I recently watched season one of the ThunderCats with my sons, so they could experience the awesome feline adventures that I did when I was a kid. With few exceptions – the Ro-Bear Berbils are impossible for young kids to understand – they enjoyed the show immensely. So when I heard that they were rebooting ThunderCats on the Cartoon Network, I eagerly set the DVR and awaited the premiere episode.
The new show is set in the kingdom of Thundera (I guess it’s not a planet anymore) and the events take place before the original series. Young Lion-O neglects his regal duties to fuss over mysterious alien technology, which most of the other cats don’t believe exists. His obsession over the artifacts makes the impetuous prince an outsider among his family. Tygra has returned for the reboot and is apparently Lion-O’s adopted brother. He excels at everything and is a more fitting successor to the throne than his brother, though he lacks the proper bloodline. Their father, and current lord of the ThunderCats, is Claudius (voiced by the original Lion-O voice actor, Larry Kenney) and together with the council of the cleric, Jaga (the old dude who dies in the first episode of the original series), he protects the cat kingdom from the lizards who share their planet.
Before we go any further, let me state up front that this is not your old school ThunderCats with a fresh coat of paint. It’s certainly familiar to fans of the original series, but the alterations to the characters’ backgrounds and the new Japanese animation style may rub purists the wrong way. Here are my thoughts after watching the premiere:
• It’s friggin’ ThunderCats! Seriously, it was amazing to get excited for a new episode after 26 years!
• I’ll admit as a child, I had a crush on Cheetara. I mean, come on, not only is she a badass acrobat/ninja cat, but she starts off the original series naked – a fact that I had forgotten and was quite shocked to witness with two small children sitting next to me. Cheetara’s new image is simultaneously fresh and faithful and she still kicks the ever-loving snot out of enemies who don’t even see her coming. Her personality used to be little more than being the fastest of the cats, but now she is a cleric under the tutelage of Jaga, so perhaps she’ll have some depth.
• Wilykit and Wilykat were made far more interesting than they were originally conceived. The scrappy siblings are impoverished street urchins who survive by pilfering and swindling the citizens of Thundera. While they haven’t yet met Lion-O, there will be an interesting dynamic between the nobility and the guttersnipes when they do.
• On the villain side, Mumm-Ra and Slythe return to continue their never-ending quest to obtain the Eye of Thundera, which is mounted into the Sword of Omens. They appear mostly unchanged from the original show because if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Jackalman, Vultureman and Monkian are (so far) not included, which is a relief to my ear drums and snobbish voice-acting palate.
• They killed Snarf. OK, not really, but they destroyed the essence of his character. Snarf was a crotchety overprotective companion who whined excessively but often found himself as the reluctant hero in the original series. Now he’s the mute comic relief pet – akin to Avatar’s Momo – and he appears to be without his trademark quote: “Snarf, snarf.” My impression aside, my kids thought the new Snarf was hilarious and cracked up each time he had screen time, so he will likely help build up a new fan base from the youngsters. For the record, Momo rules, but that’s not who Snarf is.
• There’s a moment in the first episode where Lion-O and Cheetara share a witty exchange of dialogue followed by a knowing stare, which, much to my dismay, foreshadows a possible romantic connection between the pair. No. Just stop it. She’s supposed to be much older than Lion-O and it just feels wrong. (Hmm, maybe I’m not over that crush after all.)
• While Panthro will probably make his debut later on in the season, he does not appear in the inaugural episode. I found myself missing the nunchaku-wielding MacGyver, who could build the Thunder Tank out of a lemon and a piece of dental floss.
Overall, the premiere episode was entertaining and will have me tuning into the Cartoon Network each Friday evening. I worry, however, about the story restrictions that come with the series being set in the past. We know the main characters – on both sides – will survive and if they keep the timeline intact, eventually the planet will get blown to bits. But perhaps the constrained design parameters will yield an unexpected and engaging story. Will you be joining Lion-O on his quest to uncover the secrets of the Book of Omens? ThunderCats, Ho!
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