Children of the Eighties enjoyed many beloved cartoons that fired the imagination and became central themes in outdoor play. Among them, ThunderCats circa 1985 was a favorite. Now, there is a new, different ThunderCats 2011 for a new generation, a prequel of sorts. It diverges from the old stories, and the characters are strangely different, for all that they have the same names.
Rather than being the hero, a younger Lion-o is the black sheep of the royal family. He is out for adventure and often gets into trouble trying to find it. His buddy Cheetara saves his back more often than not. Tigra is the better brother, according to their father, the King: "One son with his head on his shoulders, and one with his head in the clouds." Continually, they are pitted against one another. This makes the two not much of a team. The domineering Tygra often humiliates the immature Lion-o.
Jaga is still the royal advisor, the wise elder to whom Lion-o's father often appeals. Wily Kat and Kit are still to be seen, as thieving little street urchins-obnoxious, ill-mannered orphans. Also, the all-important Sword of Omens again plays its part. The Eye of Thundera is the tool of the empire to choose the next king, to decide if the bearer is worthy, strong, truly able to lead. The King lectures about what is needed in a king by telling about his own glorious past: he overthrew Mumm-ra; he brought civilization to the animals; he made peace in the land.
The first episode has a celebration to welcome back war heroes. Lion-o leaves the party to wander the night, and finds Lizardmen in the stocks. Surprisingly, he strikes up a conversation and finds himself sympathetic. He is the only one to stand up for the Lizardmen when the drunken mob comes. Lion-o is also strangely obsessive about "technology"- which is considered to be a child's fairytale.
In part two, mobs of Lizardmen appear in the smoky horizon, a day after the lizards were pardoned. Lion-o's father uses this to humiliate him, saying that it was no wonder that the people wanted Tygra as king instead. The King leaves to lead the battle, demanding that Lion-o stay out of the way. In the second segment, we also find that Captain Slithe of the lizards had used a mock Trojan Horse to attack from inside the cats' castle as well. Mid-battle, half a dozen giant robots step from the treeline, equipped with lasers and rockets. Lion-o, pouting on a balcony to watch the battle he was left out of, says, "I can't believe it, Snarf. Technology was my dream- how did it become my nightmare?"
Finding that they have been utterly betrayed by a close friend, they are overrun by robots and the Lizardmen. This is the time for Jaga and his clerics for take over long enough to try to turn the tide of battle. Unfortunately, it isn't enough. When the worst happens, everything begins to change. Lion-o and Tygra are imprisoned briefly by Mumm-ra. There are deaths that slow them with grief. And Jaga is kidnapped and tortured-there is much screaming and groaning as Mumm-ra tries to "break" him. They bite off perhaps too much in a child's cartoon.
Going from episode two to three, Lion-o's personality undergoes a complete and total change. The excuse is that he is angry, but anger or no, it simply comes across as inconsistent. He is also very young, and apparently young truly equals nothing but stupidity. Lion-o listens to no one, he presses on when he shouldn't, he is rude to his fellows, and he refuses to head off to do what Jaga said needed to be done first. Instead, he drags his group into certain danger just to indulge his ego.
He fights a sea monster in an episode evocative of Moby Dick. There is a forested episode, whose beginning is heavily reminiscent of Ferngully. The Thunder Tank makes an appearance with the long-awaited Panthro, who turns out to be not very nice at all (he was gruff in the ThunderCats of old, but he wasn't mean). They follow "clues" to find the Book of Omens. Halfway through the eight little episodes, there is the requisite origins episode.
In "The Tower of Omens," Cheetara does a cool flip up and around in her skimpy clothing, and the camera zooms in on her cleavage and the screen is briefly fully filled with barely covered breasts for a moment-unacceptable in what is supposed to be a children's' show.
While there are some obvious flaws in it, "Legacy" is easily the best of the eight episodes. Lion-o goes into the past within the Book of Omens and defeats Mumm-ra, freeing all of the slave animals at the same time. The story is deeper, layered, and generates much more interest than the other recycled episodes. Lion-o learns secrets that his people, in the present, do not know. His knowledge may just save them when he returns to his team.
The final episode in the short set takes Lion-o to a town with walls made of old swords-visually very cool with a subtle emotional impact. He is required to fight for the supplies he needs, and Lion-o rushes in with his customary arrogance, thinking no one could possibly beat him. He enters the battleground with a crude one-liner to the other swordsmen and is suckered into a quick, weighted fight when he is called a coward.
Lion-o may have the Sword of Omens, but he has no wisdom or intelligence. His utter stupidity puts them all in a huge bind. Unfortunately, the "lesson" he has to learn is more than a little on the shallow side and downright silly.
The writers are heavy-handed with the foreshadowing. Tygra becomes bitter and whiny, whereas Cheetara is apparently wise beyond her years as she hands down sweet-nothings while the boys fuss. The familiar, reused stories in nearly every episode prove that everything old is new again. Lion-o touts the "ThunderCats never retreat" line numerous times-even when they should, creating frustration and irritation at his drama. He gets his tail bent out of sorts when someone else makes a decision and rushes into the lair of the bad guys by himself.
There are odd, flirty vibes between Cheetara and Lion-o. Apparently, their expletive of choice is "whiskers!"- considerably less than witty in a fraught situation. And why are Wily Kit and Kat the only cats with tails, except for Lion-o's (as Leo) epic battle with the armored Mumm-ra in dusty outer space? For some reason, he has a tail in his battle armor, but at no other time.
Snarf doesn't talk, only makes expressive "meows." This is one clear improvement over the Eighties version. The new, modern ThunderCats logo looks smokier, more fiery, more promising-very cool. Mumm-ra's battle cry as he changes from the sad, skeletal weakling into the strong magical warrior is the same: "Mumm-ra, the ever-living!" It's nice that they kept some of the basics.
The sound effects are much better than in the past. There are no extra offerings, although there are subtitles. One joke in episode 5 points to an old joke from the original show's outtakes-very funny, for classic fans. Kevin Michael Richardson as Panthro brings a bit of deep-voiced joy. Mumm-ra has new super-cool huge black wings when he comes into his power.
Thunder, Thunder, Thunder. ThunderCats HO! Just the hope of hearing that again will bring a lot of joy to anyone who grew up when the original show was on. While this newfangled ThunderCats isn't at all the same, it does bring the characters with their honor, their cool fighting moves, and fun equipment back to fight their immortal enemy. It isn't perfect, and it definitely tweaks some favorite back stories, but it's enjoyable if one can suspend all of the many, many little frustrations. Watching Mumm-ra fry as he tries to bring his evil powers, just as the sunlight came up, is thoroughly satisfying.
The reinvention of ThunderCats has yet to really bring it. It does have a little promise, if only just in the great logo.
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