September 04, 2021

THUNDERCATS ROAR

 

THUNDERCATS ROAR
(Cartoon Network, February 22-December 5, 2020)
 
Warner Bros. Animation



 
 
            ThunderCats is a media franchise that takes and blends inspiration from a variety of sources in the action and sci-fi genres. The first entry was an animated series produced by Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment based off of a concept by Ted “Tobin” Wolf.



            The ThunderCats were a race of humanoid cat people that lived on the planet Thundera. The planet ultimately ended up being destroyed, however a handful of survivors escaped on a spaceship inside suspended animation pods (ala Superman). Amongst them were the noble warrior and engineer Panthro (Earle Hyman) who wielded nunchaku containing various chemical spray compounds; the nimble and stealthy Tygra (Peter Newman) whose bola whip could render him invisible; the fleet-footed Cheetara (Lynne Lipton) armed with a collapsible bo staff; young twins WilyKit (Lipton) and WilyKat (Newman) who both utilized a variety of gimmick weapons fired from their slingshots; young prince Lion-O (Larry Kenney); his nursemaid, Snarf (Bob McFadden); and Jaga the Wise (Earl Hammond), once regarded as the mightiest and greatest of the ThunderCats. They landed on Third Earth (a future version of our Earth) where it’s discovered that Lion-O’s pod had been broken, resulting in his body aging although his mind was in stasis, and while Jaga died from old age piloting the ship his spirit remained to offer guidance and aid to Lion-O (like force ghosts in Star Wars). Eventually, they would be joined by additional survivors: skilled blacksmith Bengali (Newman), blind warrior Lynx-O (Doug Preis), and healer Pumyra (Gerrianne Raphael).

Promotional poster showing the ThunderCats, their lair, and Mumm-Ra.


            As the ThunderCats resolved to make the best of their new home, making allies and friends along the way, they unfortunately weren’t free from threats. The Thunderians’ natural enemy, the Mutants of Plun-Darr, followed them to Third Earth to try and take the Sword of Omens—a powerful weapon wielded by the leader of the ThunderCats that could fire bolts of energy and utilize the Eye of Thundera in the hilt to both see great distances or summon fellow ThunderCats for aid. The Mutants were comprised of their Reptilian leader Slithe (McFadden); the cowardly and distrustful Jackalman (Kenney); the no-good and shifty Monkian (Newman); and crafty opportunist and inventor Vultureman (Hammond). Along with Slithe, Jackalman and Monkian’s respective people, the Mutants would eventually be joined by Ratar-O (McFadden), the most cunning and evil of the Mutants.

Character model sheet.


            However, the biggest threat to the ThunderCats came in the form of Mumm-Ra (Hammond). Mumm-Ra was an ancient mummy wizard who lived on Third Earth since it was First Earth. He served the Ancient Spirits of Evil (all Hyman) to bring evil to the planet. He was able to transform from his frail mummified form into a massively powerful being for a time, before having to return to his sarcophagus to recharge. His only true companion was his demonic Bulldog Ma-Mutt. With Mumm-Ra’s powers stranding the Mutants on Third Earth, they often found themselves following his bidding.

The Mutants: Monkian, Slithe, Jackalman and Vultureman.


            ThunderCats aired in syndication from September 9, 1985-September 29, 1989 over the course of 4 seasons and 130 episodes, with Leonard Starr serving as the head writer. A film, ThunderCats - Ho!, was set to be released theatrically until Transformers: The Movie and My Little Pony: The Movie bombed at the box office, resulting in it being broadcast on television and later split up into episodes of the series. The series was heavily marketed, featuring things like a clothing line, action figures and toys by LJN, a video game, and comics published by Marvel and Marvel UK with later books from DC Comics. A film adaptation has been in development hell since at least 2007.



            In 2011 Cartoon Network aired a reboot of the series developed by Ethan Spaulding and Michael Jelenic (parent company Warner Bros. had acquired the rights to the franchise in 1989), which would take on a darker tone than the original. In this version, Thundera was a kingdom located on Third Earth that was attacked and destroyed by Mumm-Ra (Robin Atkin Downes) and his army of lizard people armed with advanced technology; something that was foreign to the Thunderians who lived an almost medieval lifestyle. Lion-O (Will Friedle), already a teenager, was among the survivors of the massacre and fled the city with his older adopted brother Tygra (Matthew Mercer), his former mentor and cleric warrior Cheetara (Emmanuelle Chriqui), loyal soldier Panthro (Kevin Michael Richardson), street urchins Wilykit (Madeleine Hall) and Wilykat (Earmon Pirruccello), and Lion-O’s caretaker Snarf (Satomi KĊrogi). The ThunderCats found themselves on a quest to not only unite the various species of Third Earth, but find the lost Book of Omens in order to defeat Mumm-Ra. Additionally, they had to keep Mumm-Ra from finding three stones of power that would make him all-powerful.

