by: Chris Eaton
Ain’t no hoe’s here… Cept maybe Cheetara
On July 29th, 2011, a miracle happened. Cartoon Network debuted the premier episode(s) for their brand new relaunch of the beloved classic 80′s cartoon, Thundercats. In this day and age of reboots and re-imaginings, we as fans have seen a myriad of properties reworked and spat back out at us. Some of them have been good. Some have been down right shitty. In the past few years alone we’ve seen new series for: Voltron, G.I. Joe, two different Transformers, He-Man, My Little Pony, just to name a few. Again, some of these are decent, while others just kinda crap on the memories of our childhood. When I say that a miracle happened, it did. See, the relaunch of Thundercats did everything right. It took everything that we as fans loved as the original, and modernized it to our adult tastes.
Thundercats has had to deal with a lot of luggage. A beloved show from the 80′s having an animated update. Ruffled allot of feathers. Yet those first few trailers let on that there was something more brewing. Even though there were already subtle looking changes to the show already. But upon viewing this first episode. They work.
The episode, titled Book of Omens, was an origin story if there ever was one. We’re introduced to a young Lion-O and a new Third Earth. In this show, there is no planet Thundera, but a kingdom. It’s ruled by King Claudus, Lion-O’s father and Tygra’s adoptive father. Already massive differences, yet, it already works. When we first meet Lion-O he is seen defending a street merchant from several Dogmen. As he faces them down, he’s quickly outnumbered, only to be recused by a very sexy Cheetara. After a brief exchange, we’re shown the greater world that these new Thundercats live in. Their world is old. They also share it with other species, notably the Reptiles, who they keep as slaves. We see that everything outside the walls of Thundera are not quite grand. The Cats are at the top of the food chain, and are brash and almost rude as they are noble. Lion-O knows this, and as a future King, sees that time for change might be soon. We see Lion-O training with the Sword of Omens, and that he is able to tap into it’s power. He sees his first Sight Beyond Sight when he gets a glimpse at possible doom upon them, but ignores it. After Claudus’ best general, Grune, returns with a large gold deposit in his quest to find the Book of Omens in the recesses of Third Earth, a celebration is held. Though the mission was a failure, and Claudus’ and Grune’s best friend Panthro was lost during the quest. We find out during the celebration that Lion-O is seen as something of a failure by his people, who would prefer his more popular brother Tygra to take the crown one day. This is evident when Lion-O takes pity on two Lizards and has them set free. Little does he know that this leads to a massive invasion by the Lizards the next night, who are using technology that was once thought lost. A massive battle begins that essentially takes out Thundera and sets in motion Lion-O taking command of the Thundercats.
That synopsis should already show that this show is striving for something bigger than the original. In this new version, punches are not pulled. There is no word changing. When someone says they’re gonna kill you, it’s not replaced with something like “Destroy you”. It’s “I’m gonna kill you”. The changes to the characters are the best. Updated to fit this more, epic story that seems to be building. Lion-O is of appropriate age, and not a young kid in an aged body. He’s not dumb, but he’s a little cocky. Will Friedle, who has voiced such characters as Batman in Batman Beyond and Ron Stoppable in Kim Possible, provides this new Lion-O with a sense of meaning. He’s still a young man, but he has wisdom that can only come with a sense of understanding. He’s trying to show his father that he will be ready to be king one day, but not the king his father is. Claudus, Lion-O’s father and Tygra’s adoptive father, voiced by Lerry Kenny (who was the voice of the original Lion-O). Kenny put a little age in to Claudus’ voice, so that your not thinking, “Hey, this is Lion-O” every time you hear him. Though there’s a hint there that makes you remember how great he was in the original series. He even gets one great moment to recite the Thundercats call again. As for the rest of the cast, not since Justice League have I heard voice acting done so well. Matthew Mercer brings a cocky charm to this new Tygra, now the adoptive brother of Lion-O. No longer does he sound like a bit of a dork as he did in the original. Emmanuel Chriqui brings a strong, sexy tone to Cheetara, who is now a cleric under the guidance of Jaga. She see’s something in Lion-O, the same as her mentor Jaga. I’ll say to that her new look isn’t too shabby either. I see a lot of cosplay out of her new look this year. Rounding out the cast is Cory Burton as Jaga, Clancy Brown as Grune and Robin Atkin Down as a new and improved Mumm-Ra. All are exceptional in their acting.
As for the look of the show, Studio 4c, a Japanese animation studio who has previously worked on The Animatrix, Spriggan and Batman Gotham Knights, has provided an animation that is unlike much that is seen on TV today. The action is top notch, with character designs that look more detailed than anything else currently on the network. It’s goddamn refreshing to see a show that has a budget to produce this kind of animation. I don’t think I was the only one getting a bit tired of seeing everything done in a flat, 2d cartoonish way. Don’t’ get me wrong, it works for somethings, but it seems that every single 2d animated show right now is an exaggerated Sunday morning cartoon strip design. It’s something that the original Thundercats did right, and it’s something that this new Thundercats is doing beyond right.
The story thus far. It’s told with a sense of wonder that I can only compare to Avatar the Last Airbender. I was blown away by the world building and story telling in that show, and I felt the same way with this new show. It doesn’t talk down to it’s audience, and actually reaches out and lets people know that shit is serious this time out. When the attack on Thundera begins, Cats’ are not simply blown off a cliff, but they’re fucking killed. The Lizards are worthy villains this time. They aren’t played as dumb comedic lackeys that get beat all the time. They literally rape and pillage Thundera under the guidance of a bitching new and improved Mumm-Ra, the ancient enemy of the Thundercats. Another new change to the show. Mumm-Ra being a greatly feared villain that has tangled with the Thundercats in the past, and apparently has fucked them up more than once. While this pilot airing, the combination of nostalgia with the updated storyline had me reeling with a schizophrenic joy. I know these characters already, but now, they’re acting the way I would have them act if I were to sit down now and write a new story. Right here is where I applause the creators and writers of this new show. Clearly they know that the main group of people who are going to tune in initially for this show are the ones who grew up with it. So they made the story grow up as well. It’s as close to PG13 on a prime time animated “kids” show as your going to get. It’s still safe enough for kids, but it’s a show aimed at big kids. More so than Clone Wars already is. I’d say even more so than Dragonball Z or Gundam Wing when they were airing on the early afternoon a decade earlier. Both those shows broke a lot of storytelling cliches for animated shows on American television at the time, and it would eventually lead to the creation of Adult Swim. Is this new Thundercats Adult Swim worthy, No, but it’s best that it isn’t.
Overall, what I really love is that this show is going for an epic tone. It’s Avatar story telling, and I’m happy to say that if it continues in the direction that they’ve started with, it might possibly surpass Avatar in quality. I can’t say for sure that it will, but there’s a part of me that dose. If only to get another great animated story on TV for a while. Set your DVR’s cause this show already has instant replay value. It should also stand as a textbook case of how to properly bring a classic property into the modern era. Something that a lot of current show runners should take a look at for the future.