The current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series continues to be a favorite of mine. It strikes the right balance between being a goofy, fun cartoon about a bunch of lovable characters and addressing more serious and dark themes about power and responsibility. It also does well at adding new ideas, characters, and material while including homages to previous incarnations of TMNT and staying true to the foundations of the overall series. The art is pretty cool and unique; and of course, the voice talent and creative team are stellar.
The series is now in Season 3 (and already renewed for a fourth season!) and has taken on a slightly different focus, with the Turtles leaving the familiar NYC cityscape for other territory. A short while ago I got to sit down at the Times Square Toys “R” Us (a super-cool store with a Ferris wheel and other nifty things inside) with executive producers Ciro Nieli and Brandon Auman, and voice talents Greg Cipes and (briefly!) Rob Paulsen, to chat about the current season (and get some great photos). Warning: we start out all, “let’s talk about things like the themes and stories of the season,” but in the middle somewhere we start nerding out about toys, and it kind of goes all over the place from there. But, you know, that’s one of the reasons I like talking to these guys. So – here we go!
Ciro and Brandon, tell us a bit about the third season. What will we be seeing? And any favorite episodes?
Brandon: We’ve got so many amazing stories coming up. If you’re a fan of the original Mirage series, if you’re a fan of the eighties cartoon series, then you’re going to see a lot of references in Season 3. It’s one of my favorite seasons.
Ciro: The problem with Turtles is that if you ask me what my favorite episode is, it’s literally the one I finished yesterday. I finished the third episode of Season 3 and it’s unbelievable. It’s very much an April-centric episode. We answer a lot of questions about her.
Brandon: We’ve brought back the Punk Frogs for this season. So we’ve got Napoleon Bonafrog, who’s played by John Heder, who is, obviously, Napoleon Dynamite. And we’ve got Genghis Frog, Attila Frog; and that’s a Mikey-centric episode, so it’s pretty exciting. It’s really funny. Really cool.
Does Bonafrog sound like Napoleon Dynamite?
Brandon: Oh yeah, that’s why we got Jon Heder.
Ciro: It’s kind of hard to make him not sound like that.
Brandon: We were like, “Who are we going to cast for Napoleon Bonafrog?” and said, “What about Napoleon Dynamite?” It just made perfect sense and we figured it would be funny, but it’s not reliant on the jokes of Napoleon Dynamite; it’s still a story that stands on its own.
Ciro: And we’ve also got the Dream Beavers this season. The best thing about the Dream Beavers is the voice cast.
Brandon: Robert Englund plays two of the beavers, and John Kassir, who was the Crypt Keeper, plays the other two beavers, but they sound very different.
Ciro: We love John and Robert. They’re such amazing talents. We’re such old horror fans – Brandon and I go way back to the Fangoria days. So Season 3 is the Season of Fango for a little bit.
Brandon: When you go to the woods, you’re kind of limited in your storytelling options. You can do comedy, but the easiest route is doing horror, because the woods are scary, the cabin is kind of freaky, and it’s just easier. It’s easier than doing a big action, New York-style story.
Ciro: One thing that I really loved about the Mirage comic is when you actually got to see the Turtles in nature, when you’ve never seen them in nature before, and you go, “Aw, man, they’re going to leave New York? That’s so weird.” And then you see them meditating on a rock, and there’s a waterfall, or stream, and you go, “Oh, right, they look perfect there.” So there’s a lot of them getting in touch with themselves too, and re-centering their ninja instincts and training.
So Greg, how did you enjoy that, as Mikey, who seems to be one of the more centered turtles anyway?
Ciro: Cipes and Mikey, their third eye is the most open.
Greg: I love seeing the episodes. I love all the green, and the fact that we’re in the forest, and the Turtles are green, because green is such a healing color. It’s rad to be in a different world rather than in the city. And to deal with new characters and monsters.
So how did you like the episode where you were with all the frogs? Was that a lot of fun? Why is it a Mikey-centric episode?
Brandon: Mikey bonds with Napoleon Bonafrog; because they’re very similar in nature.
Ciro: They’re both the best warriors, you know? And Napoleon’s just like, “Whoa, show me something else.”
Greg: We bro out.
Ciro: Yeah, that’s like our reptile amphibian bromance. It’s pretty cool. It’s super cute; I’m into it.
So we have a casting change on one of the main characters, Seth Green is coming in as Leo, as well as of course some other new character voices. How are you enjoying the new dynamic of the show?
