You should all find this familiar.
Many people of my generation get worried when there is to be a new remake of something we considered classic. I am mostly referring to 80s cartoons here and the most obvious example here is the hugely popular Transformers franchise. A classic animated series that was created by an American studio who wanted to cash in on the success of the many Japanese cartoons that were being imported at the time. And it was iconic and successful, however, the fans who found it iconic cry out in fury at the live action films. In theory the films have everything a hardcore fan always wanted, hugely impressive robots storming around cities we recognise and turning into cars and stuff. I think their main issue is there isn’t enough robot and too much “one man against the universe” action type movie. We have action movies. Matt Damon is responsible for a significant number of them as well. What we don’t have is a series of movies about giant robots battling for supremacy while teaching us human values of right and wrong. That’s what the films missed, it was all about some guy saving the world and his gang of personality deficient alien robots.
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Having said that, the modern animated series did capture much of what we loved about the original. Sure it was all CGI now and in many cases seemed a bit childish (yes I know I’m writing about cartoons but they can be aimed at older or younger audiences and I think I know roughly where I draw the line of something being “too young” for me) but it was mostly about the robots and their ongoing conflicts with the humans being around as support characters. The two videogames I played were also fine, the first being Transformers: Armada, a fun 3rd person shooter that felt like the modern cartoons and had a nice strategic edge where you had to decide what Mini-Con load out to take with you. Each Mini-Con took up a certain amount of energon of which the player only had a certain amount. The better Mini-Cons gave better abilities but also took more energon, limiting the exact load out you could take. There were also some Mini-Cons that worked better with each other and didn’t take up so much energon. I liked it. The second was Transformers: War for Cybertron, another 3rd person shooter (with somehow worse controls than the PS2 game) with less in the way of customisability but was more in line, graphics-wise, with the live action movies. It also provided a nice prequel story to the movies and didn’t have any pesky humans getting in the way. You got to play as Optimus, Megatron and a whole load of other characters including Starscream who delightfully shrieked his way through the game.
Not so familiar
“But what of the Thundercats re-imagining?” I hear you cry. The best thing to start with is the character design and artwork since those will be the parts that will be most familiar to the fans. Or will they? Lion-O as some pointy haired kid? Panthro with Wolverine mutton-chops and male-pattern baldness? Cheetara without her sexy leotard and no extending quarterstaff? G.I. Tygra?
I can imagine your nerd-rage. “WTF is this?!” you may say, “They are just pandering to the masses! Just because some exec at Cartoon Network saw the success of Pokémon, it doesn’t mean you have to anime up the classics!” Well, yes. But you know what is successful? Pokémon. Yeah, it’s a clean style that you can do a lot with. The original Thundercats cartoon was created as a response to the popularity of the Japanese cartoons that were being imported and licensed in the USA, but Japan never went away. It kept making more cartoons and developing it’s style just like the Western cartoon makers did. Both sides have borrowed styles from each other. Just look at Teen Titans for a great example. It takes the grimdark Batman: The Animated Series style and adds enough Japanese cutsyness to make it a more fun environment. Talking of Batman: The Animated Series, did you know that one of the Studios that worked for the Batman series was Japanese? And after the Batman series was finished they went on to create The Big-O, which is a giant robot show set against a grimdark film noir backdrop.
Typical scene from the original Thundercats: Standing and laughing and Snarf
So leave you preconceptions at the door and I will get on with why they all look different, besides the anime feel. I should point out right now that despite appearances, the character designs are pretty similar to the originals. The differences though explain a whole new and interesting story.
Lion-O is a spiky haired kid.
Yeah. He sure is. To understand why, you need to know that Thundercats 2011 has a completely different plot to the original. Instead of them arriving on third earth in a space ship crash, the cats already have an established society in a huge fortified city. Instead of them fleeing from some unseen catastrophe, they are firmly dominating their piece of the planet and in fact marginalising the other sapient animal species. That’s right, the Thundercats are top dogs. The Lizardmen are introduced early as aggressive barbarians although they claim they attack cat settlements only as a last resort to steal much needed food. This is certainly different from the original series where the lizard’s were always chaotic evil, and the cats are not always as heroic as they like to make out. And so we have Lion-O, younger brother of Tygra and heir to the throne. Why they look so different when they are brothers and why Lion-O is heir is not explained beyond “bloodlines” or something. Maybe the cat type you are born with is random and only lions get to be king. Either way, Lion-O has a reputation for goofing off from his princely duties to go hunting mythical technology.
Most of the series covers his emotional growth into his role as a just king, all while hunting for various artifacts and fending of Mumm-Ra. One of the things that always seemed a bit odd in the original series was that Lion-O was fully grown but totally acted like a man-child. If you didn’t know he was a man child, then you could be forgiven for thinking he had some kind of brain problem.
Tygra has a pistol.
He still has a whip/bolas arrangement that enables him to go invisible mid battle. The pistol is just for clearing out mooks and there are a lot of mooks. The green armour presumably has something to do with the fact that he is regarded as the stealth expert and most of the fighting is done in the jungle. Big deal. Of course with him being bigger and stronger than lion, a better more dedicated fighter and constantly telling people he should be king, that green combat gear wouldn’t represent his envy would it?
Cheetara is not wearing a sexy leotard!
Because she is wearing sexy shorts. She is still quick and batters people with her extendable staff. She also flirts with Lion-O and Tygra causing sexy tension. Still the same Cheetara, though since most of the focus is on Lion-O she doesn’t get much screen time until there is a fight. Luckily there is most of an episode showing her early life in a flashback. The series likes a good flashback!
Jaga gets more of a role…
Not much more, but he is head of the cats clerics; the elite personal guard of the king. They get to utilise mysterious magics and super speed while every other fighter in the army gets to thump with swords. One time mentor of Cheetara, he tasks her with helping Lion-O and Tygra escape with the Sword of Omens when the city of Thundera gets attacked and destroyed. [Spoiler Alert] Jaga has a way worse time in this series compared to straight up dying in episode one of the original.
Panthro. Just Panthro.
He gets to be a seething ball of rage instead of the gentle giant. No sure how I feel about this one. I blame the current popularity of Wolverine for this and also his face hair. He is bald still, but not quite in the same way. It kind of looks like he lost his hair through steroid abuse, which would also explain his ‘roid rage.
WilyKit and WilyKat are less annoying!
I don’t know if everyone found this pair pointless, but I did. They are also just in the new one for comic relief, but keep their jerking around to a minimum.
Shut up Snarf.
And so he did. I feel like the makers of the new show really were fans of the old one. They have left a few surprise references in there and brought back all the old characters, whether they were good or not, but made the characters better. So in summary: Snarf doesn’t talk, everyone else gets character development.
The plot itself is actually huge and sprawling. Mumm-Ra is mostly behind everyone’s troubles like always although his motivations are completely different (apart from that motivation that he still likes to be a douche.) It takes some pretty big flashbacks to establish why all the various animal races are mistrustful of each other and what Mumm-Ra’s deal is.
The animation is slick and keeps recycling to a minimum. There are a few bits, but I won’t begrudge them. All of the old cartoons in the 80s recycled huge amounts, sometimes from different shows as well. New Thundercats has to make a profit so I don’t mind if they cut the odd corner. It’s not hugely obvious and certainly doesn’t break the flow.
In conclusion, I think it did a pretty good job. I would even go as far as saying it is slightly better than the original. Now, nerds. Commence your flaming.
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