When he was six years old, Brandon Mychal Smith donned a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume for Halloween. As he went house to house asking for candy in his best Donatello voice, he could have never imaged that one day he would make a living voicing one of his favorite characters.
“I was a turtle then and now, to be able to become one for millions of fans and people who love the franchise is truly an honor,” said Smith, who ditched his Donatello costume to voice Michelangelo in Nickelodeon’s Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “It’s surreal. Every day I wake up and think I’m dreaming.”
As a child, Smith was a faithful follower of the Ninja Turtles, watching the show every week on TV. And now he joins one of the most notable comic franchises in the world, bringing his own unique take on the youngest Ninja Turtle.
“I wanted to bring that urban flair and creativity and give him that funk,” Smith said. “I wanted to give this character spontaneity and the urban appeal which I think defines cool. This iteration is the definition of funky cool.”
Smith joined Ballers’ Omar Miller (Raphael), Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz (Leonardo) and Silicon Valley’s Josh Brener (Donatello) in the recording booth, an experience he described as both gratifying and humbling. Also lending their voice talents to the show are Kat Graham as April O’Neil and WWE superstar and actor John Cena, who plays villain Baron Draxum.
The latest manifestation of the show finds the four turtle brothers discovering new powers and hidden realms as they fight villains on the streets of New York City. While Rise holds onto aspects of earlier shows that fans of the Ninja Turtles love—big action scenes, cool lingo and strong brotherhood—it also brings to light a more youthful side of the half-shell heroes.
“You’re able to go into a time capsule of when these guys were figuring out their powers, and them making mistakes and getting into trouble and that youthful, charismatic color that this series geared towards teens can provide,” said Smith. “I think this is the most exciting, fun, spontaneous iteration.”
Adding to that youthful feel is the switch from computer to hand-drawn, 2D animation, a style that was inspired by anime and Teen Titans. Smith notes that it’s a medium that allows viewers to get immersed in the world of the turtles like never before.
“Going into 2D gives it that much more dynamism,” said Smith. “The 2D aspect, combined with the teenage aspect, allows our iteration to be the most vibrant, rambunctious, colorful and magical experience. That’s the really cool part of this new series. We really get wild.”
And part of the rambunctious and wild experience are the shenanigans the turtles find themselves in each episode as they make sense of their new powers and the world ahead of them. It’s a message that any viewer—regardless of whether or not they’re a sewer-dwelling, crime-fighting turtle—will be able to relate to.
“Whether you’re a kid or teen, you can have that understanding of the process of figuring out who you are and what you do best, those moments of ambiguity and fear and testing those limits as a human, or in this case a turtle,” said Smith. “This series allows us as a culture to be comfortable with taking a risk and making mistakes.”
With five episodes of the new show currently online and more to be released after the series’ official premiere date of Sept. 17, it looks like the pizza-loving heroes will be around for a while; Nickelodeon has already renewed the show for a second season.
“When you join a franchise, that means so much to millions of fans and adults and kids. It’s an honor for them to believe in us with so much love and confidence,” said Smith. “This iteration is the dream team. It’s the best version ever and I hope we’re able to do this for years and years to come.”