Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles once again received a major panel at New York Comic Con 2015, this time in a prime spot on the Main Stage on Thursday afternoon. The panel was hosted by executive producers Ciro Nieli and Brandon Auman, as well as leading voice talent: Hoon Lee (Splinter), Seth Green (Leonardo), Rob Paulsen (Donatello), Greg Cipes (Michelangelo) and Eric Bauza (Tiger Claw). The panel’s discussion involves spoilers for the recently broadcast season 3 finale on Nickelodeon, so let the tardy reader beware.
After the introduction of the panel guests a brief clip was played recapping a dramatic moment from near the ending of the third season’s final episode, where Splinter is betrayed and stabbed by the Shredder as the villain puts his vengeance ahead of saving the Earth from the Triceratons’ planet-busting device. At the end Hoon Lee proceeded to jokingly get up and start walking off the stage, though he thankfully returned. Though Splinter is seemingly killed even as the Earth vanishes into the “quantum singularity” caused by the Triceratons’ bomb, Cipes paid tribute to the character by declaring that “true love never dies, and that’s what Splinter is.”
When asked why this was done to Splinter, Nieli quipped “why not?” and proceeded to seriously remark that “these characters live and die by the sword” and that they were obliged to show the consequences of that. Brandon Auman chimed in that the story “writes itself” and that fans will just have to stay tuned in to the fourth season, where some “crazy stuff” happens. Nieli referred to writing this incident as a “gut-wrenching” experience, remarking to the audience “as much as you guys suffered, I made it!” and that he had to watch it over and over. At that Hoon Lee deadpanned that “but somehow, you muscled through it”, prompting Greg Cipes to jokingly ask who he played now. “No one!”, Lee declared to the laughing audience. Say it’s not so!
On a more serious note Lee proceeded to praise this event, remarking “I always loved that they keep the stakes very real” and that the cartoons he liked best in the past were the ones that didn’t pander to him. When asked about his perception of the TMNT fandom a short time later Rob Paulsen agreed, saying that the series is successful because “by design, it does not condescend to the audience. It’s not designed for just kids.” Paulsen believes that the “active audience” for Ninja Turtles is much larger now due to social media, and because there are fans around the world now sharing that interest with their children today. Another question asked if it was difficult for the crew to balance TMNT’s dramatic moments with humorous moments, as seen with such moments as when the Turtles were sent back in time to witness the origin of the strife between their master and Orouki Saki before he became the Shredder. Brandon Auman acknowledged that it could be challenging at times, but quipped that this was why they have Greg Cipes around. Nieli added that he had “total confidence” in the show’s story team, prompting Auman to give a shout out to the storyboard artists after which Nieli did the same for the sound effects team as well.
In a lighter moment the presence of Ashley Johnson (Renee) and Mae Whitman (April) in the audience were acknowledged, prompting Greg Cipes and Rob Paulsen to assume their roles and declare that they’d go on a double date later. As he is wont to do Cipes also talked about how Johnson has been his “cartoon girlfriend” time and again, a reference to Johnson’s role in such series as Teen Titans (she was Terra to Cipes’ Beast Boy)
For his part Seth Green was asked how he felt about coming on to play Leonardo in the third season and spoke highly of the experience, saying that everyone involved is invested in TMNT and brings “the same depth of elation and joy” to the show. On the same point Eric Bauza expressed gratitude to fans for the reception to Tiger Claw as an original villainous character, and hopes that will lead to the character appearing again in other media in the future. In his view the new interpretation of Hun has also gone over well, notwithstanding that he’s only appeared in a handful of episodes so far. Bauza soon proceeded to acknowledge Rob Paulsen for being a “gracious host” to him and a high school friend at the “kid’s table” at dinner after last year’s panel and presented him with a fine gift: his very own Toronto Maple Leafs Jersey.
After this, the panel revealed new characters and casting that fans can look forward to in the first season. The “Newtralizer” is to appear in this series as the “Sal Commander”, a war veteran and the leader of the air fleet of a race of Salamandarians, and he has been granted a booming and authoritative voice by none other than Keith David (Goliath of Gargoyles, Mongul in Young Justice). Sal Commander was introduced to the audience with a short clip, where it turns out both the Salmandarians and the Turtles are after a certain metal ore on a desolate frozen planet in order to repair their damaged vessels. The Turtles’ activities are observed by Sal Commander and he finds he can admire their courage in adversity, although his subordinate denies this sentiment as against the “Salamandarian way” and urges him to destroy them immediately.
