Mutation In Progress: The Return Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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This past Friday at Comic Con International I had the pleasure of attending Nickelodeon’s sneak peak at their 2012 relaunch of one of the most iconic brands in all of comic history: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

The event was held at Bar Basic, which is known for it’s specialty pizzas like the delicious mashed potato pizza and has a real underground and industrial interior. As any TMNT fan would guess was the perfect setting for this preview.

Rich Magallares, Vice-President of Animation for Nickelodeon, began the panel with a short history of the turtles which snowballed into a whole avalanche of details on the new show, and I must say what was revealed has me excited for next chapter in Ninja Turtle history.

The first detail that is revealed is that the new show is going to be done in entirely CGI, like that of the “TMNT” movie that came out a few years ago. Next we got to see what the turtles will look like and received a description of each of their personalities.

To start the turtles have their traditional cartoon mask color designations; Leo is blue, Donny is purple, Mikey is Orange, and Raph is Red. The turtles will be younger and a bit slimmer and not as buff and large as in previous incarnations. They look lean and athletic. Like high school football players as it was said.

Leonardo is still the leader and instead of being appointed leader he takes the role on early with Splinter’s permission. It was explained that Leo watches an old sci-fi show, like that of Star Trek, where he first begins to pattern his leadership role. This is humorously shown at the end of the trailer where he says something corny to lead them into battle and Raphael razes him about it. Leonardo is being voiced by Jason Biggs of American Pie.

Raphael remains the tough guy and his build is a bit bulkier than the rest of the turtles as he is the bruiser. The tension between Leo and Raph will be played upon and will be a part of Raph’s personality and the sibling rivalry will be high between these two brothers. Raphael will be voiced by Sean Astin from Lord of the Rings, Rudy and Encino Man.

Donatello is the inventor and brains and really will get to show it with the vehicles that are designed for the new show. His look is probably the one that is the most changed from the traditional design but not in a bad way. Donny is taller and slimmer than the others and will have a gap in his top teeth. Also mentioned is that he will develop a small crush on April O’Neil as the show progresses. Donatello will be voiced by Rob Paulson, Yakko from Animanics, and the original voice of Raphael from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Michelangelo is the wide-eyed energetic youth that he has always been, and always has a smile on his face. He is a bit shorter than the others to emphasize that he is the youngest, but just because he isn’t the youngest doesn’t mean he can’t kick butt. Michelangelo will be voiced by Greg Cipes, Beast Boy from Teen Titans, and Kevin Levine from Ben 10: Alien Force.

The turtles classic weapons remain with a couple tweaks to Mikey and Donny’s arsenal. The chain of Mikey’s nun chucks will be able to expand to increase his range and will also use from time to time a sickle and chain instead of the nunchucks. Donny will have his standard Bo Staff but will have a variation with a blade at the end. It is unknown whether this is a seperate staff or that the blade can pop-out from the end.

Moving onto the supporting cast we were treated to “The Good Guys” and “The Bad Guys” designs. These designs are in support to the younger years approach to this generation of turtles.

Splinter is not the elder hunched master. He stands tall and upright and has a more youthful appearance than any previous incarnations but is still much older than the turtles. He looks good, more of an Obi-Wan Kenobi than Yoda in terms of look.

April O’Neil is now 16 and has a very contemporary look. Her new design in the 2D stage is a bit anime influenced but only in the face with the larger eyes to show that she’s younger. It was revealed that she will live above an antique show like in the original comics. Also revealed April will train with the turtles to become a Kunoichi or female ninja, which sounds awesome, April will be able to hold her own in the series and not just be a bystander or damsel in distress!

Moving on to the villains of the series we are treated to some very classic villains with modern designs with nods to the history of the franchise.

The Kranng return as an race of aliens planning on invading earth as in the original Mirage comics. The Kranng will pilot robot bodies from the midsection like in the previous incarnations. The biggest change here is that The Kranng will be hiding in “human skins” to better hide and blend in. It is a nice touch.

The Foot Clan Ninja look a bit like the ones from the movies with being mostly grey and black with the “bug-eye” look and sporting a red head band with the foot insignia in the center. They were described as being a threat and maybe used for comic-relief once in a while but rarely.

The Shredder‘s new design was very impressive. He is leaner and more imposing. He still looks like Shredder and looks more like the original Eastman and Laird design from the comics. The Shredder’s arm and shin blades are large and look like they can deal some serious damage. One nice change is his plated chest plate. The way it’s designed makes it look like he is wearing a chest plate made of blades, really awesome look.

From the characters Rich Magallares introduces the crowd to the vehicles that the turtles and the foot would use.

The Foot Clan Ninja have these wicked horse inspired choppers. They look like big-demonic-mechanical-black charger horses. You can see that they took their design cues from the horses samurai would ride into battle in feudal Japan with the clan flags hanging from the back of the choppers as if they were horses. Very awesome bikes for the foot to be stomping around in.

The Turtles have a revamped Turtle Van. Let me say that I absolutely love the idea of the new “Party Wagon.” It’s an old retro-fitted subway car that has an armored bumper and armor plating. It has it’s rail wheels to be mobile in the subways and when the Turtles need to go top side it has a set of tires that can pop out and be street ready. It may sound weird but it looks really awesome. It even has room for a new vehicle that is the equivalent to Raph’s motorcycle from past series.

What I’m calling the “Turtle Tumbler” is a new vehicle developed for the series. It’s a tri-wheeled motorcycle type of vehicle with one wheel in the front and two wheels in the back. It is clearly built for speed and has a neat stealth and defensive mode where armored plates come up the seat reclines and the plates form a “turtle shell.” The look and feel reminded me of the tumbler vehicle/batmobile in the new Batman movies, just smaller. It looks really cool.

The final showing of the developmental work was some looks at the background sets and location drawings. The team at Nickelodeon really did an outstanding job capturing locales in New York and the mood and feel of the city.

Rounding out the section about the new series was talk about the flow and structure of the show. Executive Producers Josh Stemin, Jeff Ventimilia, and Ciro Nieli explain that the action is going to be more ninjutsu oriented, with the turtles being more about stealth and misdirection and not so much about fighting their way out of situations. They also point out the series will to be story-based and character driven; no action for the sake of action or comedy for the sake of comedy.

After the debut of the new look of the series an executive from Playmates came on to speak about the history between the Turtles and Playmates. Then out of a dumpster that looked like a set-piece emerged some of what I think were production molds of the new toys, I must say I was extremely impressed with the quality and detail these toys had. The new toys are probably the best Turtle toys to date with 13-15 points of articulation this makes them very posable a welcome change from the original toys.

Next came the talk of the new comic-series being published by IDW, who are currently publishing the Transformers comics. Bobby Cumon of IDW said IDW will be working on the new series with the Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, who will be plotting stories and providing at least the first 3 covers which they unveiled at the preview. Kevin hasn’t lost his touch and his rendition of the Turtles is just as awe-inspiring as when the series first debuted in 1984.

The night ended with an amazing look at the animation of the series. Much of it was preliminary work and “was old to the team” but wow did it look great. The look was clean and the turtles looked great in motion. The trailer really got me frothing at the mouth for the series to hit the air.

Nickelodeon has put a lot of time, effort and care into this new series. It shows a level of respect for the history while breaking ground for the future of the franchise. At first I was a bit worried about how a property that is generally dark in it’s theme and nature would do on Nickelodeon, but after seeing and hearing everything I saw on Friday evening it is clear that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in good hands and have found a great home. The new series is slated to debut in 2012, and I can’t wait.

Here are some photos from the event.

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