Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman gave the world the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and many artists and studios have brought their own styles to the franchise over the last 30 years. Many of these incarnations have landed on the small screen, leaving fans delighted at times while scratching their heads at others. But there is one thing that they all had in common: The men and women who gave the characters life. Without the voice actors, the turtles would have no personalities, no catchphrases, and be wholly unremarkable. Some of the very best lent their talents to this universe over the years, creating these strong characters.
Perhaps the most notable and successful voice actor to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is Rob Paulsen. Mr. Paulsen voiced Raphael in the 1987 cartoon, as well as Donatello in the 2012 series (and various additional characters in both). He has a long list of voice credits, including some of the best characters on TV, such as Yakko and Pinky from Animaniacs. He has been Porky Pig; Ditto (Ben 10); Mark Chang (Fairly Odd Parents); Marco Smurf (The Smurfs); and Banzai (Timon & Pumbaa), among countless others. Mr. Paulsen brings a unique talent to all his characters, and will certainly be a staple to animation and the Ninja Turtles for years to come.
When the lyrics from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air start playing, the first thoughts are of Will Smith and the Carlton dance. But for TMNT fans, Uncle Phil should be at the top of the list. Will’s strict lawyer uncle has also shown his dark side, becoming one of the best villains in history during the 1987 TMNT series. From 1987-1993, James Avery provided the voice of the villainous Shredder, giving him a strong personality (even if he was ultimately more of a punching bag than a threatening foe). Mr. Avery has spent many years as a voice actor, lending his talents to animated shows like Gargoyles, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and The Wild Thornberrys.
The late Mako Iwamatsu had one of the most distinct voices for animated characters, and his final role before passing in 2006 cemented him as part of the Ninja Turtles universe. Iwamatsu-san provided the voice of Master Splinter in 2007’s TMNT, a departure from previous versions of Splinter that gave him an accent that, for the first time ever, actually suggested Japanese heritage. Iwamatsu-san also voiced such famous characters as Aku (Samurai Jack); General Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender); and the Narrator from Dexter’s Laboratory.
Hobbits are kind, simple folk without much ill will towards others. But when a hotheaded Raphael with real attitude was needed, a hobbit was just the ticket. Samwise Gamgee, played by Sean Astin, gives the most current version of Raph a unique flavor that captures everything the character is, and everything he will become. Along with his role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mr. Astin is well known as Rudy (from the football film of the same name), and guest starred in a number of television shows, including Alphas, Franklin and Bash, Monk, and My Name is Earl.
Like Rob Paulsen, many other career voice actors have been a part of the TMNT universe throughout its incarnations. The 2003 voice of April O’Neil is one such example, portrayed by Veronica Taylor. Ms. Taylor’s talents extend across TV, film, and even video games, with her youthful energy granting her roles as young characters, male and female alike. The majority of her roles have come in English adaptations of anime, including the main role as Ash in Pokemon (through Season 8). Ms. Taylor has also voiced Leo Kliesen (Tekken 6); Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune (Slayers); and Princess Diaspro (Winx Club).
Many other talented voice actors have given their skills to the turtles over the years. Individuals like Renae Jacobs, Robbie Rist, Cam Clarke, Jason Biggs, Kelly Hu, and so many others have been a part of bringing these characters to life. They may not always get the credit they deserve, but without them the turtles wouldn’t be who they are, and fans everywhere would be sorely disappointed.