Any child that grew up in Fresno or anywhere else in the country during the eighties will remember an era when animated action cartoons were raised to a quality that we had not seen before. These shows had what, at the time, was top quality animation, voice acting, epic storytelling and, of course, were almost always backed by a really popular toy line. While many of the shows made at the time have come and gone, there are at least five of them that always seemed that much cooler than all the others–He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Thundercats, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, The Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But while He-Man, TNMT, G.I. Joe and Transformers have all been remaid into new, instant hit shows in over the last decade, as well as each getter the live action film treatment to boot, Thundercats has essentially disappeared form public consiousness after the original series ended…That is, of course, until now.
Based on the characters created by the late Tobin “Ted” Wolf, the all-new Thundercats is an animated action adventure program that premiered tonight on Cartoon Network. Unlike the original series that was produced by Rankin/Bass, this new sereis is done in a stylized anime look by Studio 4C, the same Japanese animation stuido that worked on projects such as Batman: Gotham Knight. The show has been hotly anticipated by fans and newcomers alike with Cartoons Network advertising the show often as well as airing re-runs of the original series on both their mian network and the secondary network devoted to showcasing classic cartoons, Boomerang. But is this new series actujally worth the time and attention of today’s audience? Lets find out.
The story opens up on the planet of Thundera, homeworld of the Thundercats, a warrior race of anthropomorphic cat-people that have formed a great empire. Legends say that long ago the Thundercat empire fought against the tyrany of the ancient, ever-living sorceror Mumm-Ra (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes), but those legends are rarely believed tooday. The series follows the adventures of Lion-O (voiced by Will Friedle), Prince of Thundera and heir to the throne. Lion-O is pressured to become a strong and noble leader by his father Claudeus (voiced by Larry Kenney), the Lord of the Thundercats and current wielder of their greatest weapon, the Sword of Omens, within which is the powerful Eye of Thundera. But Lion-O is known for his interest in peace and equality with the Lizards instead of warfare, as well of his fascination with what legends call “technology.” Because of this, most within his one true support coming from his mentor Jaga (voiced by Corey Burton), wise of sorceror and leader of the elite band of Thundercat warriors called the Clarecks. We are also introduced to Cheetara (voiced by Emmanuelle Chriqui), a female warrior who claims to see something special in Lion-O, Grune the Destroyer (voiced by Clancy Brown), Claudeus’s close ally and one of his top generals, Panthro (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), Thundera’s greatest warrior who has reportedly fallen in their latest battle, and the twins Wilykit and Wilykat, street urcin shildren who scavange and pull pranks on others just for food but who dream of one day having a better life. One day, when training with his father’s sword, Lion-O is given a sight beyond sight Lion-O tries to demonstrate his belief in peace by defending a pair of Lizard captives form a mob of Cat civilians, but his persuading his father to free them leads to a full scale invasion of Thundera with the Lizards utilyzing the very “technology” that only Lion-O ever believed to be real. The plot unfolds as one of their own is revealed to have committed the ultimate betrayal and the evil of Mumm-Ra returns to conquer the Thundercats once and for all. In order to but an end to the this reign of evil, Lion-O and his allies are forced to go on a quest to find the fabled Book of Omens, the one artifact that grant them the victory that can save their kingdom.
This examiner will admit that out of all five of the show he has mentioned to have come from the eighties, Thundercats was the one that this examienr had the least familiarity with. When I grew up I was a devoted fan of Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and was aware of the premises of G.I. Joe and He-Man. However I had never even heard of the original Thundercats series until it was discussed on an episode of VH1’s I Love the 80s, where comedian Hal Sparks described it as “the oversexed Marvel superheroes meets the Cat People.” It was form that segment that I first became aware of the characters, the animation, and how attracted some men were to Cheetara and how certain women loved Lion-O’s muscles. It was only the weekend before the writing of this review that this examiner was able to watch some of he original episodes, including the first two, of the original series for the first time. It helped fuel this examienr’s excitement to see the long-overdue return of the Thundercats to the small screen and while not the best thing he has seen he was still very pleased with it.