Greg: It’s great. Seth Green is a dear friend of mine. It’s awesome. I feel like it’s an elevated experience. Jason Biggs was great; but now it’s a new season, new turtle, new energy. I think everything is heightened and exciting, with higher stakes.
Had you worked with Seth before?
Greg: Yeah, on Robot Chicken. It’s nice having him. And we have so many great guest stars that come in all the time.
Of the guest stars, have you had a great moment with somebody, or a particularly fun story?
Greg: I always love when Roseanne Barr comes in as Kraang Prime.
Brandon: Robert Englund is great.
Ciro: The weirdest day ever was: I’m sitting on the couch next to Paul Reubens, and we’re both watching Danny Trejo work, and Paul Reubens’ mind is blown by him. He’s going, “Where’d this guy come from? I love him.” And then ‘Machete’ comes out, and ‘Pee Wee’ goes, “Oh, I love you!” and then ‘Machete’ goes, “Yeeeaah, I love youuuu!” They were freaking out over each other, and I was standing there going, “What is going on? I’m at work?” Because it wasn’t Paul Reubens and Danny Trejo. When they started bro-ing out, it felt like they were their characters.
Brandon: There needs to be a Machete/Pee Wee Herman movie.
Ciro: Like if they did a bank job or broke out of jail or something.
Brandon: One of my favorite voice actors that we’ve had come in who’s recurring is Gilbert Gottfried as Kraang Sub-Prime. He’s pretty hilarious. And when he found out that Roseanne Barr was Kraang Prime – because when he was recording he didn’t realize that Roseanne Barr was his boss – he thought that was the funniest thing.
Ciro: We have a crazy cast.
We’re always seeing new mutated characters. Are we going to be getting some new ones? Is there a favorite?
Greg: And which ones are going to be made into toys? Is Napoleon going to be a toy?
Ciro: There’s a character in Season 3 Episode 1 called The Creep. Mikey named him. And I want a toy of that. What he came from is so unique. In a weird way he’s part Leonardo DNA. And Leo’s kind of struggling with his problems because he’s physically injured from the aftermath of the Season 2 finale. And overcoming that, embodied in this monstrous form, is kind of cool. It’s a great episode. The Creep is so awesome.
Speaking of the toys, what are your favorites coming out of the show?
Ciro: I can’t find some of them, man.
Brandon: Tiger Claw’s out now!
Ciro: My buddy just texted me and said he picked me up one, and I freaked out.
Brandon: We would like to say that Playmates should send us more toys.
I love that you guys are working on the show and have to go out and look for the toys.
Ciro: Yeah, Brandon and I created Tiger Claw from scratch, and I’m buying it at a Target.
Did the Squirrelanoids ever become toys? They should have a whole little swarm of them.
Brandon: Yeah, they did! That was another original creation from me and Ciro.
Ciro: That thing’s horrifying. Irineo [Maramba] designed the heck out of that thing.
Greg: Did you see the new Mikey, the huge one, here at Toys “R” Us?
Yeah, I loved that!
Ciro: I want it. Everyone has to buy it, because if it does well, they’re going to make the other three.
And then they can make a Splinter, but he’ll be even taller.
Ciro: Well actually, what you’d do is, you’d buy all four, you’d send in the proof of purchase, and then they’d send you a robe and a Splinter mask – and then you wear it, and the scale’s right.
That’d be awesome! So Greg, are you going to get a big Mikey and put him in your house?
Greg: Heck yeah, I’m taking the one right here from Toys “R” Us home with me! I’m going to buy him a seat on American Airlines and put him right next to me. It’s worth it – that’s the coolest toy I’ve ever seen.
Ciro: And then when you wash your clothes and they have to dry and stuff, you can just put them on Mikey. You can dress him in your outfits, or make him a coat rack.
And then he will truly be a melding of Greg Cipes and Mikey.
Greg: He’d be stealing all my girlfriends, though.
You think they’d go for the green?
Greg: Mikey’s so cute. I can’t compete.
It’s true; of all the turtles, he may be the cutest.
Remember when Splinter had the cheese wheel phone? I got a big kick out of that. I would love to have a working cheese wheel phone. Is there something that shows up in one of the episodes that you would like to actually own; like not as a toy, but a functioning thing?
Greg: I want an Ice Cream Kitty!
