If Judge David Johnson found himself engaged in a violent struggle against humanoid cat warriors, he'd go right for the garden hose.
Our reviews of Thundercats (2011) Season One, Book 1 (published December 14th, 2011), ThunderCats (1985) Season One, Volume Two (published February 14th, 2006), ThunderCats (1987) Season Two, Volume Two (published January 17th, 2007), Thundercats (2011) Season One, Book 2 (published July 21st, 2012), and Thundercats (1985) Season One, Part One (published July 12th, 2011) are also available.
"By the power of Gray—er, I mean: Thundercats! Ho!"
The ThunderCats, a squad of elite anthropomorphic feline mutant people, battle evil and swing their swords and howl a lot. Is this cartoon as cool as I recall or are my fond memories destined for the litter box?
Facts of the Case
Wow it's been a long, long time since I curled up with the ThunderCats. For those of you who have lost track of the mythos—and a complex one it is at that!—here's the skinny: The ThunderCats' home planet, Thundera, exploded (not unlike Krypton), forcing a handful of survivors to relocate to the world called Third Earth. There, the ThunderCats set up shop in a gigantic cat-shaped fortress called Cat's Lair and fought the forces of evil when needed.
Season Two, Volume One brings the first 34 episodes of Season Two on six discs:
Let's dig a little deeper. The core group of ThunderCats are: Lion-O, the Lord of the ThunderCats, an all around buff-kitty who smites all with his Sword of Omens, which extends on his command and casts the ThunderCats logo in the sky when help is needed (not unlike Batman); Panthro, the grizzled veteran of the bunch, serves as Lion-O's mentor while building giant war machines (not unlike Man-at-Arms) and playing with his nun chucks; Tygra, the bolo-sporting tiger-like warrior is supremely agile and is one of the few ThunderCats who wears pants; Cheetara, the hot (is that appropriate?) female of the group, is the fastest and boasts a powerful sixth sense; Wilykit and Wilykat are brother and sister and that's about it (not unlike Marcia and Greg Brady); Jaga is Lion-O's spirit guide, a dude who died piloting the ship to Third Earth but now pops up as a ghostly apparition to dish out guidance (not unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi); Snarf is the squat comic relief of an ambiguous species (not unlike Buddy from Charles in Charge).
Together, Lion-O and his pals defend Third Earth against an onslaught of villains, including Jackalman, Vultureman, Ratar-O, Hammer Hand the pirate, and the wacky villain super-team, the Lunataks. But all roads lead to the ThunderCats' supreme nemesis Mumm-Ra, an evil mummified bastard who, along with his equally evil undead bulldog Ma-mutt, constantly plots to defeat the ThunderCats and boot them off of Third Earth.
This show is vintage '80s animation, constructed solely as a way to move merchandise off of Toys R Us shelves. Jammed silly with outlandish characters and a variety of vehicles that just cry out to be forged from die-cast metal and packaged with fully posable figurines and missiles that really fire (!), ThunderCats is 22 minutes of marketing to 10-year-olds. Not a criticism, just an observation. This is of course coming from a guy that had multiple ThunderCat action figures so I more than actively participated in the symbiotic relationship: Lion-O and his crew wowed me with incoherent animated action spectacles and I forked over $5 for the ability to use Tygra's spring-loaded attack arm to flick my brother's ear until it bled.
The series is just as busy and crazy as I remember it. Two five-episode arcs kick the season off with much hullabaloo. "ThunderCats Ho!" brings three brand new characters to the fold, introducing Ben-gali, Pumyra, and Lynx-O (a blind ThunderCat), survivors from the original Thundera, three extra warriors for Lion-O's crusade for goodness and, more importantly, three more toys! "Mumm-Ra Lives" introduces the Lunataks, a long-running band of mutant bad guys led by a diminutive old woman riding around on something that looks like a cross between a walrus and Dick Butkus. The Lunataks will become main villains as the season unfolds, though their entrance is overshadowed by Mumm-Ra coming back to life and transforming into a super roid raging version of himself. The final five-parter is called "ThunderCubs," and appears near the halfway point of the second season. Here everyone except Lion-O is zapped with a curse that reverses the age process, and turns the 'Cats into children. Of course, he and Snarf need to get to the bottom of the mystery, as well as deal with the apparent reformation of Thundera and Mumm-Ra's diabolical scheme to take it over.
The rest of the episodes feature the usual mix of creatures and plot devices (e.g. The Sword of Plun-Darr, The Chain of Loyalty, The Mask of Gorgon), forcing the ThunderCats team to defeat whatever evil plan has been cooked up, while also learning appropriate lessons about trusting in oneself, or accepting responsibility, or forgiving one's enemies, or overcoming a disability, mixed with plenty of action and special effects. These episodes are busy and blustery, and I found Mumm-Ra and his damn dog excruciating, but overall, the ThunderCats still have claws.
Warner Brothers has treated this series well. The full frame transfer looks perfectly fine, and the animation, while not very smooth, was still cool. The original mono tracks do little to overwhelm, but considering how hectic this show is, that's probably a blessing. The only feature of note was an eight-minute look at the music for the series, featuring interviews with the composer, Bernie Hoffer. The Rembrandts (remember, the band that sang the Friends theme?) collect a paycheck by performing a ridiculous rendition of the ThunderCats opening title, and Hoffer appears again to do his own (clunky) version.
I enjoyed my trip back to Third Earth, though the insane plotting, more ridiculous characters than I could keep track of, and overall hyperactivity grew a bit overpowering. Still, they don't make cartoons like this anymore.
The accused are released to save the world and lick themselves.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "The Music of Thundero"
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