Fri
Apr 20 2012 4:00pm

Point/Counterpoint: ThunderCats

Considering how nerdy the Tor.com offices is (we have a shrine to Dalen Quaice, for Cthulhu’s sake) we come to agreement on a bizarrely large number of things. But that’s by no means a guarantee, so when we find ourselves on opposite sides of a particular “issue,” we figure we’ll take it to you!

Today Bridget and Ryan are arguing about ThunderCats. Specifically, are they worth the nostalgic fuss? Read our arguments for and against, then join in!

 

Ryan’s Point: Thundercats NO.

Nostalgia, particularly in genre fandom is probably the most dangerous lens through which to regard anything which we know is objectively bad. We’re all aware G.I. Joe, The Master of the Universe, and Transformers were ridiculous toy-commercials masquerading as plots and characters, but somehow relegate their status slightly ahead of something like The Snorks or the Go-Bots. Even within nostalgic trash, there is a hierarchy. ( I.E. Even though Go-Bot came before Transformers it is still seen as a knock-off, because it just sucks.) And so certain shows, like Thundercats teeter forever on the precipice of pop legitimacy because, ultimately, we want to remember the show as good.

But it’s not. Thundercats, when put up against its peers of the time, is awful. The only reason why anyone likes or remembers Thundercats fondly is because it had a memorable earworm of a theme song, and an insipid catchphrase; “Thundercats, Ho!”

The production value and voice-work on Thundercats is are far inferior to Masters of the Universe or Transformers. The characterizations could not be any more one-note, and I’m not sure I remember the various “traits” of anyone other than Liono was the leader, and Cheeterah was “the girl.” To compound this problem is a character named Snarf who inexplicably says the word “snarf“ the way a valley girl says ”like.“ Orco, I suppose the Snarf analog on Masters of the Universe, had some kind of skills, and power. He was a character. Snarf was a weird furry creature who said stupid things and opened the door widely for Jar-Jar Binks to saunter into the spotlight of ”funny" sidekicks.

Just because the Thundercats are cat people does not make them inherently cool. A weird concept in the 1980s may have been enough to get a show off the ground, but it shouldn’t be enough for us to love it unconditionally for no reason. In short, the Thundercats is the poor man’s everything. It is the poor man’s He-Man, the poor man’s G.I. Joe,  Transformers, etc.

 

Bridget’s Counterpoint: ThunderCats are awesome.

There are many, MANY reasons why ThunderCats is probably the greatest 80s cartoon ever. ThunderCats was, by far, my favorite cartoon when I was a kid — He-Man and She-Ra, G.I. Joe and Jem were all fine, but nothing else really compared to the spectacle of an all-powerful mummified sorcerer waging eternal war against a heroic band of humanoid, talking space-cats with crazy weapons and gymnastic skills that would put Nadia Comăneci to shame…

Let’s start with the totally kick-ass villains: Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living is, by far, the most disturbing cartoon weirdo to ever darken a Saturday Morning lineup. An undead Egyptian sorcerer  and the embodiment of ultimate evil, Mumm-Ra’s a master of disguise, he can enter people’s dreams, and his invocation of the spirits of evil and transformation in every episode makes Skeletor (for example) look like a hot sack of crap. The various mutant henchman were pretty great, too: Jackalman, Vultureman, the Lunataks…the whole show was a veritable smorgasbord of creepy arch-villainry.

Moreover, ThunderCats exhibits all three hallmarks of a latter-day Rankin/Bass production: offbeat subject matter, high quality animation, and an excellent cast of voice actors, including Earl Hammond (who’s voiced everybody from Mumm-Ra to Santa Claus to the Pope), veteran Shakespearean actor/Cosby Show alum Earle Hyman, voice acting legends Larry Kenny and Bob McFadden, and so on; it’s a great cast, and they do an excellent job bringing the characters to life.

Generally I think the series took an interesting approach to engaging kids on their own level, featuring heroic younger characters (WilyKit and WilyKat) as well as a protagonist who is a child in an adult’s body (Lion-O), giving ThunderCats a unique appeal to young viewers. And lastly, the show’s theme song and intro sequence speaks for itself…it says, “I am awesome, and anyone who disagrees is straight-up crazy”:

 

 

Okay, gloves down you guys. Name something you like about the show, Ryan:

I will give the ThunderCats this: I like the villain Mumm-Ra. In a world of cat-people, you’d think they’make the baddie something really dumb, like a Dog-Man or a Wolf-Lord. But instead, they determined the naturally enemy of a cat-people was a mummy-thing. For me, is perfectly dumb enough to be great, and oddly memorable.

