Like any child of the 80s, I have lots of fond memories of the cartoons I watched after school and on Saturday mornings. I loved He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers…even My Little Ponies. (They’re cute, OK?!) But far and away, my favorite of them all was ThunderCats. I did my best to never miss an episode and was pretty much obsessed with it. One Christmas, at the height of the show’s popularity, my parents searched high and low for any ThunderCats action figure for me with no success. I was one bummed out little geek girl.
(A few months later, a Panthro figure arrived in the mail for me. To this day I don’t know where it came from – just that my mom handed me a package with my name on it, which is a big deal when you’re eight or nine years old, and inside was Panthro. Best. Mail. EVAR. But I digress.)
With ThunderCats playing such an important role in my formative years, I was understandably both excited and nervous when word came out that the series was going to get a reboot on Cartoon Network. What if they ruined it and tarnished the perfect memories of my childhood? The first character designs that were released piqued my interest immediately. As the trailers came out, I started feeling anticipation for the new show. Then, the first episode finally premiered, and I’ll admit I was holding my breath, hoping for the best, but mentally preparing myself for it being awful.
My fears were not realized. New ThunderCats is wonderful!
This is not your momma’s ThunderCats.
Even if you hadn’t seen any of the teaser stills or trailers, it only takes a few seconds of the new show to tell you this is not going to be the ThunderCats of old. The animation is in a stunningly beautiful anime style. Visually, the show is instantly darker and grittier than the original – which on one hand isn’t saying much, as the original was a Rankin/Bass production, but yet it makes it clear that this version is for a different audience. The show airs on Friday nights, not after school as the original did. New ThunderCats is for a different breed of cartoon watcher.
The storyline of the new series holds little in common with the classic show. The ThunderCats have lived peacefully within the fortifications of Thundera for years, almost to the point of complacency. They believe the existence and usefulness of technology is just a crazy rumor from the lands beyond, and the fact that Lion-O, heir to the throne, has a bit of an obsession with technology, earns him nothing but scorn from others (especially his adopted older brother, Tygra).
The ThunderCats are caught unaware when a lizard army attacks, both from outside their walls and within, thanks to the traitor, Grune. As the battle reaches its climax, the true enemy is revealed – Mumm-Ra, long thought banished if not destroyed. King Claudus is killed, and it’s thanks only to Lion-O’s dabbling in technology that he, Tygra, and cleric the Cheetara are able to escape with the Sword of Omens.
Lion-O – now the young king of a crumbling society – and the others set out in search of the Book of Omens, which is said to hold the secret to truly defeating Mumm-Ra. The lands beyond Thundera are foreign to them all, and with young street urchins WillyKit and WillyKat (refugees from the destroyed kingdom) tagging along, their journey is as much a battle to survive as it is a quest for a great relic.
Different, but not entirely.
Clearly, many if not all of the characterizations are different from the old series, but the changes are for the better. Instead of Lion-O being a child in an adult’s body (which, in retrospect, is kind of messed up), he’s just young and has some growing up to do. I was a little off-put by Lion-O and Tygra being brothers, but I quickly came to like that. Cheetara as a cleric (working under the wise elder Jaga) is very cool, and Kit and Kat are clever and fun and not nearly as annoying as in the original. Perhaps best of all, Snarf doesn’t talk in the new series! He’s just a cute companion.
The new series is incredibly well written. The story is serious (the episode “Song of the Petalars” left me sobbing) and cinematic, yet with an appropriate amount of comic relief to balance the story and remind one of the series of old. The voice actors are all fantastic, especially Matthew Mercer as Tygra, and it was a great touch for them to get Larry Kenney, the voice of Lion-O in the original series, to come back as the voice of King Claudus.
All in all, I am very impressed with the new ThunderCats, and hope it has a long life on Cartoon Network. The original series is still near and dear to me, but I love the new one too, and I’ve got plenty of room in my heart for both of them.
What do you think of the new ThunderCats series?