Case Number 21761

THUNDERCATS (1985) SEASON ONE, PART ONE

Warner Bros. // 1985 // 267 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dawn Hunt // July 12th, 2011

The Charge

Thundercats...
Thunder thunder thunder thundercats ho!
Thundercats are on the move,
Thundercats are loose!
Feel the magic, hear the roar,
Thundercats are loose!
Thunder thunder thunder thundercats!
Thunder thunder thunder thundercats!
Thunder thunder thunder thundercats!
Thunder thunder thunder thundercats!
(Mumm-Ra's cry)
Thundercats...

Opening Statement

A group of mutant half-cats/half-humans crash land on a planet called Third Earth. They encounter both friends and foes as they struggle to create a new home for themselves.

Facts of the Case

Here's how the discs break down:

Disc One
* "Exodus" -- The population of Thundera is wiped out and only one small ship of survivors remain. Upon that ship are the noblemen (and woman) of Thundera. Lord Jaga decides the Thundercats don't need to be naked anymore and he gifts them with clothing and weaponry before he dies. Their ship crashes and the Mutants, enemies from Plun-Darr, are quick to follow them hoping to nab the Eye of Thundera, embedded within the Sword of Omens.

* "The Unholy Alliance" -- We meet Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living, and discover his fatal weakness is his own reflection while the Eye of Thundera's weakness is apparently tar. The other important thing we learn is the planet the Thundercats and Mutants are stranded on is Third Earth.

* "Berbils" -- Lion-O makes friends with the RoBear Berbils, a race of mechanical teddy bears. When he and the rest of the Thundercats save them from some giants and then Mumm-Ra, the Berbils repay their kindness by offering to help build The Cat's Lair, the Thundercats' new home on Third Earth.

* "The Slaves of Castle Plun-Darr" -- Wilykat and Wilykit find out the Mutants have enslaved a peaceful race of creatures called Brutemen. The Thundercats journey to Castle Plun-Darr to release them.

* "Pumm-Ra" -- You'd think upon meeting him that one of the Thundercats would go "Hmm. Pumm-Ra, you say? I know a bad guy named Mumm-Ra. Any relation?" But that would make the episode end a lot sooner.

* "The Terror of Hammerhand" -- The real terror here is how Hammerhand and his pirates insist on repeating almost every line of dialogue they have three times. Sheesh.

Bonus Features -- Featurette

Disc Two
* "Trouble With Time" -- While looking for a new power source Tygra falls victim to the Cave of Time which ages him to near-death. New friend Willa of the Warrior Maidens leads the rest of the Thundercats to the source of the cure.

* "The Tower of Traps" -- On a rescue mission, Lion-O and Wilykit make their way up the many levels of the tower he is imprisoned in. Each floor presents increasingly difficult challenges to overcome and by the time they're through the booby traps Lion-O is determined to confront the tower's owner. But when he finally does it's not what anyone anticipated.

* "The Garden of Delights" -- Tygra is drugged into thinking Mumm-Ra is a beautiful flower woman. He's busy with thoughts of his stamen and her pistil while he steals the Sword of Omens for her. But Mumm-Ra has his eye on Willa the Warrior Maiden for the role of queen so it's an awkward love triangle in the making.

* "Mandora the Evil Chaser" -- Lion-O's curiosity gets the better of him and he unwittingly frees three of the universe's most wanted felons, one of whom is a pickpocket. Thankfully the law is hot on their trail in the form of Mandora. Lion-O befriends her and together they use soap.

* "The Ghost Warrior" -- This goes from a new meaning to the term "ghost in the machine" to wtf in a hurry. If Grune is a ghost then how? If Grune is a Thundercat then how? And don't even get me started on Cheetara because wtf?

* "The Doomgaze" -- Are you guessing this episode has to do with eyes and staring? Well you're wrong. It's about how Lion-O should have been toast but was saved by a really long pause in the action. Okay, there were eyes and staring and the weirdest way to say "I'm not attracted to you" ever but still, Lion-O should be on a ship doin' the Time Warp again.

The Evidence
Thundercats is the story of a band of cat-like humans who crash land on a planet called Third Earth and their struggles to make the world a home. We have the various archetypes common to any quest piece and definitely prevalent in any similar show from the 1980s.

There's Lion-O (Larry Kenney, Silverhawks), the young untried leader of the group whose immaturity leads to dangerous situations he must face. His growth is what propels the show forward. Next is Panthro (Earle Hyman, The Cosby Show), the muscle of the clan who gives Lion-O the space he needs to mess up. Also present is Tygra (Peter Newman, Silverhawks), the closest to a father figure the Thundercats have. His counterpart is Cheetara (Lynne Lipton, Family Guy) the agile mother figure. Providing the youngling factor to the makeshift family are Wilykit (Lynne Lipton) and Wilykat (Peter Newman), whose desire to prove themselves also leads the group into danger. Appearing occasionally to impart a fortune cookie piece of wisdom is Jaga (Earl Hammond), the Obi-Wan Kenobi-like ghost of the former Lord of the Thundercats. Rounding out the usual suspects is Snarf (Bob McFadden), the mascot of sorts who at times is terrified of everything and also foolishly confrontational. He's been in charge of Lion-O's welfare for years and finds it difficult to see him as the leader instead of the little cub he helped raise.

