Max Mittelman – Lion-O, WilyKat
Patrick Seitz – Tygra, Mumm-Ra, Mayor Fungustus, Boggy Ben, Meek Alien
Erica Lindbeck – Cheetara, WilyKit, Topspinner, Mandora the Evil-Chaser
Chris Jai Alex – Panthro, Ancient Spirits of Evil, Cruncher, Space Crook
Victor Courtright – Snarf, Mumm-Randall
Larry Kenney – Jaga
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).
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.
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.
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 Kōrogi). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.