First Impressions

ThunderCats (2011)

Aired on: Cartoon Network

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            In the 1980ís, a number of excellent cartoons hit the television networks.  This was a new generation of cartoons - none of the slapstick comedy of the Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry silliness.  The new breed of cartoons dealt with some darker subjects and taught lessons along the way.  ThunderCats was one of the better animated series of this new era of cartoons.

            In the original version of the show, a group of cat/humanoids from the planet of Thundera barely escape their dying planet on a starship.  Their ship is damaged by their enemies, a space-faring mutant race in search of the mystical Sword of Omens.  The damage to the ship means that the journey to the closest planet, Third Earth, will take that much longer.  Thus, the ThunderCats - young Lord Lion-O, Cheetara, Panthro, Tygra, WilyKit and WilyKat, and Snarf - must travel in suspended animation.  Something happens with Lion-Oís pod and he ages physically, but still retains the mind of a child.

            The ThunderCats eventually would have many adventures on Third Earth, fighting old and new enemies in the form of the ancient sorcerer Mumm-Ra.  Lion-O would mature into a respected leader and wielder of the Sword of Omens, which contains the Eye of Thundera, the source of the ThunderCatsí power.  As Lion-O and his friends matured, so did the audience, learning lessons along with the characters in the show.  Mumm-Ra would be defeated and all would be right with the ThunderCat world by the final episode (Season 4) in 1989.

            On July 29, 2011, a new, revamped version of ThunderCats aired in an hour long premiere episode on Cartoon Network.  While the old version came from Rankin/Bass, this new version is produced by Warner Bros. Animation with animation provided by Studio 4įC, a Japanese company.  This version of ThunderCats is quite different from the original.  First, the ThunderCats live on Third Earth in kingdom known as Thundera.  Lion-O (Will Freidle) is heir to the Thundera throne, but is considered too starry-eyed and impetuous for the task by both his father (Larry Kenney) and his brother, Tygra (Matthew Mercer).  Second, Lion-O is not a child as in the first version, but a young man.

            As the episode unwinds, Lion-O is scoffed at for his belief in technology, a mysterious Book of Omens that may lead the Thunderans to this technology and the fabled evil entity known as Mumm-Ra.  He is also looked upon as weak for his compassion for those who are not as fortunate as the nobles and for the compassion he shows his enemies, an evil horde of lizards.  Lion-O doesnít really want to be heir to the throne and would rather concentrate on technology gleaned off the black market. 

            It is his compassion and knowledge of technology that save the people of Thundera when the city is torn asunder by the lizard people aided by the traitor Thunderan Grune (Clancy Brown) and Mumm-Ra (Robin Atkin Downes).  Lion-Oís father is murdered and Lion-O must take up the Sword of Omens as leader of the people of Thundera.  His mission is to stop the lizards and Mumm-Ra from attaining the Book of Omens and all of the knowledge it contains.  Aiding him in his quest are Tygra, the beautiful cleric Cheetara (Emmanuelle Chriqui), orphans WileyKit and Wiley Kat (Madeleine Hall and Eamon Pirrucello) and his faithful pet Snarf (Satomi Korogi).

            Thus far, I have watched the one hour premiere and the episode that followed (airing on August 5, 2011) and I feel that the new ThunderCats is somewhat missing the mark.  The artwork for example - in the original show, the characters actually looked more cat-like to me, especially Lion-O with his flowing mane of hair.  This new series features a sleeker Lion-O with a spiky hairstyle reminiscent of one of the Gotti kids.  Cheetara is drawn as sexy as ever and Snarf is as cute as I remember, but the rest of the characters are just not the same.  Somehow, the less cartoony look takes away from the show.

            Another thing that bothers me is the complete revamp of the storyline.  I can see the reasoning behind it, but they have totally changed the show.  In their quest to make things darker and more movie-like, they forgot who it is who is supposed to be watching it.  Kids arenít really going to like the darker feel of the show and fans of the old show who check out the show out of nostalgia are going to be put off by this new look and feel. 

            There are lessons to be learned in the new show, but they are costly lessons thus far learned at the expense of a major character.  That is to say, a lesson learned by oneís death.  Sorry, but I am a firm believer that some lessons can be taught without killing off a character. 

            Honestly, Iím watching this show just hoping it gets better, but itís a faint hope.  Lion-O is actually quite annoying and not a character you want to root for.  Iím not certain I will stick with this show and I think fans of the original will echo my sentiments when I say, some things just should not be tampered with.  The old ThunderCats may have been cheesy at times, but it was a show that kids lovedÖa show that became a cult favorite and is still talked about by those who watched it.  In my opinion, there is simply no way this new version is ever going to achieve this status.


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