ThunderCats debuts tonight on Cartoon Network at 8 p.m. Eastern.
There will no doubt be clamor among ThunderCats audiences about the reboot’s authenticity to its 1980s predecessor. Which is ridiculous, and more or less an end-around in lieu of admitting that certain shows from our youth carry such sentimental gravity that we fear any new interpretation will somehow Yoko Ono that relationship. Sure, there’s been enough nth-generation Star Wars mutations to keep us weary, and the return of Beavis and Butt-Head feels a bit like it's poaching Generation Y’s designated nostalgic hitter and inserting it into an already rich lineup of contemporary slacker cartoon-comedy. But despite what 1,000 channels and 30 million Twitter feeds will tell you, pop culture is an opt-in proposition. In other words, you can always change the channel.
There’s little reason to get so worked up over ThunderCats, a pretty harmless merchandising nest-egg that admirably rivaled He-Man for afterschool animation supremacy. To the contrary, Cartoon Network’s hour-long “Sword of Omens” premiere—which, granted, is a somewhat indulgent running time—provides just the right balance of brainless fun and reassuring comfort food for those feeling whimsical, and a chance for parents to engage more enthusiastically in what their kids are watching.
The debut episode is a prequel of sorts to where the original series began. At some point in the not-too-distant past, Thundera is still the world’s preeminent superpower and the Thundercats its ruling class. Lion-O is an insecure teen, only beginning to have visions and grasp his potential; his adopted older brother Tygra is a condescending showboat consumed with jealousy that Lion-O will inherent their father Claudus’ kingdom; Cheetara is basically a Thunderpussycat Doll with absurdly enhanced assets and a plunging waistline; Panthro is mostly absent but in his brief appearance sports a luxurious few patches of hair; Snarf is still kind of hilarious, but not yet old enough to adorably utter his own name ad infinitum; and Wilyit and Kat are mere street kids pick-pocketing village sots for that night’s dinner.
What ensues over the next 44 minutes probably doesn’t require incisive detailing here. In brief, “Sword of Omens” illustrates the backstories of how Grune betrayed the T-Cats and joined Mumm-Ra and lizard-king Slithe’s renegade army and eventually rewards our patience with Lion-O’s very first commandeering of the titular blade, complete with his trademark, thrice-incanted “Thundercats!” and Hacksaw Jim Duggan-esque “Hooooo!” On the geekout meter, that moment registers at about 875,000.
People are also bound to quibble over the quality of animation, but settling on a polished-retro aesthetic was probably the right call. And there are some stunning sequences, particularly during a late-episode battle between the lizards and ‘Cats. In fact, there were moments of surprisingly blunt cartoon violence, in addition to some grim thematic turns and imagery that might briefly upset smaller children (Claudus’ death, etc.). And the voice work is, as one might expect, by turns melodramatic and precious. Industry vet Larry Kenney booms as fallen king Claudus, the great on-screen character actor Clancy Brown snarls and menaces as Grune, and Boy Meets World alum and regular voice actor Will Friedle is dutifully earnest and a bit naïve as young Lion-O. Entourage’s Emanuelle Chriqui purrs flirtatiously as Cheetara, although she’s the only cast member who doesn’t quite lose herself in the process. It’s hard not to watch her female cleric utter dialogue and think, “Hey, it’s Sloan! But weirdly sluttier!”
Suffice it to say, Cats 2.0 doesn’t reinvent the Thundertank wheel, but that’s kind of a built-in conceit. However, it does indicate both a surprising faithfulness to the franchise’s origins and appears as if it’s going to offer some new revelations and adventures for younger fans. For adults, “Sword of Omens” is cozy memory-lane personified. For moms and dads, the ensuing season hopefully proves worth the price of fleeting nostalgia, because now their sons and daughters are probably hooked. Mwahaha!
- Hopefully, this cast will be more self-aware during outtake moments in the booth.
- Seriously, what were they thinking with Cheetara? Don’t be shocked to see her dressing more discreetly after inevitable parent complaints. Unless it’s the parents she was designed for.
- Mumm-Ra is actually pretty terrifying as cartoon villains go. I mean, if you’re a kid and stuff.
- I assume a new line of merchandise is to follow as well? I mean, Warner Bros. didn’t buy the original show rights from Lorimar just to watch future dividends collect Thunder dust.
- I contemplated actually dissecting present allegories for how the show integrated themes of technology, mercy, and such, but, I mean, yeah.
- Yes, it’s OK to excuse yourself for stumbling on this and enjoying it because you were allegedly stoned. The show I mean, not this singular stray observation.