Episode Title: "The Sword of Omens"
Writers: Michael Jelenic & Todd Casey
Directors: Yoshiharu Ashino & Sean Song
Episode Title: "Ancient Spirits of Evil"
Writer: Tab Murphy
Directors: Yasuhiro Geshi, Rokou Ogiharu & Sean Song
Given that almost every other animated show from the '80s has already gotten a fresh reboot, it's surprising that it took "ThunderCats" so long to get its chance for another series.
The original "ThunderCats" was a fun animated show that may be more well known for having an impressive opening sequence and a really catchy theme song. As I've mentioned before, the danger of nostalgia is that it can make us look back on some shows as classics when they never actually lived up to that distinction. The other side of that argument is that some shows (like say…"Voltron Force") are poorly made series that only exist to keep the brand alive. After that disappointment, I expected "ThunderCats" to be more of the same.
Fortunately, the new "ThunderCats" really delivers in its opening episodes. It invokes the original series without being slavishly devoted to it and it manages to tell a compelling story with some interesting characters. I wish "Voltron Force" had been at least half this good.
The writers behind the new "ThunderCats" have noticeably streamlined the show's mythology in ways that work and make sense. Now, the young prince Lion-O (Will Friedle) has an adopted brother in the form of Tygra (Matthew Mercer) and a disapproving father in Claudus, who is notably voiced by Larry Kenney, the actor who played Lion-O on the original series. Even Cheetara (Emmanuelle Chriqui) seems to have a more defined role as Lion-O's protector, while Jaga (Corey Burton) still serves as his mentor.
The opening half hour revolves around Lion-O's obsession with the myth of technology and his desire to explore the world beyond the kingdom walls. But his father wants to prepare Lion-O for his eventual role as king of the ThunderCats; which is a part that Lion-O seems ill-suited for. The return of Grune (Clancy Brown), a favored general and friend of the King only stokes Lion-O's desire to break free and see the world for himself… even as he disappoints his father yet again.
Those are all very conventional story elements. What surprised me was how racist the ThunderCats are towards the lizard people of this world. And I don't mean slight discrimination, I mean that there's a flat out lynch mob ready to kill two of the Lizard prisoners simply for being lizards. Outside of the X-Men, discrimination isn't often used as an important plot point in animated TV series. But this paints a world in which the ThunderCats as a people have become too enamored of themselves as the world's protectors to the point that they now look down on the other races that occupy the lands.
It's an interesting subtext to start with and it gives Lion-O a true hero moment when he prevents the crowd from executing the prisoners alongside Tygra and Cheetara. Lion-O even convinces his father to release the prisoners as a show of good faith.
Of course, in the second half this good deed seemingly comes back to haunt the ThunderCats as a full scale invasion by the Lizard people is launched. The Lizards use technology that is far beyond anything the ThunderCats have and Grune reveals himself to be a traitor to the kingdom and an advance leader of the Lizards. I don't think this could have been too surprising… how often can you trust a character who has a giant fang sticking out of their mouth? Plus, Clancy Brown just has the perfect voice for a villain.
I should mention that the animation is surprisingly fluid and particularly epic during the battle sequences. I wasn't very taken by the new character designs, but in motion, they work. There are a couple of designs that feel like the series is pandering to the kids in the audience, such as the overly young Wilykit and Wilykat and a redesigned Snarf that looks like he escaped from a competition for the most disgustingly cute Pokemon. But at least he doesn't talk and constantly yell "SNARF!"
There's a twist late in the episode regarding one of the long-standing ThunderCats characters that is really effective. It would have been even more powerful if what had occurred was actually what it appeared to be and it was truly a complete reinvention of that character. But as it stands, it marks the end of the ThunderCats' reign and it sends the young heroes on the run to reclaim their birthright and free their people.
"ThunderCats" is off to a very promising start and I hope that it will get a chance to finish telling its story. I really want to see how this one ends.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.