First aired in 1985 Thundercats follows the adventures of a group of humanoid felines that are forced to leave their home of Thundera (which blows up) and crash land on 3rd Earth, a planet that is under the control of the Evil Wizard Mumm-Ra and must also contend with a group of Mutants from the Planet Plun-Darr. The series was rebooted in 2011 but only lasted a couple of seasons before it was cancelled, in this article, I am going to look at the 1980s series.
There was something that 1980s cartoons had that cartoons today severely lack, and if there ever was an example of a quintessentially 80s cartoon it would be Thundercats, a series which would educate a generation of children about truth, honour, justice and so on. But before I talk about the cartoon itself, let me give you a little info about the set up.
So the Thundercats have to abandon their home as it is about to explode, the group consists of Panthro (voiced by Earle Hyman), Jaga (voiced by Earl Hammond), Tygra and WilyKat (voiced by Peter Newman), Cheetara and WilyKit (voiced by Lynne Lipton), Snarf (voiced by Bob McFadden) and the young, one day, Lord of the Thundercats Lion-O (voiced by Larry Kenney). On their way to the home they have chosen to be the new Thundera, Mutants lead by Slythe (also voiced by McFadden) attack their convoy and cause damage to the ship, forcing Jaga to put the other Thundercats into stasis whilst he pilots the ship to the closest suitable planet - 3rd Earth. During the decades long journey he ages and ultimately dies before the ship reaches the planet, the vessel crashes, and the Thundercats emerge and must make the strange world their new home.
The mutants, however, are not prepared to leave the Thundercats alone, and whilst exploring the planet their own ship is shot down by the Immortal and self-proclaimed Ever Living Source of Evil Mumm-Ra. So the Mutants are also forced to make the planet their home and start their never ending battle to destroy the Thundercats forever.
As you may have worked out from my subtle hints during many of these reviews I first arrived on this planet in the early 1980s, and as I hung on the phone it was around the mid-80s that I started watching television. Naturally at the time I had no idea of the difference between different forms of entertainment on this planet and so had no issue watching a cartoon that was obviously intended for children.
So let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first, yes, the story of aliens landing on a planet and making it their home after theirs blows up has been ripped straight from the origin story of Superman. Plus Jaga, after he dies, he reappears to Lion-O throughout the seasons as a kind of ghost, now honestly I am not sure if all the Thundercats can see Jaga or if he only appears to Lion-O. It is established that no one else can see Jaga because they will comment if they witness Lion-O apparently talking to himself. His appearances echo rather heavily of Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars universe who appears as a kind-of ghost to Luke Skywalker to offer him advice and guidance.
In addition whilst the Thundercats are in stasis it is also stated that some aging does take place, now in the first episode Lion-O appears to be the same age as WilyKit and WilyKat, and yet when they emerge from the stasis pods Lion-O is now an adult and yet the other two are still children. Thundercats basically follows the adventures of Lion-O who’s body aged whilst he was in the pod but he still has the mind of a child and so must learn life lessons and how to take his responsibility as the new Lord of the Thundercats seriously.
The series started off with a couple of two-part episodes establishing everything but the majority of the episodes are self-enclosed. This allows non-fans to sit down and watch an episode without necessarily being familiar with the story. The length of the 1st Season is mind-boggling by today’s standards, you know how Family Guy has around 12 episodes in a season and even The Simpsons has twenty-two(ish), well the first season of Thundercats has around sixty, yes sixty, episodes. These days that would be at least five seasons worth, possibly six. There are re-occurring characters and themes but again it is not essential that you have seen the previous episodes to know what is going on. The episodes themselves are also pretty creative with the Thundercats having to contend with not just the Mutants, but also Mumm-Ra plus various other threats that the planet throws at them.
The Thundercats themselves are everything that childhood heroes should be, they are honest, they will protect the weak, and believe in truth, justice and honour. They follow the Code of Thundera. Looking back on the cartoon I remember thinking that if everyone on this backwater little planet behaved in the way the Thundercats do then this world might not be so bad after all. Honestly everyone should have grown up watching this cartoon because it teaches about the virtues of being good, honest and so on. The bad guys, the Mutants and Mumm-Ra, lie, backstab and betray one another in the hopes of gaining more power but naturally their efforts are always thwarted by the team work of the Thundercats.
The villains are also very entertaining, and like the Thundercats, they all have their own distinct personalities. Personally thought I absolutely adore Mumm-Ra, the self proclaimed Ever Living Source of Evil….
