In a lot of ways, I’m a child of the 80s, even though I was in my mid-teens going into the decade. I grew up watching cartoons like Scooby Doo and Speed Racer, but was still watching cartoons in the 80s like Robotech, Real Ghostbusters and Transformers, probably because I was a big anime fan at the time. I’ll be honest, I was never a big fan of the original Thundercats, it always came off as too moralizing and aimed straight for the kiddy crowd, which of course it was. Every episode taught you a “lesson”, no different than G. I. Joe’s “now you know and knowing is half the battle!”
I didn’t expect to like the new Thundercats, most remakes, well, suck. I figured it would be just another show trying to succeed off the nostalgia factor, most remade cartoons today are aimed, not only at the kids, but at their parents who want to fondly remember their youth and get their kids hooked on new versions of the cartoons they enjoyed when they were younger.
But you know something? I really like it. Now granted, I’ve only seen the first two episodes and most of that is set-up, but the world that the new Thundercats are inhabiting is fantastic. It’s not just a copy of the original series, they’ve made some serious changes that entirely go against the grain of the original. In the original, their planet, Thundera, is destroyed and a single craft with 8 people escapes to Third Earth where they try to rebuild their society, while being constantly attacked by Mumm-Ra and the reptilian mutants. They were always portrayed as amazing heroes with no reason that the mutants could hate them and Mumm-Ra just wanted the Sword of Omens as his only justification. In the new, however, we get to see the fully realized Thundercat society and frankly, the Thundercats are dicks. They openly abuse the reptilians, they steal their land, they keep them in poverty and hoard all of the good land and resources for themselves. For the Thundercats, might makes right. Young Prince Lion-O, however, doesn’t necessarily see it that way, he takes pity on the abused and beaten reptilians, a decision which comes back to haunt him.
Another great element is the lack of technology in the Thundercat world. Technology is a myth, something talked about in the long lost Book of Omens. Most people don’t believe technology exists. This also comes back to haunt them when the reptiles attack in force, using high-tech weapons. They destroy the Thundercat city, kill the king and send Lion-O and his growing band of misfits and followers on a quest to find the Book of Omens before the reborn Mumm-Ra can find it and rule the world.
Secondly, Mumm-Ra doesn’t just appear out of the woodwork on some alien world, he’s spoken about in the Book of Omens as an ancient enemy that was barely defeated in the distant past. Likewise, most people consider him to be a myth, a boogie-man designed to scare children. When he comes back, it’s a culture shock to all of the Thundercats.
The character designs are great, far superior to the ones in the original. They are all better than the original, but the most improved, by far, is Snarf. That might sound like a strange choice, but the character of Snarf was so bad in the original, a comedy relief disaster that was just annoying in the guise of being cute. The new Snarf is actually cute and, at least so far, just a dumb animal. Keep it that way!
I think the nicest thing about the series so far is the attention to detail. The culture is fully realized, it incorporates many different elements, from religion to a hierarchical social structure. Wiley Kit and Wiley Kat are street urchins who scam people for money. Cheetara is a priestess. Panthro is a general in the Thunderan army. These aren’t characters who are just thrown together, they develop complex relationships and have reasons why they’re together, not just because they’re drawn that way.
The storytelling also has much more weight to it this time around. Instead of the relationships being shallow, they’re quite detailed. Lion-O doesn’t hate Mumm-Ra because he’s a guy who wants his sword, but because he murdered his father. Lion-O’s relationship with Jaga is much deeper, which makes Jaga’s sacrifice for the escaping Thundercats that much more touching. The Lizards have a reason, and an entirely valid reason at that, to hate the Thundercats. You can sympathize with their plight, they’re not just mutants with “BAD GUY” stamped on their forehead. There are reasons they do what they do.
Based on the first two episodes, I’m going to heartily recommend this show, not just to those 80s kids who are looking for a nostalgia fix, but to anyone who likes a good story. The characters are great, there is thinking going into the background, the animation is top notch and, as someone who is largely burned out on collecting action figures, I’m actually energized to buy the Thundercats figures!
Go see it. Friday nights. Cartoon Network.