 

Name something you don’t like about the show, Bridget:

Admittedly, Snarf is the show’s one weak point, and clearly he should be relegated to the same circle of hell as Scrappy-Doo.


And that’s it! What do you guys think?

23 comments
James Viner
1. MrWednesday
Worth it for the intro even though the show was pants.
Eugene Myers
5. ecmyers
I thought you were doing a face-off between the old show and the new one, which I've been meaning to blog about. But this is hardly a discussion, because Bridget is right, and astonishingly, in this instance you are woefully wrong, Ryan.

I could go on and on about this, but Thundercats was far less formulaic than much of its 80s brethren and the episodes were often much more complex and sophisticated than they might first appear. Thanks to the Japanese animators (some who went on to Studio Ghibli, I believe), it was also one of the best looking American cartoons at the time in the midst of a wasteland of cheap animation. The show was probably the first introduction to science fiction for many kids, and on top of that, it blended SF with fantasy in a really interesting way.

I would also argue that the latter half of the show, though probably not as well written and often silly, was one of the first attempts to create a plot arc and continuing storyline in an American animated series, with the quest for the treasures of Thundera and the Book of Omens. I never saw these as a kid and didn't know they even existed until the show reran on Toonami on the Cartoon Network; I watched it as a college freshman, and overall, it held up a lot better than He-Man or say, Star Trek: The Animated Series, which I also watched at the time. (Though come to think of it, that was never any good.)

Perhaps the characterization was one-note to you, Ryan, but Lion-O started out as a whiny, irresponsible manchild and grew into a Lord who managed to unite various groups of people on two planets by the end of the series. And the show did have a "final" episode, which was more than most cartoons got back then.

Holy crap, look what you made me do. I will stop this here before I keep running on about this...
Dancer
6. Dancer
The show was great when you was a kid. Then you watch it again 20 years later and realise how bad some of it was yet you can't bring yourself to hate any of it. I think the greatest aspect of this show was the background story. The newer Thundercats is a lot better and Snarf is less annoying as he has been demoted from a stupid bothersome talking cat to a cute pet.
Evan Langlinais
7. Skwid
I watched the new show for the first season, but two episodes into the second I had to give it up, for the simplest of reasons: I simply couldn't accept the lack of injuries! These creatures are using energy weapons that can blast steel to pieces, but direct hits from the same weapon only stun their enemies. Or they use swords and axes, but only ever to block or disarm their opponents. No one ever gets hurt, and even the bad guys never kill anybody. I just couldn't suspend that disbelief anymore.

TL;DR: I'm old, and it makes me sad.
Dancer
8. therealanthonypero
Ryan, cats and mummies are both themes in Egyptian history, which much of the show's mythology is lifted from. I highly doubt that Mumm-Ra was chosen randomly as a cool, wacky thing to face off with Cats.

That being said, you are right, it is inferior to other 80's cartoons, like MOTU and Transformers. All of them are inferior in a way that I can't even express to Voltron, however.

I recently watched a couple episdodes of the new ThunderCats, and it was excellent. It raised a lot of nostolgia for me, so I decided to watch the original... I couldn't even get through the first episode, it was so dated, and so bad. I've watched every episode of Masters of the Universe and She-Ra with my daughter inthe last two years. They were far superior to ThunderCats. Heck, even Inspector Gadget was superior.
Tim Callahan
9. TimCallahan
The Thundercats was better than all of its 80s contemporaries, in pacing and internal mythology. Plus, the head writer was the same guy who made comic book magic with this: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/06/kelly-green-when-comic-strip-creators-go-bad-in-a-good-way

Sorry, Ryan. Bridget is just totally right on this one.
Rowan Shepard
10. Rowanmdm3
I adored Thundercats as a kid and then I went back and watched a few episodes when I was in college and I was completely shocked by the SF elements. How did I forget the spaceships and everything? Somehow I had only retained the fantasy elements of the show.

