'Ninja Turtles': Original Voice Actor of Raphael Talks About Switching to Donatello

"25 years later, to get another crack at it ... is a cool thing in its own way," says Rob Paulsen of being in the voice cast for a new 'Ninja Turtles' series.
Nickelodeon

Rob Paulsen has always felt a little green.

The popular voice actor portrayed wise-cracking Raphael in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that ran 1987-1996 and returned for the newest animated iteration, which started in 2012, to switch up roles and play brainiac/nerd Donatello.

The Hollywood Reporter recently caught up with Paulsen to talk switching turtles, his issue with the 1990 live action film and why he won't reprise his other popular characters (Yakko from Animaniacs and Pinky from Pinky and the Brain) in adult cartoons. "I think The Turtles have had more staying power, and it's arguably as big now as it's ever been," Paulsen tells THR.

Now 59, Paulsen says he started his voice acting career in his late 20s and worked on such Saturday morning classics as Transformers and G.I. Joe. Then another offer came along  give life to a talking turtle that knew marital arts and ate pizza. That cartoon turned out to be massive hit and spawned loads of merchandise and numerous live action movies.  

Paulsen is once again portraying a hero in a half shell on Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  season five is currently in production  but switching characters was not as simple as flipping a switch, he says. 

"There is a clear distinction there," Paulsen says. "Donatello is still the brains of the bunch, he's a little nerdy."

Raphael was the smart aleck, hot head; traits that were even more pronounced in the 1990 live action film.

Although Paulsen had no major qualms with the movie  the second-highest-grossing independent film of all time — he wasn't pleased with the more intense violence and cussing by the turtles. 

"Yes, it did bother me because I knew the audience was essentially kids," he says. "When I say bothered, that is with a small 'b'. It didn't make me go 'Oh no!'"

The issue was more that parents didn't have info at their fingertips as they do now concerning movies  social media and Rotten Tomatoes  in order to get a heads-up that the film, while rated PG, was going to be more violent and profane than the cartoon. 

None of the voice actors were approached about working on the live action movie, which bothered a few of the cartoon cast, but Paulsen says he understood.

"I knew, we all knew, the characters were the stars and there was not one 8-year-old who stood outside the movie theater who said 'I'm not going to see this movie, Rob Paulsen is not the voice of Ralph,'" he says laughing.  

As for choosing between which turtle he has enjoyed portraying more, Paulsen says try as he might, it just can't be done. 

"Being the original character on any show biz enterprise ... is a cool thing. We were there when it was a clean sheet of a paper," he says of Raphael. "Then, 25 years later, to get another crack at it ... is a cool thing in its own way, so it's pretty difficult to choose. They both have their incredibly wonderful aspects."

Nickelodeon's version of the cartoon is the "purest iteration to date" because the cast and crew grew up watching the original cartoon and films, he says. The cast includes Seth Green as Leonardo, Sean Astin as Raphael, Greg Cipes as Michelangelo and Paulsen as Donatello.

In addition to children's cartoons, Paulsen has been approached to do some of his popular voices for adult programs, like Robot Chicken on Cartoon Network, but he always respectfully declines because he doesn't want to alter how the beloved characters are perceived.

"It's funny and I get it, but I cant do it," he says. 

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