The 2011 versions of Tygra, WilyKit, Lion-O, Panthro, WilyKat, Snarf and Cheetara.


            ThunderCats debuted on Cartoon Network on July 29, 2011. Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass served as consulting producers, making this their final collaboration before Rankin’s death in 2014. Kenney also returned to voice Lion-O’s father, King Claudus. 52 episodes were planned, mapped out in 13-episode story arcs, but the series was cancelled after a long hiatus following the conclusion of the first season. Many blamed the network’s poor scheduling and constant time-shifting for its failure to find a viable audience. Like the previous series, a toyline accompanied it produced by Bandai, who also made figures based on the classic designs, a comic series from Panini Comics, and a video game.



            In 2018, it was announced that Cartoon Network was trying again with another reboot of the franchise called ThunderCats Roar. This time, it would be a comedy series lovingly spoofing the original developed by Victor Courtright and Marly Halpern-Graser. The announcement came in the form of a 3-minute video featuring Lion-O (Max Mittelman) introducing some behind the scenes footage with Courtright explaining the concept of the show, followed by a brief clip of the animation in action. Fans of both previous versions of ThunderCats expressed their displeasure (and not always politely) over the new series’ look and tone, drawing unfavorable comparisons to Teen Titans Go! which itself was a more comedic reboot of the earlier Teen Titans series. Go! would make a response to this criticism in the season 5 episode “Teen Titans Roar!”, written by Roar consulting producer Jelenic.

The latest Cheetara, Tygra, Lion-O, Snarf, WilyKit, WilyKat and Panthro.


            As with the original series, the ThunderCats escaped the destruction of Thundera and crash-landed on Third Earth along with the Mutants. They became the target of Mumm-Ra (Patrick Seitz) after destroying his Doomstaff and freeing the planet from his tyranny. While the character designs by Roxann Cole and Jacob West were evocative of the originals with a more cartoonish flair, the characters’ personalities were done over in the new comedic mindset. That fact that Lion-O was a boy in a man’s body was played up by making him extremely bratty and impetuous, never considering the consequences of his actions. Tygra (Seitz) was the most civilized of the group, enjoying tea and books, and often spoiled the others’ fun by trying to keep them out of trouble. Panthro (Chris Jai Alex) remained an amazing inventor and mechanic, but his love of his creations was ramped up to the point where he hated anyone messing with his devices. Cheetara (Erica Lindbeck) was vain and boastful, always looking for attention. Wilykit (also Lindbeck) loved breaking things and was more about using her brawn than her brains. Wilykat (Mittelman) was a bit more disciplined than his sister, but shared her knack for getting into trouble. Snarf (Courtright) was not only Lion-O’s pet, but revealed himself to also be, at least in part, a robot containing a variety of weapons and gadgets used to protect his master. Jaga (Kenney) was given a bit of an ego and more of a sense of humor.

The Mutants up to no good.


            Along with Mumm-Ra, the Ancient Spirits of Evil (Alex), Slithe (Trevor Devall), Vultureman (Dana Snyder), Monkian (Jim Meskimen), Jackalman (Andrew Kishino) and Ratar-O (Crispin Freeman), returning characters included the Berbils, industrious robotic bears that loved building things (even for the bad guys); Mandora (Lindbeck), an intergalactic police officer who gets annoyed at Lion-O’s antics; Mumm-Rana (Kaitlyn Robrock), Mumm-Ra’s good counterpart who spent her time disguised as an old lady at craft fairs; Safari Joe (Devall), an intergalactic big game hunter; the Berskerers, a group of cybernetic Viking pirates that would do anything for gold; and Grune, an evil ThunderCat who attempted to overthrow King Claudus (Andrew Morgado), among others. Newly created for the series was JanJan (Romi Dames), Cheetara’s number one fan who became CEO of her corporation; Lion-S (Robrock), Lion-O’s long-lost criminal sister; Boggy Ben (Seitz), a typical monster with a sense of humor; and Barbastella (Danielle Pinnock), the queen of the bats, among others.


Mumm-Ra chilling out with some tunes.


