The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, released in 1990, relied on men in costumes and Jim Henson puppetry to achieve its effect. In the 2014 reboot and its current sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, sophisticated performance capture CGI was used to bring them to life. No matter which method is used to accomplish the task, voice acting is a crucial component. Because they pretty much look identical except for the color of their masks, it’s up to the actors providing voices to create distinct personalities for each individual turtle.
The same is true for many of the other characters in the new movie, who are also digitally created. Films such as these emphasize the importance of voice acting, which requires skill in inflection, tone, and conveying emotion. Everything has to be done without the benefit of facial expression or body language.
For this reason, we now celebrate the performers who brought key Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters alive on the big screen, then and now. This is what the TMNT voice actors look like in real life.
13. Josh Pais – Raphael (1990)
Josh Pais, the son of an artist mother and a physicist father, provided the voice of the gung-ho Raphael in the 1990 original. He was the only voice actor from the film to also portray his Turtle in costume on-screen, and you can additionally catch a brief glimpse of him as a passenger in a taxi. Since his TMNT days, Pais has worked constantly. His notable films include Rounders, Scream 3, and Adventureland. Currently, he can be seen in Jason Bateman’s The Family Fang and opposite Tom Hiddleston in I Saw the Light. Pais has also had recurring TV roles on Law & Order: SVU, Ray Donovan, and the Denis Leary FX series Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.
12. Brian Tochi – Leonardo (1990)
Brian Tochi had a thriving career as a child actor, winning roles in hit television shows ranging from Adam-12 to The Streets of San Francisco to Wonder Woman, in addition to dozens of commercials. He has some theatrical experience, too, having once co-starred with Ricardo Montalban in a stage version of The King and I. When he got a bit older, the actor played Takashi in the classic ’80s comedy Revenge of the Nerds. After giving a commanding voice to the dedicated, thoughtful Leonardo in 1990, Tochi continued to work on both the big and small screens, also returning for the two TMNT sequels.
He had a talent for voice work, though, and it was here that he found great success. Batman Beyond, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Family Guy are just some of the places where you’ve heard him. If you’re a videogame fan, you can also listen for Tochi in Saints Row 2.
11. Robbie Rist – Michelangelo (1990)
If the name Robbie Rist doesn’t ring a bell, we bet the name “Cousin Oliver” will. As a child actor, Rist had a famous role on The Brady Bunch, playing the clan’s perpetually unlucky relative. It was only a six-episode stint, but it has remained in the public consciousness ever since. Rist had a thriving career as a kid, working continually in a wide range of television programming. He later moved on to voice acting, effectively capturing the fun-loving spirit of Michelangelo in TMNT. Other notable credits include the English-language version of Naruto (he played Choji Akimichi), the Disney Channel’s Doc McStuffins, and the videogame Final Fantasy X.
These days, Rist is an active musician. You can listen to his songs on his personal YouTube channel, or in the popular Sharknado movies, for which he provided several compositions. Rist even had a cameo in the original, playing a bus driver who survives the sharknado, only to be crushed to death by part of the Hollywood sign.
10. Corey Feldman – Donatello (1990)
Corey Feldman was easily the most well-known of the TMNT cast — voice or otherwise — when it was released. He’d already forged a successful career as an actor and teen heartthrob in the films Stand By Me, The Goonies, and The Lost Boys. Along with his real-life best friend and frequent co-star Corey Haim, his face was plastered across the bedroom walls of young girls all around the nation. In TMNT, he played Donatello, the brains of the operation. Casting an already famous actor with a recognizable voice was a smart choice in conveying the character’s influence among the group.
Feldman has worked steadily throughout his career, in movies, TV, animation, videogames, and even music. He recently returned to the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but as a different character: he voiced Slash on the new Nickelodeon animated series.
9. Kevin Clash – Splinter (1990)
Kevin Clash voiced Splinter, the Turtles’ wise master, but it was a much different role that would truly catapult him to fame. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, the puppeteer went on to work for Jim Henson and Sesame Street, where he was eventually tasked with portraying the lovable red creature known as Elmo. Actually, Elmo already existed on the show, but didn’t really take off as a character until Clash, who replaced another performer, brought a loving, child-like spin to him. Suddenly, Elmo became a star on the same level as Big Bird or Oscar the Grouch.
Clash spent most of the rest of his career playing this character on TV, in spin-off DVDs, and in the feature film The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. His tenure as Elmo came to a sad end in 2012, after allegations that he’d had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy several years prior. Despite his personal problems, there is no doubt that Clash is a versatile voice actor whose work as both Elmo and Splinter brought joy to fans everywhere.
8. Stephen Farrelly – Rocksteady
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Stephen Farrelly plays Rocksteady, the former street gang member who mutates into a rhinoceros. It’s a comical and frequently incompetent character, but, since rhinos are large, also one requiring an actor who knows how to play “big.” That’s what makes Farrelly a good choice. As the WWE wrestler known as “Sheamus,” he understands a thing or two about combining physical menace with over-the-top theatricality. Farrelly has had a lot of success in that field, given that he’s a four-time world champion. As if that isn’t interesting enough, he also once worked as a bodyguard for Bono.
7. Gary Anthony Williams – Bebop
Rocksteady’s perpetual — and equally bumbling — cohort is Bebop, the purple mohawked warthog. Again, it’s a character that requires a larger-than-life touch, especially since the movie’s visual interpretation of Bebop is so outrageous. Stepping into the role is Gary Anthony Williams, a Georgia-born actor and comedian who also has experience in Shakespearean theater. You may recognize Williams from his many television roles on programs running the gamut from Malcolm in the Middle to Boston Legal to Whose Line Is It Anyway? Or, if movies are primarily your thing, you may have seen him in Soul Plane, where he played the character known as “Flame.”
