[UPDATED: Finally figured out how to get videos embedded in my posts. I can haz technology, plez.]
Anyone who’s read my Michael Bay’s Transformers rant knows how I feel about reboots of cherished childhood cartoons. So it shouldn’t surprise you to know that upon hearing the news that Cartoon Network will be releasing a new version of the Thundercats this summer, I was highly skeptical.
Not that I was surprised. There have been rumors of a Thundercats reboot for ages. Several years ago, the idea was floated to remake the series as a CG animated movie, which was thankfully scrapped.
Between CN’s announcement of rebooting Thundercats and NickToons hot on their heels with a reboot of the lion Voltron series (called Voltron Force, which warrants a post of its own), I wouldn’t be surprised if there were conference rooms of studio execs and producers squabbling like howler monkeys over the rights to reboot franchises like Silverhawks, Blackstar, Galaxy Rangers or even Tigersharks. If there’s money to make a CG/live action Smurfs take New York movie (and no, I’m not kidding), there’s certainly money being thrown around for all sorts of 80s cartoon titles.
However, I’m slightly encouraged by the footage CN released of Thundercats at WonderCon.
The show will be produced by Michael Jelenic (Batman: The Brave and the Bold) and Ethan Spaulding (Avatar: The Last Airbender), both of which are quality cartoons. The initial story will run 26 episodes, with the complete arc running at 52 episodes. The art has certainly been updated to reflect the more stylized, anime-influenced animation that’s become the expected standard and the animators were directed to give the characters more “animal-like” behaviors instead of being “people who look like cats.” The character designs haven’t been altered beyond all recognition. Lion-O still looks like Lion-O (even without the perpetually frozen, windswept quaff), Cheetara is still Cheetara (although arguably “sexier”), and it was even easy to spot the original character of Grune, the Destroyer, standing with the mutants (he’ll be voiced by everyone’s favorite cartoon villain voice actor, Clancy Brown, aka “Lex Luthor” from Superman/Justice League).
According to the panel at WonderCon, the producers have tweaked the original plotline (such as it was) to make it more streamlined. Thundera is no longer the home planet of the Thundercats – instead, it’s the Thundercats’ kingdom on Third Earth. Likewise, the mutants won’t be invaders from a rival planet – they’re now a rival kingdom. From the previews, it looks like the fighting between kingdoms will lead to the release of Mumm-Ra. Which isn’t such a bad thing – having everything take place on the same planet simplifies things considerably. Although the art designs in the battle scene shown in the trailer did look suspiciously like the Mordor forces laying siege to Minas Tirith in Return of the King (yes, I know I’m nitpicking, but really, are you surprised?).
As per most modern reboots of 80s classics, the show will have a “darker” tone than the original. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the original had that cloying, upbeat, implied life lesson per episode vibe that was endemic to 80s cartoons and would certainly not fly in our hipsterized, cynical age. However, what was shown in the trailer was immediately recognizable as the Thundercats. Sorcery and technology still co-exist in the Thundercats’ world, although whether or not there will be any of the planet-hopping and interstellar escapades of the original seems doubtful (I wonder how they’ll handle my favorite supporting cast character of the space-faring Mandora, The Evil Chaser, assuming they choose to use her). The score will be more orchestral and epic but still retain strains from the original. The producers have said that although Lion-O will be aged a bit more in the new series, it will still remain a basic “hero’s journey” story, and about group of individuals learning to live as a family.
And yes, Snarf is still a member of the cast. However, he won’t be a speaking character, so no “Oh dear, Lion-O, I don’t think [fill in the blank] is a good idea, snarf snarf!” type dialog. The producers decided to give him the “Chewbacca treatment” – in other words, he’ll make vague, unintelligible sounds that will be interpreted by the other characters. Definitely an improvement (now, as to whether or not Snarf’s nephew, Snarfer will show up….)
So yes, I’ll admit to being intrigued by the possibility that a Thundercats reboot might not make me cringe and reach for my remote. At the very least, I’ll program it into my TiVo – but hold off on setting as a “Save until I delete” show.