Review: Thundercats (2011)

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.

8 thoughts on “Review: Thundercats (2011)

  1. I also am a kid from the 80's and usually hate cartoon remakes but this one is off the charts. I usually don't take well to the characters when their appearance has been changed but in this series I think the character changes are for the better. I too am waiting to buy the figures because they look cool.

  2. 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.

    I wonder what caused this paradigm shift, that bad guys aren't necessarily just bad guys, but only "evil" because you're watching from the perspective of the Thundercats. Was it the increasing popularity of Japanese cartoons, where "good" and "bad" are almost always relative and you can actually sympathize to a degree with the bad guys? Or perhaps they realized that kids enjoy a good story just as much if not more than just action and violence?

    Sounds interesting, I may have to watch an episode or two.

    1. Actually, you can sympathize to a large degree with the lizards, the Thundercats, under Lion-O's father, really did treat them bad and frankly, probably deserved the fate they received to some degree. The Thundercats were arrogant and obnoxious, the story has been as much about the journey to humility that the survivors are undergoing as it is about trying to find the Book of Omens and survive.

  3. Frankly I dont like this Thundercats at all The WB has been changing and recycling heroes like Batman Superman and now the Thundercats the drawings are japanese style a cross of pokemon kiddie audience the story totally mediocre if i want to see avatar is more original than this thundercats with a pokemon touch and the avatar retelling ugh

    1. Honestly, they have to. The classic Superman and Batman are tapped out, there's not much more that you can do with them and remain fresh. That's why DC just scrapped their entire comics line and started over. Thundercats, as popular as it was at the time, just didn't have modern-day appeal. There really was no overarching storyline in the original Thundercats, it was purely episodic drivel. The new has a storyline and in most episodes, they move closer to their goal. Shows like Pokemon never really go anywhere. It's the same crap over and over and over again.

      Thundercats isn't perfect by any means, but it's got enough going for it that I'm enjoying watching it.

  4. I definitely agree with your review! Just got done watching Ep 1 and 2, and it's such an improvement, which is a rare thing to say about remakes.

    1. Just don't watch that abhorrent piece of crap remake of Voltron. It's an example of how to do everything wrong, whereas Thundercats is a great example of how to do things right. Fanboys of the original series probably don't like it because it's not exactly like the old series, but why remake something that already exists when you can improve it?

  5. The term fanboy sounds a little derogatory, especially coming from a windbag. The real question is if you like the original series why would you change it into something else? It's possible to improve something without completely fucking it up. The character designs are terrible, the soundtrack pales in comparison to the original, and what's with those two little boys gawking over a slutted out version of Cheetara? Pathetic!

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