Next up was Wyrm, a “cosmic genie” being played by Dwight Schultz who Auman says will be introduced in a “fun, insane episode”. The short clip for this character reveals that he’s essentially an agent of chaos sealed away for good reason, and that if he’s given three wishes to grant he’ll be set free unchecked. The Turtles have no intention of playing along with this, but have great difficulty battling his absurd hijinks aboard the Fujitoid’s ship. Last but far from least was the reveal of a “transdimensional Turtle episode”, where the Nickelodeon Turtles will encounter characters from the 1980s cartoon. One such character will be the original Krang, humanoid battle suit and all, with Pat Fraley reprising the role.
Nieli teased the audience with the idea of the Nickelodeon Turtles stepping into an 80s cartoon while the 1980s Turtles step into the show’s CG world, and even going so far as to suggest they’d end up in a Mirage comic (Turtles Forever, anyone?). Fans can expect 1980s Krang to team up with the returning Kraang Subprime, manically played Gilbert Gottfried. The audience was shown an animatic clip from this episode, which Nieli told people to envision as if it were 2D animation done in 1989. In this 1989 dimension the Nickelodeon Turtles are confused and concerned (Michelangelo despairs that they’ve ended up in Pittsburgh) until they encounter the 1980s Turtles, who they briefly battle after mistaking them for Kraang-controlled impostors and one of 1980s Donatello’s inventions is mistaken for a laser weapon. As you’d expect the clip revealed that in addition to Pat Fraley the original 1980s TMNT voice cast are performing their old roles again, which meant a humorous moment where Rob Paulsen was arguing with himself as Nick TMNT Donatello and 1980s Raphael.
With these festivities concluded the panel audience was treated to an advance screening of the first episode of season 4. The details of this premiere will not be spoiled here, but suffice to say that it is here the Turtles learn of an opportunity to fix the damage done to the Earth thanks to time travel shenanigans. With the vessel of the “Fujitoid”, AKA Professor Honeycutt, as their home base, the venue of TMNT season 4 is to be outer space and alien worlds. At first the Turtles, April and Casey are thrilled by the wonder of space, but they find there’s danger as well when they visit their first alien planet and stumble when dealing with alien beings and customs they don’t really understand. Viewers can also expect fresh animation for the season 4 opening, updated to reflect the fact of the outer space setting.
With the screening concluded, the panel returned to the stage for some final comments. In Nieli’s view the Turtles, being ninja, can adapt to any situation, while the characters are “universal” enough that in any situation the audience finds itself relating to them and asking what they would be doing in their place. Praise was handed out for Peter Stormare as the insectoid alien Lord Dregg while much was made of Dr. Who celebrity David Tennant as the Fugitoid, which was a result of a decision to “shoot for the moon” according to Auman. It was a surprise to the crew when Mr. Tennant accepted the job, turning out to be a TMNT fan himself. Hoon Lee personally didn’t know what to expect from the fourth season and described himself as “riveted” as a big sci-fi fan, while Rob Paulsen expressed the sentiment that the bar for the show is raised higher and higher with every reason. Greg Cipes praised the efforts of veteran voice director Andrea Romano, while Eric Bauza found himself in disbelief that the show is TV animation. Ciro Nieli, for his part, praised the effort of the entire creative crew, as it’s apparent that space is truly a new frontier for TMNT this season. According to Nieli no element of the first season 4 episode had existed before outside of the Turtles themselves, and everything else had to be created from scratch.
“Beyond the Known Universe”, the first episode of the fourth season, will be televised on Nickelodeon on October 25th, 2015 at 11 AM Eastern Time.
Nickelodeon has uploaded an official video of the TMNT panel, which interested fans can view for themselves below. For those interested in seeing the season 4 preview clips firsthand, they are placed as follows in the video:
- Sal Commander’s introduction: 19:57
- Wyrm’s shenanigans: 21:40
- Nickelodeon TMNT vs. 1980s TMNT animatic: 24:15