There are an infinite number of cartoons and animated series available for you to watch, and if you’re watching them then there’s a 99% chance that you’ve undoubtedly heard one of the various voices belonging to voice acting legend Tom Kenny. Tom Kenny has been in the voice acting game longer than most, and has voiced a number of iconic characters in series like ‘Justice League Unlimited’, ‘Transformers Animated’, ‘Cat-Dog’, ‘The Powerpuff Girls’, and of course ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ (where he voices the title character)!
This week we were lucky enough to sit down with this iconic voice actor to talk about his new series ‘Niko and The Sword Of Light’! The series just launched on Amazon Prime and tells an action packed adventure story of Niko and his fellowship of friends on a quest to stop the ultimate evil! You can check out our full exclusive interview with Tom Kenny below!
Science Fiction: So we’re here to talk about your exciting new animated series ’Niko and The Sword Of Light’! What can you tell us about the show?
Tom Kenny: Well, for one thing, it’s easy to talk about a show that one likes! It’s really a great, beautifully animated, well written, funny, adventurous, heroic, legendary quest series! Which is kind of a genre that’s in short supply today for kids these days! Like epic, straight up epic adventures! With monsters, and swords! And a fellowship of brave friends that are teaching you the ropes! It’s funny, when you try to think of other series of that type that are around right now, especially with ‘Avatar (The Last Airbender)’ no longer being in production over at Nickelodeon, it’s kind of a cool and largely untapped genre. And it’s one that kids really like, you know? Boys and girls! One of the gratifying things about this show is that unlike the shows that I watched like the ‘Space Ghost’ and ‘Johnny Quest’ and things like that I grew up on, ‘Niko and The Sword Of Light’ has these really strong and in control female characters! Often played by Kari Wahlgren!
SF: Who is incredible!
TK: She’s often talking to herself as in scenes, which we all do! It’s really a pretty great mélange of elements and it’s made by people who care, and I really like the finished product! It’s really, truly, an exciting place for a kid to delve into without being too horrific! You know what I mean? There are so many things now that kids would really like certain elements of, but they can’t always go see it because things are too over the top, or there’s too much stuff going on because you’ve got to bring in the masses!
SF: You know, it’s funny that you mentioned ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ because that was the first show I was reminded of while watching ‘Niko’! It immediately struck that tone!
TK: Yes! It was a really great show. Especially in terms of having a sense of humor while also being a real visceral adventure that’s character driven. ‘Niko’ has different elements from ‘Avatar’, I mean the share some of the same storytelling DNA a little bit in terms of the callow hero, but everything’s got that right? Like Luke Skywalker? But I love that when I was watching ‘Niko’ I was just like “wow”! And I’m like 55, so I’m like “there’s some Don Bluth in here, there’s so ‘Secret of Nimh’, there’s some ‘Johnny Quest’ and ‘Space Ghost’”. And I have a kid brother so I’m also seeing some ‘He-Man’ and some ‘Thundar The Barbarian’ and ‘Lord of The Rings’! Plus some more obvious Arthurian ‘King Arthur’ type stuff going on! I’m sure there are other elements and name-checks that I’ll keep noticing as I work my way through the series. Like, again showing my age, Ralph Bakshi’s ‘Wizards’ movie, do you remember that? I was seeing even some of that in this. Just some little tips of the hat, and really cool stuff! It’s a great mashup of eighty-zillion things that are cool!
SF: You mentioned name checks and a number of other animated series or films, but when you look at the voice cast for ‘Niko and The Sword Of Light’ has such an extensive voice cast that’s sort of a “who’s who” of the top A-List voice acting talent that’s out there!
TK: It is! And the voice recordings are a blast! Because we do it all together. You get better stuff that way than being in a cocoon by yourself recording. I mean, we could all do that, and we all do it on plenty of projects, but it’s always better in a group! Kind of like an on-screen actor trying to act with a green-screen, you know? You’re kind of hobbled. You have to imagine what the other actors are going to sound like reading their lines, and kind of just act accordingly. But with everybody in the room together it’s like an old 1940’s radio show!