Like in this examiner’s review of Transformers: Prime and G.I. Joe: Renegades, it is difficult to judge a show and its plot based solely on it’s pilot episodes, but from what he can tell this new Thundercats differs from the original in several ways. For one thing, the core cast of characters were depicted as traveling to another world after the mutant lizards destroyed Thundera in the original, wereas here we ony see the seige of the captial city. Lion-O was a little boy whose body slowly aged while he was in hypersleep, so therefore he was presented as a child inside a grown man’s body; but here no such extrapulation happens either and instead he is simply a teenager in mind and body alike. Mum-Ra was also a villain that the Thundercats nor the lizards had never encountered before until the second episode, wereas here he is depicted as an evil they had faced in the ancient past and his alliance with the lizards is alredy forged. Other changes are made to the various characters, like Lion-O and Tygra being brothers of Wilykit and Wilykat being street urchins, but those are the major things this examiner recognized.
The animation in these episodes looks really good. The stylized anime look befits the admittedly silly nature of these walking, talking cat people very well in comparison to some other American shows that go for the same look. is almost has a Miyasaki feel to it with the borad, detailed backgrounds, the fluid movements fo the characters and the animation of the faces. The attack on Thunderea looks pretty good too, succeeding in conveying a sense of scale in addition to some key moments of action choreography.
The voice acting is also surprisingly well cast. Will Friedle, who is well-remembered as the voice of Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond, provides the new voice of Lion-O and while his take on the character is very different than the original version as voiced by Larry Kenney, but it is a great fit for this new vision of the character. Friedle’s voice sells you on the idea that this is a wide-eyed young everyman who believes in things nobody else does and who strives for peace instead of war, which might make him just the leader his people need even in there current time of crisis. In speaking Larry Kenney, he makes a welcome return to the Thundercats franchise as, ironically, Lion-O’s father, King Claudus. His infuses the character with the kind of warrior’s strength seen in the original Lion-O but with a hardened heart and years of experience in battle; you could almost believe that Kenney’s Lion-O would grow up into this character. Emmanuelle Chriqui provides the voice of Cheetara, and she gives the character a mix of strength and mystery typical of animated action women. Her interactions with Lion-O
in these first two episodes were intriguing and leaves one curious what future plans the creators have is store for her. Matthew Merrcer does the voice of Tygra and he plays the character with an appropriate mix of charm and arrogance so that even if he puts Lion-O down from time to time he never becomes unlikeable. Kevin Michael Richardson is cast as the voice of the righteous warrior Panthro, but while his voice always gives strength to any role he plays, there is hardly anything to say about his performance here because he realrey speaks in these first two episodes 9for good reason too that this examienr will not spoil). Clancy Brown provides the voice of Grune the Destroyer, a character that this examiner believes is an original created just for this series and, like with Richardson, Brown infused the role with the same energy he brings to every role he plays. The casting of Brown is admittedly a dead giveaway for the path this character ends up taking (along with his dising of having only one giant fans sticking out of his mouth), but it still works. The every versatile Corey Burton is cast as the voice of Jaga and he gives the role the age and wisdom we expect, no challenge for a voice actor of his talent. Robin Atkin Downes provides the voice of main villain Mumm-Ra for this series and his voice pays homage to the original while making it sound a bit creepier and modern. It is difficult to judge his voice since his character does not appear until later in the pilot, but this examienr is confident that we will see more acting from him in the future. Oh, and to all the fans of the classic show, yes Lion-O’s best firend Snarf in in this series but here he does not talk or even say his name a la Pokémon-style.
Overall, this all-new Thundercats appears to be a very promising series with quite a bit of production value behind it. It sets up its characters nicely, promises an epic journey to play out over future episodes, and should definitely be able to satisfy both new and old fans alike.