            ThunderCats Roar was meant to begin airing in 2019, the 30th anniversary of Warner Bros. owning the rights, but was held over until 2020. The first two episodes, the two-part “Exodus”, aired on the Cartoon Network app first on January 10th and then as a preview on February 17th before making its official network debut on February 22nd. Each episode was 11-minutes in length, written by Courtright and Halpern-Graser along with Bryan Condon, Ben Crouse, Lesley Tsina, Molly Knox Ostertag, Eric Knobel, Ben Joseph, Cait Raft, Justin Becker, Connie Shin, Laura Sreebny, Steve Clemmons and Joan Ford, who was the only staff writer and wrote the outline for almost every episode on top of several full scripts. While some episodes were updated retellings of classic ThunderCats episodes, like “Exodus” and “Grune”, others explored new concepts exclusive to the series, like Cheetara becoming a successful businesswoman with her own company in “Working Grrrl” after Monkian bests her at being fast. The theme, “Thunder NeKo”, was written by Noko and performed by their group Shinsei Kamattechan. The rest of the series’ music was composed by Matthew Janszen while also making heavy use of the original series score by Bernard Hoffer. Animation duties were handled by Sunmin Image Pictures Co. (as SMIP Co. Ltd.). Bass once again served as a consulting producer.

Riding off into the sunset...for action!


            Unfortunately, the series fared about as well as Cartoon Network’s previous attempt and was cancelled 9 months after it began airing due to low ratings. The cancellation was confirmed by Halpern-Graser on his Twitter account on November 20, 2020, when he announced that only two more episodes remained after that day’s episode had aired. Currently, ThunderCats Roar is available to purchase on the iTunes store, Amazon Prime, Google Play, and Vudu   or to view on the Cartoon Network website, Spectrum On Demand and Direct TV.
           
 
 
EPISODE GUIDE:
“Exodus” (1/10/20 app, 2/22/20 TV) – The ThunderCats escape the destruction of their planet only to be shot down onto Third Earth by the Mutants.
 
“The Legend of Boggy Ben” (2/29/20) – To open a jar of delicious cookies Lion-O and Cheetara go after a legend.
 
“Prank Call” (2/29/20) – Lion-O ends up causing some trouble while trying to prove to the ThunderKittens that he’s not a stuffy adult.
 
“Driller” (3/7/20) – Panthro tires of constantly having to fix things in the lair just as a destructive robot pays them a visit.
 
“Secret of the Unicorn” (3/7/20) – Tygra needs to get a unicorn to stop crying long enough to tell him who took her friends.
 
“Panthro Plagiarized!” (3/14/20) – Vultureman steals Panthro’s plans for a gravity-manipulating device and uses it to conquer the planet.
 
“Warrior Maiden Invasion” (3/14/20) – A tribe of warrior maidens capture the ThunderCats and lay siege to the planet.
 
“Lost Sword” (3/21/20) – Lion-O accidentally loses his sword in Mutant territory and Mumm-Ra takes an alternate form to befriend Lion-O to steal it when he finds it.
 
“The Horror of Hook Mountain” (3/21/20) – A friendly snowman and his tiger take Lion-O and Tygra in after they end up stranded on a mountain, but Tygra is suspicious of their hosts.
 
“ThunderSlobs” (3/28/20) – Accidentally leaving Tygra behind at Mumm-Ra’s pyramid leads the ThunderCats to discover that they’re all slobs.
 
“Working Grrrl” (3/28/20) – After losing a race to Monkian, Cheetara becomes a successful businesswoman.
 
“Mandora – The Evil Chaser” (4/4/20) – Lion-O ends up in trouble with the law when he accidentally frees an entire space prison full of criminals.
 
“Dr. Dometome” (4/4/20) – Mapping the planet’s beaches leads to Lion-O accidentally draining all the oceans.
 
“Study Time” (4/11/20) – When Tygra gives Lion-O a pop quiz, he accidentally opens a portal to the astral plane and released the Netherwitch on the world.
 
“Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living” (4/11/20) – Mumm-Ra realizes he doesn’t need the restorative trinkets that the ThunderCats keep destroying when he has the Ancient Spirits on his side.
 
“Berserkers” (4/18/20) – Lion-O and the ThunderKittens happily get out of cleaning duty to deal with robot pirates hired by Mumm-Ra to attack them.
 
“Jaga History” (4/18/20) – Jaga’s spirit is freed from the astral plane and tells the ThunderCats how their planet was destroyed.
 
“Barbastella” (4/25/20) – Testing a new invention leads Panthro to befriending the Queen of Bats—unfortunately, he’s afraid of bats.
 
“Adopt a Jackal” (4/25/20) – Jackalman accidentally goes home with the ThunderCats and feigns amnesia to keep from being incarcerated.
 