We’ve got Andre Robinson, who is ‘Niko’, in there playing with us, and Dee Bradley Baker is doing his crazy monster sounds right in my left ear, and Kari Wahlgren is being her characters in my right ear, and Steve Blum is over there! Something kind of magical happens, and one of the nice things about this is that the world is kind of being made up by the people doing the show. Not the actors, mind you, but the creators and the writers who did the motion comic and have shepherded it into this Amazon Prime Video series, so you’re not beholden to any cannon or the history of all these characters who have been here for years. Like friends of mine that have written on some of these ‘property’ type shows whether it’s Marvel or DC Comics or Transformers or whatever, you’re a little bit hobbled by the stuff that’s come before. There’s a lot that you can’t do and places that you can’t go. And with ‘Niko’, I think the gloves are off!
All of these writers and creators can really run around this creative dog park and frolic! It’s all grist for the mill! And that makes it really fun for this voice cast that you mentioned to get in there and try it make it come to life! One of the things I like about working in animation more than any other place in show business is that it’s so collaborative! Everyone’s teaming up to pull off this magic trick that these drawings are living, breathing, talking things that think and move! You know?
SF: Oh totally!
TK: Everybody from the character designers, to the writers, to the background painters; You’re just trying to make people get sucked in! I don’t want people thinking “oh, who does the voice of that guy?”, I want them thinking like “oh Mandok is a real person that really exists”! Even with stuff like ‘Spongebob’, I don’t want people thinking about who is voicing ‘Spongebob’, I want people to be able to go “okay this is Bikini Bottom, let’s go there now”!
SF: Speaking of Mandok, you voice a number of characters on the show, but your main character for this series is Mandok! Can you tell us a bit about him?
TK; Sure! Mandok is uh… Mandok is sort of shyster. Kind of always out for himself, always looking for the angles, always looking to leave a situation with more than he showed up with. He’s totally self-serving, he’s a little mammal, he’s small, he’s diminutive, and for that reason, he’s always had to kind of look over his shoulder, and has been at the mercy of these big aggressive characters in this dangerous world that he lives in. He’s kind of out for himself! All for fun, and loyal to none, as they say. He’s kind of thrust into this situation where this kid Niko who has been chosen to fight this awful horrific evil that is being unleashed upon the world, and Mandok kind of has to be his… a little bit of a guide, and a tutor, and a big brother, and even a father to some extent, and it’s all in a way that he has never had to do before. It’s really unfamiliar to him.
Mandok also kind of has to be this part of an effort to keep the world on its axis and keep the evil from overwhelming everything. And that’s what the rest of Niko’s family or fellowship of adventurers are really doing also. Really a lot of the characters in this show are in this position where they have to “man up” or “woman up” or “person up”, and become part of this collective effort! They kind of don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re figuring it out as they’re going along, but it’s a dire situation so they’ve got to pull together! Especially for Mandok, who has always been a complete loner, it’s a role he has to adapt to and one of the things I really like about the show is that all of the characters have actual arcs! Like wow! Mandok is way different by the end of the series than he was in the first episode! He actually figures some stuff out! And Niko is different! They all are!
SF: They’re all very fleshed out!
TK: Yes! So that’s kind of fun to play with as an actor. And vocally it’s a blast for me because Mandok is kind of a range that I don’t really get to go to that often. Just sort of a wisecracking sidekick, and it’s a fun place to do! I love mixing stuff up, that’s one of the best parts of being a voice actor; being different people and different types of characters every single day five days a week! It’s the greatest job ever! So anytime you can add some flavors and ingredients that you don’t get to utilize very often, it’s an added fun aspect! Then getting in the room with these other voice actors, most of which are friends of mine and we’ve worked together before, and we’ve all been around a while? And Andrea Romano is the voice actors dream voice-over director, so it’s really a fantastic situation in more ways than one!
