On the of the big changes you'll notice about the latest incarnation of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is that their main surface world ally, April O'Neil is a little younger now. No longer the intrepid, grown-up reporter of the original series (or imperiled lab assistant in the Eastman/Laird comics), she's now a teen like the sewer-dwelling heroes.
And she's voiced by "Arrested Development," "Avatar," and "Parenthood" actress Mae Whitman. When we spoke, she told that as a fan or the original cartoon, she appreciated seeing April as a younger character who could better empathize with the turtles. "She very smart, and very present, and I tried to keep her a very cool role model for young girls."
Whitman says she feels honored to be in April's yellow outfit, serving as the turtles' window into the outside world. "I think that's one of the cooler things, she is sort of their point of view up there. But she also brings this kind of female energy--having that sort of counteractive energy is sort of amazing and adds this whole layer of depth." Whitman says this is important given the relationship in the group, "They all love each other so much and they're family," she says.
Coming to the show, she didn't require a crash course in the material, being a fan as a kid of the early 90's animated series. Her hope is that this new incarnation will be able to pass on some of the same kind of spirit and energy to a new generation of fans. "For the most part, a lot of these characters have the same vibrancy and energy and we just have a slightly different take on it."
She credits that slight tweaking of the direction of the series with the new voice cast that includes Sean Astin, Jason Biggs, Greg Cripes, and Rob Paulsen. That CG animation style also has a bit to do with reconfiguring the show. Whitman tells me that she was impressed with the way comic book-style visual language made its way into the show using the updated technology on the part of the animators. "I think it's a really good combination of classic animation and new technology. So anytime I see anything from it, I'm so impressed. And it's so funny, and smart, and I'm really excited to see it."
When I asked her what helped her find April's voice, she tells me that it all comes down to the character's struggle. "What's their underlying struggle? A lot of it for me is about the underneath, and it really does come out when you're doing the voice. When you have a certain awareness of the person, and what they're going through, it changes how they talk."
You'll get to see April struggling with sinister robot forces which kidnap her and her father when the series reboot premieres this weekend.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" airs Saturdays at 11 AM on Nickelodeon.