In the not so distant past someone had the idea to revive the ThunderCats for a new era. It would be bold and breathtaking, with amazing animation from the best hands in Japan and the kind of story fans of the show always wanted. None of annoying Snarf factor that occasionally made the older show a bore. Just Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, and Panthro taking names and kicking butt. Well, that’s what we were promised anyway. Or maybe we just assumed that’s what we would get, and you know what happens when you assume. What we got instead was a mangy old tom cat putting on airs.
The faults with the 2011 ThunderCats are honestly too numerous to list without this review taking up ten pages. Dialogue, pacing, plot, characters, animation, obvious studio notes, poor planning, an ending that isn’t so much and ending as a dead halt, etc. I’ll try to keep things as brisk as I can. The show certainly starts off well enough. The first couple of episodes drop us on Third Earth, a planet where animal/human hybrids rule with the Cats lording over all. The intense sibling rivalry between brothers Lion-O and Tygra goes off at a hair-trigger as they battle each other for a variety of bragging rights and the powerful Sword of Omens. Things rapidly go way off course when the Lizards, one of the multitude of races/species that inhabit Third Earth, decide they’ve finally had enough of the Cats’ reign and align themselves with Mumm-Ra to sack the Cats’ capital of Thunderra. Lion-O, Tygra, and the mysterious Cheetara soon find themselves very alone in a world they don’t know anymore, since the Lizards embraced the kinds of technology the cats threw away generations ago in favor of magic and…umm…non-technology stuff.
Intense sibling rivalry? Valiant heroes on the run to save their species’ existence? Magic versus technology? A little bit of old-fashioned genocide? Sounds like the makings of an impressive action-adventure show. If only that were true. The very next episode after the team leaves Thunderra could charitably be called “Lion-O Learns a Very Important Lesson.” As could the next one. Really almost half the show could be called either “Lion-O Learns a Very Important Lesson” or “Wily Kit and Wily Kat Waste Time.” Yes, the pair of young kits end up part of the team to along with Snarf, who thankfully can’t speak this time around. Panthro shows up pretty early on to with his Thundertank, but he’s less of a character and more of a plot device for most of the time he’s on screen. Really, everyone is a plot device other than Lion-O and Mumm-Ra. Tygra and Cheetara do their best to be actual characters, but even then only Tygra manages to be more than a space filler. Cheetara in particular is very badly misused, never managing to be more than a toy for Tygra and Lion-O to fight over. It doesn’t help that the show has only one other adult female character of any note: the badly under-characterized and underused Pumyra introduced very late in the game.
The one character they really did get right was Mumm-Ra himself. He is definitely Mumm-Ra the Ever Living and All-Powerful, except when plot needs to de-power him so he doesn’t just plain kill everyone on the planet. Even given that slight handicap, Mumm-Ra is seriously scary this time around: a very credible threat to all of Third Earth with a very complicated past with the ThunderCats’ ancestors. Unfortunately, all of his generals are incompetent, but that’s par for the course. It’s not like the heroes are much more competent most of the time anyway. The voice actors all do a credible job, even if Lion-O sounds exactly like Terry McGinnis to the point of being a little distracting. The actor for Mumm-Ra in particular invests more zeal in the character than the actual script. The more tertiary characters are voiced about as well as they are characterized, one note, so nothing much to note there.
So they didn’t get the characters right. Is the plot any good? Surprisingly, it sort of is. There’s enough interesting plot bits scattered around to make things intermittently exciting, but the pacing of things is so bad it’s hard to maintain interest. “Someone Learns a Very Special Lesson” crops up as a plot way too often, and the production’s seeming obsession with making Wily Kit and Wily Kat into useful characters often derails things. There’s also the little matter of the overarching plot getting cut off just as things really were starting to get interesting, since the show’s second season never materialized. You can almost see the production notes plastered on the screen at times.
So the characters are either weak, annoying, or badly handled, and the plot is a mess. Is the animation at least any good? Sometimes yes, but like most other things in the show, most of the time the answer is no. There are a few episodes that have some very well choreographed scenes, but they are very few and far between. Most of the time the animation is basically passable, and sometimes it’s just plain ugly. Characters frequently go very off-model, and sometimes just look outright bad. It’s even more baffling considering Warner outsourced the animation to Studio 4°C, and they are normally very reliable. Oddly, they do ensure that Cheetara’s cleavage line is always visible when she’s on screen. No, that’s not a joke.
I could also go on at length about the show’s weird stances on both violence and technology but I don’t want to just dump on it forever. OK, maybe I will a little. The Cats are supposed to be more or less anti-technology, yet they don’t seem too completely freaked out by the technology everywhere around them when they leave Thunderra. Tygra even seems to have some kind of magical connection to machines, as he is an instant ace at all of them. There are some very good moments here and there when things gel quite well, but they are sadly fleeting. The aforementioned flashback to the Cats’ history with Mumm-Ra is particularly well done. Also entertaining are the bridge stories around episodes 11-14 in the Elephant Village and the straight-up Bespin/Empire Strikes Back, rip-off episodes (where the Lando Calrissian character is an complete, irredeemable jackass) towards the end.
The Blu-ray set from Warner Archive contains just the episodes with no extras at all, so if you want any particular insight on the series you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you’re really serious about getting every piece of ThunderCats anything ever made, or you’re really desperate for something to entertain kids who don’t ask too many questions, by all means grab this set. Otherwise, it’s an unpleasant hairball hacked up on a beloved name.