O'Neil and having these young girls come up to me, it's such a different kind of experience. Plus they let me dress up as the character, which was amazing!
Omar Miller: The kids are really shy, like really shy. Yesterday on the panel some guys came in dressed as the Ninja Turtles, and that was a real fan favorite. The kids went nuts, which was really nice, but then when we met a lot of them, they were a bit intimidated. Maybe it's because I'm 6’8”.
Josh: Those weren't kids, Omar, that was me.
Ant, you also worked as a supervising producer on the previous version of the show. What’s one thing you want hardcore TMNT fans to come away with in this reboot?
Ant Ward: Well, it’s not really a reboot, it’s really a refresh. And the main theme, I think, is the sense of family, of brotherhood. It's coming hot off the heels from Ciro Nieli's fantastic 2012 version, which paid homage to so many different parts of the franchise as well as being a fantastic, unique voice itself. Andy and I had a genuine challenge to create something that was quintessentially Ninja Turtles, but also very different. And in every story what we always came down to was family. All of these fantastical adventures that these guys go on and April go on is almost just window dressing for having each other's back. No matter what happens.
There’s a bunch of new baddies that showed up in the new trailer along with some pretty famous voices. Will we see old baddies, like Shredder or Krang, come back too?
Ant: I believe the talking point is "You never know who's going to show up."
What's one thing that you want people to get each of your characters?
Omar: You know, what I can say with certainty that the cartoons that I watched as a kid had a profound effect on the man that I became. So what's important to me, responsibility-wise, is to do something that's fun but also that’s positive and also teaches kids. Kind of guide them along [a positive] path, and that's a reason for me to stay involved in this animated arena.
Josh: I just hope kids laugh and have a good time with it in addition to all of those good nuts and bolts. Just like what Omar was saying, I grew up on Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry and The Simpsons, and everything I know about comedy comes from those things.
Kat: I will third that and say that I spent many hours watching some of mix of Filburt and Heffer from Rocko’s Modern Life. Ren from Ren & Stimpy. But I will say that a huge reason why I auditioned and I wanted to be a part of this [show] is that I, I really hope that there is a young brown girl out there that sees a brown girl kicking ass in this show, that she's inspired and she feels empowered by that. I deeply pray that that happens.
Even if it's just on one girl. I wish that I saw that as a kid more. I really wish I had that. I hope that even boys will see this and they will feel really inspired, because we need it. This is America, we need this.
How do Raphael and Donatello compare to you in real life?
Omar: Well, I do like pizza. And I think that there are aspects of the character that I can remember when I was a teenager that I kind of reconnected me to some of my own memories. Because I’m playing a teenage hothead trying to figure everything out with his fists and thinks he knows everything. He's thinks he’s smarter than everybody else in the world, including his brothers, and I had five brothers, so, you know, a brotherhood thing is something I'm very familiar with. There are components of it that I can tie in personally. But then there's the fantasy aspect of it that is just unbeatable. Get this situation where you get to play and dance with all of the words and different ideas that pop into your head. So it's a lot of freedom that Nickelodeon and, and Ant and Andy and Robert Paulsen the director have given us. That helps me to enjoy the job a lot.
Josh: I've been having too much fun being Donatello, because we're both science nerds. Ant and I've been having a lot of fun lately because we've been coming up with all sorts of battle cries that are the nerdiest things we can think of, so it started with yelling out “Fibonacci!” as in the FIBONACCI series, and then Ant reasonably came up with “Sohcahtoa!”, which is a sine, cosine, and tangent, and we've just been dorking out and having a, having a good old time with that.
Ant: It's been genuinely a very fun experience. Those records when everybody's in those rooms, it's a fun, almost getaway to just watch the interaction between everybody. It's very funny.
Kat: I have such a good time. I could be having the worst week ever, and the second I get to work on like, oh my gosh, this is like amazing! I have such a good time. I hate when our sessions are over. I feel like we could just record for days. I have such a good time.
You can watch the first episode of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Turtles on Nickelodeon now, and the series premieres on Nickelodeon September 17, 2018.