Williams has great vocal capabilities, which has made him an in-demand voice actor. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Boondocks, and Rick and Morty are just a few of the many programs he’s lent his talents to. In the live-action realm, he was recently a recurring player on Cedric the Entertainer’s TV Land series The Soul Man.
6. Alan Ritchson – Raphael (2016)
Alan Ritchson is becoming a staple of franchises with devoted followings. He played Arthur Curry (aka Aquaman) on TV’s Smallville and Gloss in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Now he returns as the intense Raphael in TMNT: Out of the Shadows. Ritchson began his career as an Abercrombie and Fitch model, then became a contestant on American Idol in 2004, where he famously serenaded judge Paula Abdul. The North Dakota native got cut during the show’s brutal “Hollywood Week.”
Nonetheless, that appearance opened some doors in Hollywood. The actor’s television credits include Spike TV’s football drama Blue Mountain State and the NBC reality competition I Can Do That. Aside from Catching Fire, Ritchson’s big screen work includes roles in the cheerleading satire Fired Up! and the Kevin Hart/Josh Gad comedy The Wedding Ringer.
5. Pete Ploszek – Leonardo (2016)
Pete Ploszek got a major upgrade. He did all the motion capture work for Leonardo in the previous TMNT movie, but Jackass star Johnny Knoxville provided the voice. His inclusion was controversial among fans, who felt that his voice, dialogue delivery, and overall persona were a poor match for the character. Knoxville was announced to return for the sequel, but for reasons that are not entirely clear, he isn’t doing the job in the final version. That said, his absence allows Ploszek the opportunity to now fully create his version of Leonardo.
Ploszek only has a few screen credits so far in his career, although they include single episodes of the well-regarded shows Parks & Recreation, Shameless, and Workaholics. His most notable credit is MTV’s Teen Wolf, where he plays Mr. Garrett Douglas.
4. Noel Fisher – Michelangelo (2016)
Noel Fisher, an actor hailing from Canada, plays Michelangelo in Out of the Shadows. The 32 year old, whose career began at age fourteen with a role in the television movie The Sheldon Kennedy Story, has received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Mickey Milkovich on Showtime’s Shameless. Fisher additionally appeared in the Emmy-winning miniseries Hatfields & McCoys alongside heavyweight talents like Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton. His film work is interestingly diverse; he had parts in the epic Tom Green disaster Freddy Got Fingered, the kiddie spy spoof Agent Cody Banks, the horror flick Final Destination 2, and the science-fiction thriller Battle: Los Angeles. To many, though, he is best known for the role of Vladimir in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.
Fisher, who is an active Twitter user, is clearly a performer on the rise. In some respects, it’s appropriate that he is voicing a turtle; he’s an animal lover and a staunch supporter of the Humane Society.
3. Jeremy Howard – Donatello (2016)
Stepping into the shoes (or, more accurately, the shell) once worn by Corey Feldman is Jeremy Howard, a veteran commercial actor whose first really notable film role was playing Kyle in 1999’s cult favorite Galaxy Quest (which also starred TMNT‘s own Tony Shalhoub). From there, he went on to nab roles in high-profile projects like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Men in Black II, and the hit AMC series Breaking Bad, where he played “Sketchy” for two episodes.
Because of his comic skills, Howard is often cast as characters who are unusual or geeky, so playing the intellectual Donatello in the TMNT films is an excellent fit for the 34 year old. He comes to acting honestly; his father Joe is also an actor who appeared in Grumpy Old Men and Anger Management.
2. Brad Garrett – Krang
At six feet eight-and-a-half inches tall, Brad Garrett is a big dude. The actor and comedian also possesses a deep, booming voice. These qualities have served him well, distinguishing him from the pack and giving him access to interesting or unusual roles. Garrett is, of course, best known for his onscreen work as Robert Barone on the long-running CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, but he has an extensive history of putting his distinct voice to work in animated fare. Among his credits are A Bug’s Life, The Country Bears, Ratatouille, and Planes: Fire and Rescue. The three-time Emmy Award winner was recently heard and seen on the acclaimed FX series Fargo, playing Joe Bulo.
For TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Garrett plays the brain-like Krang, one of the Turtles’ most formidable foes — and one of the most popular with fans. Given his ability to project both humorous and menacing qualities, sometimes simultaneously, this sounds like solid casting to us.
1. Tony Shalhoub – Splinter (2016)
Splinter is the wizened master of the Turtles, so he requires the voice of someone with authority. Who better than Tony Shalhoub? The actor is a veteran of film and television, as well as the winner of three Emmys, two SAG Awards, and a Golden Globe. He has appeared in movies directed by celebrated filmmakers: the Coen brothers (Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There), Danny Boyle (A Life Less Ordinary), James L. Brooks (How Do You Know), and Mike Nichols (Primary Colors). Shalhoub is also very recognizable from his roles as Fred Kwan in Galaxy Quest and Jeebs in Men in Black, plus the long-running TV shows Wings and Monk (for which he’s best known). Recently, he did an eight-episode stint on Nurse Jackie.
Versatile and totally committed to any role he takes, Shalhoub is a fantastic choice for Splinter. (Danny Woodburn, best remembered for playing Kramer’s pal Mickey on Seinfeld, handled the motion capture work.) You will be able to see him once more in the forthcoming Final Portrait, written and directed by his Big Night co-star Stanley Tucci.
How do you feel about the job these actors did? Do you have a favorite TMNT voice performance? How relieved were you to learn Johnny Knoxville wouldn’t be returning for the sequel? Give us your thoughts in the comments.