Ciro: Ice Cream Kitty came from my fascination with Cookie Puss. Because I grew up on the East Coast, and I would have Cookie Puss dreams, that I would eat Cookie Puss. And I was like, “How do we put Cookie Puss in the show?” And then I realized that Cookie Puss isn’t really cookie. I wanted to do a cookie cat, and that didn’t work, so it became Ice Cream cat.
So what would you like to have in real life, Ciro?
Ciro: We’re having an art show soon, so we’re going to make all the objects we can. Nickelodeon has its own little gallery place for the artists, right at the studio. So we might make up all of our DVDs, and all the SuperRoboMechaForce VHS tapes, and all that stuff.
Brandon: I actually own a version of the stand-up arcade game. Ciro basically took his graphics from the game within the show, and we blew them up and adhered them to this giant game. You can see it on my Instagram.
[Rob Paulsen enters the interview]
Rob: Hi, I’m Rob, and I’ll be your Donatello for the afternoon.
Ciro: One thing I’m working on right now – I have the blueprint for everything in the show, because either I design it or someone I instruct to design it designs it, so we have all the graphics and stuff; and I know where everything comes from, so we’re putting together a functioning, proper Casey Jones costume.
Nice! Are you going to wear it at a con?
Rob: You’d get a lot of dates, Ciro.
Ciro: No, I’ll put it on a mannequin at work. It would require not washing your jeans for eighteen days.
Nice! Rob, of all the crazy things we’ve seen in the current TMNT universe, what would you like to have as a real functioning thing?
Rob: I don’t know what it’s called, but there’s a motorcycle, a Turtle-cycle…
Brandon: The stealth bike?
Rob: I’d get that in a heartbeat.
I am not at all surprised by this. Brandon built the arcade game. I think your next project should be building the motorcycle.
Rob: Well have you seen the smaller bikes that Honda sells? Honda makes these little 125s, for sale primarily in Asia. And each turtle has their own bike. I really want to buy a Donatello bike.
And you should! Is there something any of you would like to share with the fans that I haven’t covered?
Ciro: Brandon has a wealth of knowledge. Oh, Greg, you should plug your Instagram.
Greg: Yeah, there’s always behind-the-scenes stuff on my Greg Cipes Instagram.
Ciro: I’m on Instagram too. I’m superrobot74.
Brandon: And I’m Brandon_Auman.
Ciro: What would you ask us?
Brandon: Like is there going to be a TMNT / Deadpool crossover?
Ohmygosh, is there? Because that would be the most amazing thing. Pizza, tacos? They’d bond, they’d get along.
Brandon: Unfortunately, there isn’t. Without giving anything away, this season is so diverse in terms of, not just location, but themes, and the arc is just so different from the other seasons. Not just that they’re going to the farmhouse, but eventually how the story unfolds over the season is pretty exciting, and harrowing, and it does get a little darker this season, but it still balances out.
Ciro: We get a lot of character stories. And Seth Green really helped coming on as Leo, because he almost aged everybody up a little. Like, taking the lead and doing that. Leo definitely went through a lot last season and is coming out of it no longer who he used to be. He’s taken that next step into his bigger role. It’s kind of the Leo that I’ve been wanting to happen. It’s finally come along. And Seth knew that. I know Seth through Cipes and have met him before a few times through animation, and when I sat down with Seth, right away it was just like, “Mirage is your ten, yeah, I know what you want.” He was ready to do it.
Greg: He knows everything about Turtles.
Ciro: He did his take, which is the proper take, and he knew what to do. And when you hear it…it was weird, because this thing happens with voice actors, where it takes a couple of episodes to get used to hearing them as a character, no matter what it is. Just attaching the voice to the character that’s a design, moving. It’s always odd. It usually takes a couple of episodes. But Seth, even though he came in and it’s a new casting, it was like the first word was odd, and then the next word you went, “Wow, that’s kind of amazing.” It instantly felt right.
Brandon: He’s also gotten better to the point where he kind of ad libs a little bit here and there, and that’s some of the strongest acting, is when he’s kind of just taking it. He ad libs a little and gets this very realistic take, which is really cool.
Ciro: He is Leo.
• • • • •
And on that note, sadly I had to end the madcap interview so these wonderful folks could get on to their next engagement. However, I did also get to attend the NYCC TMNT panel, so I can also share that what I saw there of this season looks great and includes some new characters shown in my photoset here, including Hun, Renet, and (squee!) Bebop and Rocksteady. So check those pics out!
And until next time, Servo Lectio!