I have a confession to make, I did not watch ThunderCats in the ‘80s. I’m the right age to have watched it, but it just didn’t appeal to me at the time. That did not stop me from uttering the famous phrase of, “thunder, Thunder, THUNDERCATS!” And now I get a second chance as Warner Bros. Animation (the current rights holder) is releasing a new version of this classic TV show. So, here’s my thoughts on the new ThunderCats unclouded by sentimentality.
The first thing that should strike you is the art style. While the original was animated in Japan (by a company called Pacific Animation Corporation, tangentially related to Studio Ghibli), this new ThunderCats is unapologetically done in modern anime style by Studio 4°C (The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends). The characters have been updated to appeal to the tween and teen market which it is aimed at. The anime stylizing suits the show’s anthropomorphic science-fantasy setting and the cinematic story.
Lets get this over with right away, this is not an animation for kids. It deals with mature themes. It’s not adult in a sex or language way, but the story is more influenced by Scandinavian and Greek epics and Shakespearean tragedy than the Saturday morning cartoons you might remember. Themes include social justice, familial responsibility, sibling rivalry, integrity, self-doubt, trust, betrayal and much more. In the first two episodes key characters die and there is huge upheaval in the society. There are consequences, both good and bad, for actions.
While watching the new ThunderCats two other shows kept popping into my mind, Avatar: The Last Airbender (a show made for tweens and loved by college kids of all ages) and How To Train Your Dragon. So far the new ThunderCats shares many themes with the latter. Father son conflict over life choices. Staying true to who you are and accepting who you are and how you fit into your society. And the new ThunderCats shows glimpses of Avatar: The Last Airbender in that it will take a small group of people on an epic journey that will change the world as they move through it. Already the actions of the main characters have had a influence and by the second episode the grand quest has been set up.
In the first two shows we’ve seen an anthropomorphic fantasy setting be reintroduced to mecha and guns due to the betrayal of one of its great heroes, an ancient enemy thought to be myth has reappeared and our plucky young adventurers have been given a quest to grab the McGuffin before the big bad does. The new creators have said they will be writing the show in story arcs, so after the quest for the McGuffin ends we’ll get a new adventure.
I’m liking what I see in the new ThunderCats. It has a mature story. It has causality and real consequences. It implies I will be rewarded for constantly watching it. But most of all, it is entertaining.