SF: Speaking of voice acting in general, one of our readers wanted me to make sure I asked you, over the years you have voiced an astronomical number of characters across various series. It’s downright insane to think about all of the different characters you have taken on over the years, but would you say you have one that really stands out as your favorite, or that you relate to the most?
TK: Wow! You know, I’m really proud when people go “well what do you do?” and I say “Oh I‘m an actor“ and they so “oh well have we seen you in anything“ and I go “well I don’t know, I’ve got an IMDB that you can look up…” and then they look at my IMDB and they’re like “HOLY SH*T!”! They say “you’re the most ubiquitous not-famous actor ever!” which is exactly how I prefer it. It’s kind of nice to have your cake and eat it too. You can make a living as an actor and voice all of these characters, and a lot of them have stuck around a while and infiltrated popular culture consciousness. But in terms of who is doing the voices? It’s kind of off most peoples radars, which is beautiful.
In terms of if I have a personal favorite? Spongebob is right up there because he’s sort of the reason I have a house, and The Mayor from ‘The Powerpuff Girls”! He’s fun to do, he’s just sort of silly and spitting all over the place when he talks, kind of like The Wizard Of Oz after three martinis! I love him!
Then on a more obscure level after ‘Powerpuff Girls’ Craig McCracken created a new show called ‘Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends’ that I did a character called Eduardo on. He was like this big, purple, fanged ox character, who wouldn’t be that out of place on ‘Niko and The Sword Of Light’ actually! But he’s like a big Spanglish speaking Cookie-Monster voice! He looks like a monster but he’s really a gentle soul. He’s really kind and nice, and sort of a baby. So he’s fun to do, although doing that guy kind of hurts after four hours. I really loved his heart and his soul.
Oh! And of course Heffer from ‘Rockos Modern Life’ would probably be right up there too! Because that was kind of my first series, and the first time that somebody said “You’re this guy, he’s your vocal property, take him and love him, and we’re gonna let you be creative and let you do what you think is right. Feel free to ad lib, you’re funny and you know the character”, and I had never really gotten to do that before and it was fun! And it’s come in so handy for everything, and for pretty much every character from Spongebob to Mandok.
SF: Of course! And one final question, and this is kind of an easy one, but why do you think people should be excited for ‘Nike and The Sword Of Light’?
TK: Well I’m excited about it because it’s just such a good show! It looks great and it’s funny, it’s exciting, and it’s got adventure! I like it because it’s something that kids and families can watch, but the adventure is still very visceral. The monsters are big and imposing and real, and the evil that they’re fighting is big and imposing and real, but the way that it’s presented is in a way that a kid can watch it and it’s not too nightmarish, or gory, in a way that would be off-putting to parents.
There are so many superhero movies and such that, while kids love superheroes, the kids can’t go to see them if they’re below a certain age, and ‘Niko’ really is in that pocket! It has so many elements of cool stuff from the past that were a part of my development and pop culture, and obviously the people that worked on the show! There’s all this weird stuff in there, and I like that the writers and creators of the show are creating this world from the ground up. It’s not some property that has been around for eighty years, it’s theirs! I think their excitement and enthusiasm really comes through in the scripts and in the finished show, so it makes it really fun to act in and it has that kind of gung-ho positive excited energy behind it! It’s nice to get caught up in something like that!
SF: Well it’s hard to argue with that! So far I’m only about halfway through it but it just pulls you right in and it’s hard not to become quickly obsessed with the story!
TK: That’s actually where I am as far as watching the finished product, and I’ve watched it with kids and recommended it to kids who have reported back to me! It’s been great to see them really get into it and get excited about it in the same way that shows like ‘Johnny Quest’ got me feeling as a kid!
You can catch Tom Kenny starring as the voice of Mandok (and a number of other characters!) in the first season of ‘Niko and The Sword Of Light’, which is available for streaming now on Amazon Prime! Be sure to stay tuned to ScienceFiction.com for all of your ‘Niko and The Sword Of Light’ updates!