Thundercats: A Purr-Fect Reinterpretation?
Who remembers Thundercats? I imagine a lot of people do. The show was quite popular when I was a kid, and the popularity has only grown as nostalgia sets in. Heck, you can probably find some random middle school kid who wasn’t even alive when the show was on sporting some Thundercats t-shirt (Don’t hate. They might be legitimate fans. Easy to do in this age of DVD and the internet!) However, much like other classic shows, I often wonder how many people actually REMEMBER Thundercats. As in what actually happened in the show, not just that it existed and the basic premise. A few years ago I dug up my old VHS tape of Voltron and I was shocked at finding plot points I never recalled or the fact that the characters would routinely change outfits mid-conversation for no reason. So when I think back to Thundercats, I often find gaps in my memory. Even when the last time I watched it was as recent as when it ran on Toonami (which was ’96 – ’98 I think, barely over a decade ago!) I find huge gaps in my memory of how things happened, especially in the later episode. I remember Lynx-O, Pumyra and Bengali but I don’t have the slightest memory of how they came to be part of the cast. The New Thundara storyline? Complete blank. Oh sure, I can look it up online. There’s wikis abound about old cartoons. However, it’s the memory that most people go off of and that is what informs the opinion. After all, if they made a new Superman movie where he couldn’t fly, just jump really high, would the average person going to see the flick remember that once the extent of Superman’s abilities was just to “leap large buildings in a single bound”? No! They remember Superman flying. So if Superman isn’t flying, they’re going to be bothered by it.
If you’re a fan of the original the first thing that is going to hit you is the striking difference from the original. When I say ‘striking’ I mean ‘resembles absolutely nothing in relation to the original show’. The Thundercats are not Superman substitutes fleeing the doomed planet Thundera before it blows up. Lion-o is not a little kid that grows old due to a stasis problem. Snarf doesn’t talk (Thank Jaga, he doesn’t talk). In fact, Thundera is a kingdom on what I can only assume is supposed to be the same Third Earth. It is the dominant kingdom that united all the other animal kingdoms under it (If you read between the lines, it’s kind of a disturbing thought that our heroes essentially conquered all the competition and now keep them under their boot). Lion-o is older by default, judging from his attitude and demeanor probably late teens or early 20’s and Tygra is now his adopted older brother (There’s some resentment there as Tygra is favored by both their father and the people to be the next king, but he can’t because he doesn’t share the bloodline) and Cheetara is a cleric under the very much not dead after four episodes Jaga.
The show in and of itself is structured very differently than how I expected as well. By the end of the two-part premiere, the team consists of Lion-o, Tygra, and Cheetara. That’s it. Oh we see Wily-Kit and Kat (who are street urchins, stealing their way through life in hopes of reaching the fabled lost city of treasure) and Panthro is mentioned (to be more precise, he is mentioned to be dead.) In fact, the full team isn’t assembled until the end of the fourth episode. I was expecting the usual ‘Series premiere is spent setting up the premise, establish the villain and assemble the team’. In this regard, we get a brief glimpse of the real villain (Mumm-ra appears but is stopped just before he transforms into his true form) and we focus mainly on his sub-ordinates the Lizard Army, the team is not fully assembled by the end, but it does do a fair job of establishing the situation by the end of the premiere.
Even after four episodes, the show has completely seperated itself from its predecessor. The characters are only the same in name and rough appearance and for what it’s worth, I’m loving it! The characters are interesting and there is honest to goodness conflict in and between them. Lion-o is thrust into position of leadership when he’s clearly emotionally not ready for it, Tygra constantly gives him grief for not being more like their father, and Cheetara attempts to comfort him. Snarf, Kit and Kat thus far are mostly for comedic relief, but thankfully they are not annoying in the least. I actually enjoy watching their antics. The villains aren’t blithering idiots and can actually formulate a plan. All in all, this show is good. Simply in structure, tone and narrative pacing. It’s not rushing itself to arbitrary goals, and actually has the feeling of being a more cinematic experience. While there are some nods to the original material, it’s not needed to understand the show and actually if you were two separate the two in your mind completely, it might help with enjoying the experience.
Speaking of that vehicle, this is another showed that has peaked by interest in terms of the ever-present debate of the role of technology in fiction. You see, Lion-o is obsessed with mythical fairy tales of his youth about this thing called “technology”. No one else believes it exists despite Lion-o routinely making his way to Thundera’s black market to purchase supposed pieces of this tech from beyond the city walls. Ultimately – Spoiler! – it turns out to exist, and is used to bring down Thundera. However, because of Lion-o’s insistence in its existence, he finds a way to use to his advantage and almost saves the day with it. Technology, although mostly used by the villains, is not portrayed as an inherently good or evil thing. It’s a tool. Which is precisely what it is in real life too. It’s nice to see that when a lot of shows and movies are more than willing to easily splatter the narrative brush around to paint technology as bad and nature is good. That’s a theme I could without. It drives me nuts. Technology and civilization are not diametrically opposed to nature in any way. To simplify them as such does disservice to supporters of both. Case in point: Fern-#$%&ing-gully. So to see technology portrayed in such a neutral light made me really happy. I hope they continue to explore the idea as the show progresses.
So the big question remains, should you watch it? I’d say that if you made it to this point without shouting “You gottta be [Expletive Deleted] kidding me!” that yes, you should check it out. If anything it is the beginning a potentially epic series of good vs evil with some interesting races and side stories thrown in and that is what I remember Thundercats being. Lot of weird creatures, good vs. evil, and cool machines. They hit all of my bases in my book and did a solid job world building a brand new interpretation of all the elements. Is it exactly the same? No. In my opinion, they tossed out a lot of the goofier unnecessary elements (Did the Thundercats need to be aliens from a dying planet?) and reworked them into something simpler while tying them into the overall plot. I’d recommend it to anyone willing to see a different version of an old cartoon.