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'ThunderCats' Premiere: Five Things You Should Know About The New Show

by Laura Prudom, posted Jul 29th 2011 3:00PM
Lion-O'ThunderCats' HOOOOOO!

Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system. It's been 20 years since the intrepid inhabitants of Thundera last roared across our screens (yes, the original series ended in 1989), and since then, 'ThunderCats' has lived on in the minds of nostalgic Gen X-ers and millennials through T-shirts and trips to YouTube, gone and mostly forgotten.

Our memories may be forgiving, but the well-intentioned series doesn't exactly hold up to repeat views (select episodes are available on KidsWB.com, if you're curious) and the campy costumes and earnest dialogue seemed long overdue for an update. Cartoon Network has taken up the task, turning to Studio 4°C, the animation house behind portions of the 'Batman: Gotham Knight' and 'Animatrix' movies to update the visuals. The tone is darker, the story more focused and relatable, and the dynamics between characters have shifted to reveal new conflicts that will drive the narrative. All in all, it's nothing to Snarf at.

Join us after the jump for our take on the new series, including five facts you should know before watching. Mild spoilers ahead.

1. Sci-Fi and Fantasy Don't Mix -- At First
Fans of the original series might recall that 'ThunderCats' often cheerfully blurred the line between technology and magic, resulting in a somewhat 'Star Wars' vibe, with stories often relying on spaceships and weaponry as much as on mystical forces such as the Sword of Omens.

ThunderaThe creators of the new show made the decision to separate the two genres from the outset, resulting in a pilot that feels eerily reminiscent of 'Lord of the Rings' in some spots, instead of George Lucas' trilogy.

The ThunderCats are no longer fleeing a broken homeworld and seeking refuge on Third Earth -- Thundera is now an empire on that planet, where the ThunderCats rule over other species, putting their faith in the magic of warrior Clerics and prophecies foretold in the Book of Omens, rather than in rumors of technology they've never seen. Our hero, Lion-O (Will Friedle), is fascinated with collecting broken pieces of tech and trying to figure out how it works, but the people around him generally think he's a freak because of it.

2. Family Matters
Aside from the shift in geography and ideology, the biggest change in the reimagined series concerns Lion-O himself. Instead of starting out as a boy who grows into a man's body through some kooky space travel, our hero starts out as the grown up -- but immature -- heir to Thundera's throne, a disappointment to his father, King Claudus (voiced by the original Lion-O, Larry Kenney) because of his impulsive nature. To make matters worse, Tygra is no longer a faithful friend, he's Lion-O's adopted older brother, and the two share a typical sibling relationship, alternately supportive and antagonistic.

3. Mutants Catch a Break
In the original series, the ThunderCats' foes were simply known as mutants (although they were reptilian in appearance) -- in the updated show they're called Lizards, a species that also inhabits Third Earth and has grown resentful of the Cats' power and superiority. The series is certainly positioned to comment on larger themes of race, equality and globalization, and there are hints of those plot threads in the pilot, which will hopefully be explored further as the series Mumm-Raprogresses. And, of course, we couldn't have 'ThunderCats' without the evil Mumm-Ra making an appearance.

4. There's No Lion-O in Team
The show that premiered in 1985 wasn't too concerned with wasting time on setting the scene; the original ThunderCats team formed fairly quickly, but it won't be so easy for the new iteration. The characters we knew and loved are certainly included in the pilot -- you'll see Cheetara, Panthro, Wilykit and Wilykat as well as Tygra -- but don't expect the team to form in the blink of an eye. There will be friction and conflict within the group, and it will take a number of episodes for the pieces to fall into place.

5. Snarf is Tolerable
Perhaps the most welcome change in the updated show: Snarf can't talk -- which, unsurprisingly, makes him much less irritating. Now, he functions as more of a Disney-esque sidekick, a perky creature who helps Lion-O out of tricky situations and wanders around being painfully cute -- I certainly approved.

The streamlined narrative doesn't rob the series of its inherent charm, though -- longtime fans should keep their eyes and ears open for plenty of nods to the original show, and the more serious tone will make 'ThunderCats' appealing for both nostalgic adults and their kids.

I only vaguely remember watching the original series, but I still found myself getting chills when Lion-O recited that familiar battle cry, and though the iconic theme tune is gone, the spirit of the original is still alive and well in this smart, slick update. It's well worth a watch.

'ThunderCats' premieres with a special one-hour episode tonight, July 29 at 8PM ET on Cartoon Network.

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July 31 2011 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Meh, there's no "thundercats hooooo" scream in this new one. #fail

July 31 2011 at 2:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My 8 year old son just read this entire article out loud to me and now we're both super excited to watch the premiere episode tonight.

Thanks for taking the time to write about 'kid friendly' shows, it's really appreciated.

July 29 2011 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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