“Summer Fun Day!’ (5/2/20) – Bored of constant fighting, the ThunderCats decide to spend the day at the beach—where they’re constantly attacked by Crabmen.
 
“Safari Joe” (5/2/20) – The ThunderCats decide to turn the tables on the hunter that keeps capturing them.
 
“Ratar-O” (5/9/20) – The Mutants’ old leader arrives to shake up their losing streak.
 
“Prince Starling’s Quest” (5/9/20) – Lion-O doesn’t realize that he tramples a tiny village while playing, leading its leader to find a way to become a giant and slay him.
 
“Lion-S” (5/16/20) – Lion-O believes he found a kindred spirit in Lion-S, not knowing she’s an escaped convict on the run.
 
“Snarf’s Day Off” (5/16/20) – Snarf spends the day with a nice old lady and discovers Mumm-Ra in disguise at a craft fair trying to peddle hypnotizing ceramic frogs.
 
“Mumm-Ra of Plun-Darr” (3/23/20) – Mumm-Ra gets the Sword of Plun-Darr, allowing him to regain his giant form and lead the Mutants to victory over the ThunderCats.
 
“Mandora’s Law” (11/2/20) – Tygra creates laws for the planet so Mandora can arrest the Mutants, but the ThunderCats have a hard time following the laws themselves.
 
“Thunder Road” (11/2/20) – A race is on to find a crate of 50 Swords of Omen that crashed on the planet.
 
“Corporate Buyout” (11/3/20) – Cheetara and Jan-Jan head out in search of the office of the man who stole their company.
 
“Hachiman” (11/3/20) – Lion-O will risk anything to prove he’s as cool as Samurai warrior Hachiman.
 
“Schnorp” (11/4/20) – The ThunderKittens skip out on a nature hike and find an old video game in the attic that turns Snarf into a yodeling nature-lover.
 
“Berb-cules” (11/4/20) – When the Berbils decide to reclaim their technology from everyone, the ThunderCats find themselves allied with the Mutants.
 
“Pumm-Ra” (11/5/20) – Mumm-Ra attempts to infiltrate the lair in disguise.
 
“King of the Machines” (11/5/20) – When Barbastella reunites with her ex-girlfriend, a jealous Panthro attempts to become King of the Machines by installing an AI into everything.
 
“Sword Heist” (11/6/20) – Lion-O enlists Lion-S and her crew to steal a sword from Ratar-O.
 
“Claudus” (11/6/20) – King Claudus has survived Thundera’s destruction and arrives on the planet, but it’s not a completely happy reunion.
 
“Telethon” (11/9/20) – To rescue the Berbil’s from space the ThunderCats have Cheetara run a mental telethon to raise the material they need, but it drives her mad with power.
 
“Mall-Ra” (11/9/20) – Mumm-Ra attempts to drive the ThunderCats crazy by trapping them inside a mall.
 
“Eclipsorr” (11/10/20) – Panthro builds a new spaceship when the Eclipsorr Corporation takes control of the sun.
 
“Wizz-Ra” (11/10/20) – The ThunderCats smash every surface the terrifying Wizz-Ra appears in.
 
“ThunderDogs” (11/11/20) – The ThunderCats attempt to find an owner for a demon dog from the astral plane.
 
“Mini Mongor” (11/12/20) – The ThunderKittens accidentally release a demon that feeds on fear, however he’s a bit too puny to be putting the fear into anyone.
 
“Swampy Johnny” (11/13/20) – The ThunderCats meet a cool crooner whose coolness distracts them from realizing the connection he has to a raging storm.
 
“Tygra’s Garden” (11/16/20) – Tygra’s engagement to a sentient flower has him quitting the ThunderCats.
 
“The Space Beam” (11/17/20) – The Mutants fight amongst themselves to win the chance to be brought back home.
 
“Plundsmas” (11/18/20) – The ThunderCats decide to help reinvigorate the Mutants’ love of their favorite holiday.
 
“Killing Time” (11/19/20) – Mumm-Ra decides to nap for 1,000 years until the ThunderCats die off, only to awaken and find the planet loves them more than ever.
 
“Grune” (11/20/20) – The ghost of evil ThunderCat Rune seeks his revenge on the ThunderCats.
 
“The First Thundsgiving” (11/21/20) – To make up for eating the last of Tygra’s Thunderian ingredients, the others head out to find suitable Third Earth replacements.
 
“Mandora Saves Christmas” (12/5/20) – The ThunderCats must help Santa evade Mandora and get off of Third Earth.

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