Friday, July 29, 2011

Preview: ThunderCats

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Lion-O wields the Sword of Omens in ThunderCats on Cartoon Network
  • Cartoon Network/Warner Bros.
  • Lion-O wields the mystic Sword of Omens in ThunderCats
It was 1985 when Rankin/Bass Productions premiered their animated action series ThunderCats as part of the syndicated after school animation block that aired on most Tribune stations across the country. Every day, kids were glued to the set to watch Lion-O and his band of feline-humanoid warriors fight to create a new home on Third Earth and keep the evil mutants and their nemesis Mum-Ra at bay. Now 26 years later, Cartoon Network is giving the beloved series a reboot, complete with a new look, new characters and a new story. The new ThunderCats premieres Friday, July 29 at 8:00 p.m. on Cartoon Network.

In the original series, the Thundercats were a band of nobles: Panthro, Tygra, Cheetara, and WilyKit and WilyKat - assigned to protect a then cub Lion-O and the Sword of Omens as they escape the destruction of their home world, Thundera. Fleeing the Mutants invasion, Jaga, Lion-O's mentor, navigated their ship to a new planet, Third Earth while the others were placed in suspended animation to survive the long journey. The ship crash lands on Third Earth and upon awakening, they learn Lion-O's suspension capsule was damaged and he's grown to an adult. This sets up the premise of the various trials and moral lessons Lion-O learns along the way as the Thundercats set up their new home on the planet. During the '80's, the FCC required children's programming to be informational or have an educational component per episode. For the ThunderCats series, this involved a 30-second, moral recap at the end of each episode.

Those days are long gone and today's looser regulations for children's programming affords Cartoon Network to add new depth to the Thundercat mythos.

From left to right: Cheetara, Tygra, Lion-O and Panthro are the ThunderCats
In the first episode, Sword of Omens we're introduced to a new Third Earth, the home planet of the Thundercats. Things are very different from the original story line. The feline-based humanoid people of the planet are at the top of the food chain, their culture is based solely on tradition and mysticism, technology is a thing of folklore. Unlike the original series where they reside on the planet of Thundera, in this retelling, they live in the city of Thundera and governed by their king, Claudus. Lion-O, a young prince is somewhat of a rebel. He believes and collects technological trinkets and shirks responsibility of his royal pedigree requires. When faced with opposition, he's quick tempered and not afraid of a challenge. This is more evident when placed up against his older sibling, Tygra whose arrogant, cavalier demeanor stirs a vein of jealousy in the future king. Lion-O must embrace his birthright and giving the opportunity to wield the Sword of Omens for the first time as a rights of passage. Learning the power of the sword, Lion-O is trigger's his natural clairvoyant ability: sight beyond sight. In that instance, his psychic ability spies an unknown ancient figure with glowing eyes peering back at him.

In Ancient Spirits of Evil, the second episode, Grune, a decorated General of the Thundercats and close friend to Claudus returns to the kingdom from his quest to find the mythic Book of Omens. He originally set out on his mission with another celebrated general, Panthro, but comes back without the book, but accompanies a horde of captured lizard men as a token of his conquest and gift to his king. More importantly, Lion-O's true nature start to evolve. We learn he's not patterned after his strong-armed, militant father, but instead bares a more caring nature towards all people of Third Earth and strives for a peaceful coexistence with the other species of their homeworld. Naturally his father, Tygra and Grune, don't share his sentiment and see this a form of weakness that could spell the end for their empire. But we later learn that its not Lion-O's caring nature that threatens Thundera but another evil that is closer to home.

The palette and feel of the new series strips away the more-human-than-animal look of the characters and adds a lighter, beastly quality to them. The new ThunderCat universe takes its cues from more contemporary animation that typically borrow traits from longstanding anime themes and character concepts to separate it from its predecessor. Where in the original series the environment was bright and colorful, in the pilot episodes, the tones are much darker to support the new vision producers Sam Register (Teen Titans, Ben 10), Michael Jelenic (Batman: The Brave and the Bold) and Ethan Spaulding (Avatar: The Last Airbender) are trying to tell. In each of the producers' repertoire, they've had experience in balancing the appeal for both kids and adults by creating darker environs to set their often serious in tone - if not subject, episodic stage.

For die hards of the original ThunderCats series, you're in for a pleasant surprise. As long time fans, you'll see all the characters from the original series make an appearance in the pilot although their individual character stories are different from what you may expect. But everyone is there, including Slythe the toad-faced lizard man. Also, keep an eye out for later season additions as well like Jagara and Lynx-O. One noticeable change are the cheesy, educational elements that cluttered the story with simplistic and often laughable dialog. The show is moody and character driven - highlighting the all-too-human flaws you'd expect from an action series like this. Right out the gate, Cartoon Network pulls you into this new world with infinite possibilities for fans to conspire what happens next.

ThunderCats one-hour series premiere airs Friday, July 29 at 8:00pm. The series airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network. The original ThunderCats currently airs on Cartoon Network's sister channel Boomerang weekdays at 5:00 p.m.

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