Now yes I get that he does not look that intimidating but he is also capable of transforming from his decayed and aged form into his Ever Living Form…
Now he looks like someone who can kick ass. The planet, 3rd Earth, is suggested to be none other than Earth, and it is hinted that Mumm-Ra was responsible for destroying the entire human race. The setting of this series therefore takes place thousands of years in Earth’s future when strange creatures have taken over in the wake of the elimination of the human race. How Mumm-Ra changes never gets old either, he speaks the words: “Ancient Spirits of Evil, transform this decayed form into Mumm-Ra the Ever Living!” I would love to meet whoever it was who thought that phrase up and shake them by the hand because I love that line. Plus Mumm-Ra always talks about himself in the 3rd person and that never gets old. I would love to meet the guy who voiced him and just ask him to order a pint in that voice because it would be awesome.
So not only do we have a rich variety of characters, settings, and locations but each of the Thundercats has their own music score that plays when they are on their own. The Thundertank even has its own theme. Even though I am an alien that is many thousands of years old by human standards I wanted a Thundertank when I was watching this (and in all honestly I actually had one), because like Mumm-Ra in his Ever Living Form, the tank is just so cool.
I could go on and on listing the great things about this show, that every episode has a moral to teach the young audience watching a lesson, how the Sword of Omens (Lion-O’s weapon) cannot be used for evil purposes, but if I did that then this review would be around twenty odd pages long. Twenty great pages but still a pretty long review and perhaps longer than a feeble human mind could cope with.
There are some issues with the show and one of the ones that I found to be a bit annoying was the continuity. For example in one early episode Panthro and Tygra say Lion-O was a natural at driving the Thundertank, yet a couple of episodes later, Lion-O is examining the tank and Snarf tells him that he has to be patient and wait for his first driving lesson the following day. How could he be a natural at driving the tank if he is yet to have his first lesson??
This happens quite a lot.
Very quickly the Thundercats discover that Mumm-Ra’s main weakness is that he cannot stand to see his own reflection, it’s something to do with not being able to see his own evil, yeah, I know. Anyway every time they fight him back, Mumm-Ra must return to his sarcophagus to regenerate, and at no point do any of the Thundercats think to simply stick a mirror in front of it so every time he emerges he’d see his reflection and have to close the lid again. Seriously guys, a full length mirror propped up against the sarcophagus and your troubles are over. There are a lot of these kinds of problems with the show, and whilst they are mildly annoying it is only after re-watching the series after being here for around three decades that I began to notice them.
The voice cast are also used for a variety of different characters and it can be a little distracting to have Mandora the Evil Chaser talking with the voice of Cheetara. Still if you look at the amount of characters the majority of the actors voice it is probably more surprising that you don’t recognise a bunch of the other times the same actors are voicing other characters.
Plus it doesn’t matter where any of the Thundercats are, when Lion-O summons them using the Sword of Omens and the Eye of Thundera they are always able to get to him within moments. The signal may have come from the horizon and whilst Cheetara can move pretty fast the others also get to where Lion-O is almost immediately even if it took Lion-O the entire episode to walk to a new location.
In addition almost everything has “Thunder” in front of it or a variation of it worked in there somewhere, the Thundertank, Thundrilliam, Thundranium, etcetera. Now Thundranium weakens the Thundercats, so it is a reoccurring theme to have that being used as weapons against them time and time again. So yeah basically just a rip off of Kryptonite. But you know what, picking holes in this show is like having a go at a puppy for being too cute and adorable.
The series got a reboot in 2011 and I did tune in to watch a few episodes but it couldn’t have missed the point of the original series more.
The thing is that show had to be gritty and have conflict between the Thundercats themselves, in the reboot there was a weird love triangle between Tygra, Cheetara and Lion-O, in the 80s show it was hinted Cheetara had feelings for Lion-O, but it never caused conflict between Tygra and Lion-O. Thankfully that show did not last long before it was cancelled, unfortunately it existed long enough for merchandise to be released and bring Thundercats back to the attention of the masses. I had a Thundercats belt-buckle for years before the show was revived and wore it proudly, but now whenever I see someone with a Thundercats T-Shirt or hat or whatever I cannot be sure if they are referencing the original and best 1980s show or the shitty 2011 reboot.
I have heard that there is a reboot of Ghostbusters in the works but as far as I am concerned it does not exist, similarly the reboot of Thundercats is all but expunged from my mind because this is the true version of the show and I cannot recommend highly enough that you track it down.
I have pondered my Thumb rating and whilst it is obvious that Thundercats is getting a Thumbs Up, that still does not do it justice. This show has inspired so much of my last thirty years, and until I got out into the world I thought this was how humans were supposed to behave. It wasn’t until I started dating that I realised what bastards humans can be. If everyone lived by the Thundercats Code of Thundera then this world would be a far brighter place.
In summary allow this unworthy alien to simply utter the immortal words “THUNDERCATS-HO!!!” and…er…here’s my rare Two Thumbs Up.
9.5/10 – A brilliant series that has self-enclosed episodes that are prefect to entertain the kids when they are having their dinner and can even teach the little ankle biters a thing or two about truth, honour, justice and how they should behave in the world.