Thoughts on “Thundercats”

So in the past I’ve picked up a number of cartoon shows that I watched when I was young and watched them.  I had seen “Thundercats” being offered in stores before, but it followed the very annoying model of breaking the seasons up into volumes and charging a surprisingly high price for them, so I didn’t bother getting them.  This model doesn’t work for me for two reasons.  First, I don’t like to pick up partial shows, because if I like them then I’d have to try to find the ones I couldn’t get (this is what bugs me the most about “Hot in Cleveland”, since I liked the show when I watched it but have never been able to find the rest of the series).  Second, the cost is always higher with this model, and since I often determine what I pick up on the basis of price per hour that means that when I do the calculations the show might not seem worth it (there are a number of shows that I come across now that I might have picked up if the price wasn’t so high, making it so that they aren’t worth taking a chance on).  However, I came across the complete series of Thundercats for a decent price, remembered the show — I actually even have a couple of the comics somewhere — and decided to pick it up.  When I switched over to watching half-hour shows, it was one of the first that I decided to get into.

The basic premise of the show is actually pretty dark.  Due to some force — that we discover later is actually the evil sword of their main villains — the planet Thundera is going to explode, and so all the cat-like creatures on the planet have to investigate.  This leads to an interesting moment where it is noted that the place they are going to — a planet called Third-Earth which is similar to out Earth but has completely different creatures and plants on it — is noted as being colder than Thundera so they have to … wear clothes.  Implying that they were naked to start with.  Huh.  Kinda daring for a 1985 cartoon.  And then the fleet gets attacked by their enemy — the Mutants — and almost every ship is wiped out except the one containing their young leader and the Thundercats who supported him.  They do manage to crash land on Third-Earth, and have to build a lair and some machines on this strange new planet.

What is interesting about the show is that it struck me as a transition stage between shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in line with shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the more modern Batman and Justice League cartoons.  The animations and the plots have the same sort of cheesy feel to them as the earlier shows, and then even have the block at the end of the show for the lesson.  On the other hand, they don’t actually put a lesson in that section most of the time, and most shockingly rely pretty heavily on continuity outside of two-parters or specific callbacks.  For example, the first few episodes shows the progression of the lair as it gets built, and the building of the Thundertank.  They also need Thundrillium for power, and a string of episodes focuses on them finding some, mining it, and dealing with the worthless — to them — gold it comes in alongside the existing problems.  While it doesn’t really have full arcs, there are a number of smaller arcs, even ones involving the main villain Mumm-Ra — he has to prove to the Ancient Spirits of Evil that he’s not incompetent or risk being replaced — that it plays out over repeated episodes.  It didn’t really get the idea of arcs or of deeper stories, but it is a step in the right direction.

The show was also fairly toy driven as well, and so they had to introduce new characters and vehicles on occasion.  For the most part, they do this fairly and show them being built and explain why they need them or where they come from.  But the problem with it is that they end up having too many characters and even villains to use properly.  This hit the Thundercats especially badly.  They introduced three new Thundercats, but outside of wise mentor Jaga they were barely used in the later episodes.  Tigra was also almost completely sidelined.  Panthro was still prominent, and Cheetara had her moments, but for the most part Lion-O — the leader — and Snarf were very prominent and a number of the others faded into the background.

This also happened to the original villains, but that was actually a good move.  They introduced a new set of villains called the Lunataks, who were more powerful than the original Mutants and displaced them.  However, the Mutants by that point were a complete and utter joke, and so seemed to pose no threat to the heroes, leaving the only real threat being Mumm-Ra (who was heavily used, probably for that reason).  A big part of this is that the villains were themselves very much He-Man-style villains, with the verbal tics and utter incompetence.  They came across as what you’d get if you took Beast-Man, Mer-Man, and Lock-Jaw and brought along Tri-Clops for some technical wizardry.  They lacked the competence and scheming abilities of Skeletor and Evil-Lyn, and so were nothing more than bumbling fools that would inconvenience the heroes at times, but couldn’t really be seen as a threat.

The problem with the Lunataks, however, is that they were too competent.  While I mentioned the He-Man villains above as a comparison, at least the Mutants weren’t characters that had one defining trait that the character was built around (instead being built as representations of animals).  The Lunataks, however, did.  So at the beginning they actually seemed like a step backwards to less potentially interesting villains.  But they were also too competent and powerful.  Any one of them was usually seen as a huge threat to the Thundercats, and all of them together should have overwhelmed them.  But they were insanely overpowered and overpowered in ridiculous ways in order to make them a real threat.  For example, one of them had mental abilities and so could take command of pretty much anyone through them.  Even Lion-O, who in a previous set of episodes had had to show that he could overcome mental domination and manipulation.  And even Tigra, who was the person who Lion-O had to defeat.  Yes, the villain could be just that much more powerful, but if you remember that trial the fact that neither of them seem to be any better at resisting him doesn’t ring true.

Eventually, though, they park these villains by having them all get captured and imprisoned, leaving Mumm-Ra as the main villain.  Mumm-Ra is basically a sorcerer-type villain like Skeletor, but he does pretty much overpower the Thundercats in raw power.  Only the Sword of Omens is really a threat to him, wielded by Lion-O.  He is also more clever than the other villains, and so some of his plots are actually interesting.  They also make an interesting move by giving him a mummy dog that he actually seems to care about, which can actually make him seem a little less evil.  Still, he’s definitely evil enough to justify being the main villain.  If there’s any flaw, it’s that his ultimate goal and relation to the Ancient Spirits of Evil is a bit vague.

Since the Sword of Omens is so important, it also gets overpowered by the end.  At first it has some very nice abilities — like warning of danger and calling the Thundercats — but by the end it can pretty much do anything, which requires either bumping up the threats to compensate or making us just expect the Sword to solve all the problems.  So that becomes a problem by the end of the series.

Thundercats is ultimately an odd show.  It’s often goofy, and sometimes that goofiness works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it has stronger arcs that play out and sometimes the arcs simply fail.  As I said, it seems like a transition from the goofy and cheesy cartoons to the more serious and deep modern cartoons.  It kinda works at that, but it neither has the charm of the early cartoons nor the depth of the later ones, so it forms a bit of an odd middle-ground that makes it interesting enough, but not as interesting as it could have been.

So, which closet is it going to end up in?  Trick question!  I have a shelf in my main closet for all of my cartoons.  However, it is good enough that I might watch it again, but it’s not one that I think I’ll look to rewatch any time soon (which puts it behind shows like “Justice League” and shows like “Transformers).

One Response to “Thoughts on “Thundercats””

  1. Accomplishments Update | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] of Tomorrow”, and then turning to the half-hour shows that were remaining by watching “Thundercats”, “Futurama”, and now being almost at the end of “Gilligan’s […]

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