What's good about this series is the lack of stand-alone episodes. There is a single story which plays out over these episodes. It can be boiled down to: a makeshift family on a new planet carves out a life together. But within that simple statement are so many threads which are dutifully explored over the course of the season. The team must trust each other and also must decide which inhabitants of this new world can be trusted. The world around them must be investigated but they must temper that curiosity with caution.

As with any series featuring a group, the leader is who we follow more consistently than any other character. With Lion-O having aged in space in body but not necessarily in emotional or mental maturity the show is able to place him in situations younger viewers can relate to. This was a smart move, else the show would have needed to revolve around Wilykit and Wilykat instead.

This is definitely one of the "one and done" shows. Meaning the bad guys really try only once to fight the Thundercats and then they're done for the episode. Mumm-Ra (Earl Hammond, The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers), whose battle cry sounds more like someone just dislocated his shoulder, makes a valid point when he states he is not the intruder but rather the Thundercats have busted in on his home turf. That doesn't justify him trying to wipe them from existence just about every episode, though. But he's not alone in wanting the Thundercats gone. Top of that list are the Mutants, Slythe (Bob McFadden), Jackalman (Larry Kenney), and Monkian (Peter Newman), whose bumbling attempts to get rid of the Thundercats provide a lot of humor for the series.

They are nowhere near as scary as Mumm-Ra, though, who frightened me back then and may still crop up in a future nightmare. He's known as the Ever-Living so it's not clear why he doesn't just wait for the Thundercats to die out so he can take over the planet. But I suspect he's the Ever-Living in part because he's also the Ever-Napping. Just about every episode with him has him going back to his sarcophagus to sleep and recharge.

But this "one and done" works for the show because it's about the lessons each of the Thundercats learns along the way more than about whom can kick the crap out of whom. Which is fortunate seeing as the Sword of Omens is lost just about every other episode and the Bat Signal would be more reliable than the Eye of Thundera in calling in all the Thundercats.

So while I would say the choice to make Lion-O the leader of the group is the strongest, the weakest element of the show is by far Snarf. If he's not referring to himself in the third person, he's bitching about how unappreciated he is. If he's not whining about Lion-O's lack of attention then he's complaining that Lion-O isn't around. When he isn't foolishly rushing headlong into a fight he's completely freaking out about being involved at all. His bipolar nature is grating and though he is intended to provide comic relief the Mutants end up stealing that role from him quite handily.

An important way this show is different from others in the genre is the reappearance of the new friends the Thundercats make. So often in shows of the decade we see a new friend in an episode and then they're gone, never to return again. But here the Berbils are seen again, as well as the Warrior Maidens, among others. It helps tie together the season long arc of the show, or at least this first part of it.

As far as extras go, there are not a lot. "Feel the Magic, Hear the Roar! Thundercats Fans Speak Out!" is a featurette (7 min) in which fans wax rhapsodic about the show. Filmed in 2005, this features superfans, most famously Wil Wheaton. It's just a recollection of favorites, but by far the best part is hearing a couple of them sing the theme song.

The video is flat. The color palette is muted and the look of the transfer is disappointing. It's definitely dated; you would not think this was made any time other than the 80s. It's not unwatchable by any means, however it would definitely benefit from a remastering. But the audio is what would really benefit from a once over. The mono is not kind to this series. This is especially upsetting when you consider Thundercats has one of the most recognizable and well-loved theme songs of the 1980s. Even just a stereo upgrade would bring out the sounds of the battles, and the weapons in particular. Lion-O's battle yell, the theme song for the Sword of Omens, so much could be enhanced and enjoyed more with a proper audio mix. But even with all its problems it's still reminiscent of 80s anime which I happen to enjoy as well, so I could overlook the problems for the most part.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

About five years ago Thundercats was released on DVD. That effort had 33 episodes on its Volume One. This one has 12 and has not corrected a lot of the problems with the original release. I have no doubt this is being released to help generate interest in the new cartoon Thundercats on Cartoon Network. It's an obvious scheme to snag even more money from those who purchased this the first time it was released.

Closing Statement

As a child of the '80s, it's practically in my DNA to like this show, and I do. I grew up with this and others of its ilk, and find its moral-in-every-story to be a formula I have long appreciated when it comes to kids' shows. The violence is never bloody or over the top, thus you can feel good about letting young people watch it today. Well, as good as you can feel when exposing them to violence I suppose. The stories are simple and thanks to their morality lessons are timeless in their own way. But with fewer episodes and the same issues as its predecessor there's no reason to plunk down the cash. Personally I'd pass on this until I knew whether or not a remastering in any form was forthcoming.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Dawn Hunt; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 70
Audio: 70
Extras: 70
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Portuguese)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Portuguese

Running Time: 267 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurette

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0088631/combined