Thundercats (2011) – Review
Season 1, Episode 1 (“The Sword of Omens”) and Episode 2 (“Ancient Spirits of Evil”)
The new “reboot” of Thundercats is, without question, not the same show that aired in the mid-80s. Although it remains true to the spirit of the original and has numerous references to it, the new version definitely stands on its own. The changes to the 80s Thundercats are mostly welcome and interesting.
Rankin-Bass’ original “Thundercats” revolved a band of exiles from the doomed planet of Thundera: the Thundercats – a group pseudo-nobles occupying the upper echelons of the Thunderian caste system. Pursued by the mutants of Plun-darr, they manage to escape to the relative safety of another planet they christen “Third Earth.” The Thundercats, led by the inexperienced Lion-O (the Lord of the Thundercats by blood), attempt to rebuild their civilization on Third Earth while they thwart the schemes of the Mutants of Plun-darr, the Lunataks and the ever-living form of Mummra, a malevolent demi-god who can call on “Ancient Spirits of Evil” to imbue him with incredible powers and dominance over a large portion of the planet.
The revamped Thundercats series opens on Thundera with Claudus, the Lord of the Thundercats (voiced by Larry Kenny, the original Lion-O), ruling his people and attempting to mould his youngest son, Lion-O, into the great leader he is destined to become. Lion-O’s adopted brother, Tygra, has been skipped over as heir – a fact that irks him constantly as he see himself as more intelligent, experienced and skilled at combat than his upstart kid brother.
Prince Lion-O makes questionable choices along the way, disguising himself as a commoner and getting involved in a scrap with street thugs. He is assisted by a female stranger who, after throttling the assailants, introduces herself as Cheetara. The two set off together after Lion-O reveals to Cheetara that is he seeking a particular piece of technology. The Thunderians don’t use technology – they’re sort of a bad-ass group of Amish settlers. They have built great cities but they have done it without the use of technological advancements. Technology is something of a myth to the Thunderians; a taboo subject that keeps back street merchants in business, selling fake bits of the stuff to anyone who will buy it. Lion-O and Cheetara visit one such merchant, but Lion-O is convinced the piece of technology that’s he’s purchased is real.
Later on, Lion-O is tested by Claudus who commands him to wield the Sword of Omens (looking exactly as it did in the 80s) in order to prove his nobility. The weapon is brought in with great reverence by a group of clerics, one of whom Lion-O recognizes as Cheetara in ceremonial gear. The exercise ultimately fails as Lion-O, attempting to harness the clairvoyant powers of the sword, is frightened by the vision he sees. In an effort to save face he makes a joke of it (much to his father’s annoyance).
Outside the castle, an army of lizard slaves are slowly advancing to the gate. They are transporting a huge crystalline structure, atop of which stands Grune, a Thunderian general who is returning from a mission. Claudus greets the general warmly, but is saddened to learn that Panthro, Grune’s colleague on this particular quest, has died. With heavy hearts, Claudus welcomes Grune into the castle.
This sets into motion the real plot of the pilot episode, as Grune’s army of lizard slaves are revealed to not be slaves at all, but under the military command of Grune. The huge crystal is full of more lizard soldiers, including their leader, Slythe. Grune and Slythe, with the help of devastatingly powerful military technology, begin a massive attack on the Thunderian kingdom.
The pilot episode definitely takes several steps away from the original. The eliminating of the science-fiction element, at least from the Thunderian perspective, is an interesting one. A large part of the original show was the technology, the Thundertank and the various other vehicles (including those capable of space-travel) were very much on display. Interestingly, by eliminating the scope of inter-planetary travel from the concept, they’ve actually increased the scope of the show within its limited playing field. The seemingly xenophobic and insular Thunderian society has largely left their home planet unexplored which leaves the entire planet to mined for story ideas. The political and technological conflicts are also very intriguing. I definitely want to see more.
Silly characters like Snarf and Wily-Kit and Wily-Kat are all treated more seriously in this version. Snarf doesn’t talk, which is a stroke of genius. Wily-Kit and Wily-Kat are street urchins who pick-pocket to survive. The Thundercats introduced so far, Lion-O, Cheetara, Tygra and Jaga are all well fleshed out and more multi-facted than their original counterparts. The villains, Slythe, Grune and Mummra are all more dark and sinister than previously envisioned. Mummra especially has a mad quality to his performance that harkens back to the 80s version, but also makes him more menacing to the heroes. The real Panthro is only talked about in the pilot, so we’ll have to see how they introduce his character. Lynx-O, the blind “New Thundercat” added in Season 2 of the original show is shown in a cameo manning The Tower of Omens, in a nice, if fleeting, nod to the original show.
More akin to Lord of the Rings than to the original Thundercats – the battles, the locations and the design of the new show are incredible. Dark and violent, but also light-hearted in spots, the show definitely hits the mark.