It doesn't hold up as well as I would like, but considering the only other 80s cartoons I've rewatched is a few episodes each of Pound Puppies, Popples and Snorks, plus the Rainbow Bright movie, I can't really say how Thundercats compares to other SFF shows of the time.

I would like to see the new Thundercats but haven't been able to yet.
Bridget McGovern
11. BMcGovern
Thanks for chiming in, everybody! Also, high fives to Tim and Eugene for being on the side of the (weird, mutant) angels, here :)

Eugene--I completely agree (and you should see how much I had to cut out of my half of this post, since we were trying to keep these brief--it was turning into the world's dorkiest manifesto).

By the by, if you're a fan of the voice work on the show, you can check out some ridiculous (NSFW) outtakes here:
http://www.cheezey.org/thundercats/sounds/outtakes.html

Not sure why I find these so entertaining, but I do...
Chris Meadows
12. Robotech_Master
The original Thundercats was indeed animated by Topcraft, the same studio that animated Rankin & Bass's The Last Unicorn (and by the way, join me in wishing Peter S. Beagle a happy birthday today!) and that went on to form Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. It was animated on a TV series budget, true, so the animation wouldn't have been up to par when compared to feature films--but it was animated by masters of the craft.
Brian R
13. Mayhem
I have a definite soft spot for Thundercats, and I quite like the remake.
I have been reminded recently of my young self running madly around the house with a wooden sword shouting HO! at anything that moved :)

The original is a product of its time though - it stands well on its own when compared with Transformers G1/Voltron/He Man, but falls flat compared with those that followed like Transformers G2 and especially with the arc shows like Gargoyles or X-Men.
It is noticeable it suffers a lot less from stock footage than many of the others - Voltron and Transformers G1 are particularly bad for using that to bulk out an episode.

@ecmyers
I would add another good example of Scifi elements creeping in would be the Mysterious Cities of Gold, which aired a year or so earlier in my part of the world.
Marc Gioglio
14. Fuzzix
I suggest you all take a look at the show without the traditional lense of history. My friends and I did this while it was on Toonami, and it is clear that the Thundercats are evil conquerors bent on ruling the peaceful planet of Third-Earth, by any means necessary. Mumm-ra is such an effective leader that he can sleep until the Thundercats arrive and threaten his turf. It is only the Thundercats' victory propoganda that we see in the show.

P.S. I don't understand where the hate on nostalgia is coming from recently. I have lost count of the number of people who are SURE that shows like these have not withstood the test of time, and base this on watching not more than the pilot (if anything) of the series. If I were to judge any of today's shows by the same standards, I would never watch Doctor Who or Torchwood as the pilots are godafwul (compared to the rest of the series).
Dancer
15. wizard clip
Forget all of the above mentioned shows. When it comes to late 80s toy commercials disguised as SF\fantasy cartoons, one stands alone: "Visionaries"
Robert H. Bedford
16. RobB
Thundercats is cool for a lot of reasons:
Amalgamation of Comic Book and Science Fiction/Fantasy Tropes: Lion-O is basically Kal-El/King Arthur with Excalibur leading Cat-People X-Men with Cat Zan and Jana against The Brotherhood of Post-apocalyptic Evil Mutants led by a Zombie/Mummy Sorceror who can see everything (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0yRCyEEQVw).



Unfortunately, there's Snarf
john mullen
17. johntheirishmongol
I only remember it fondly because my kids used to watch it. They were big into He-Man and She-Ra too, which I remember liking better. I did see the new Thundercats a few months ago and was impressed. Besides, cat people are cool.
Richard Boye
18. sarcastro
I will always love Thundercats if only for the awesome pilot episode featuring the fall of Thundera and the destruction of the fleet... that was awesome and cinematic and profoundly sad.

Alot of the side-characters were really weird and annoying (I look at you, Ro-Bo-Bill; do es anyone else remember Mum-Rana, the Benevolent Goddess-Wizardess Person who was Mum-Ra's counterpart?), but I will gladly put Grune the Destoyer up against any 80's Cartoon villian. Heck, he might even be cooler than Destro.
David Thomson
19. ZetaStriker
My counterpoint: Thundercats was memorable entirely because of how bad it was. I rewatched it recently as a comedy, and between things like Tigra's bizarre drug trip to Panthro continually being the only one who does anything, ever, the show was a laugh riot.
Joshua Grzegorzewski
20. RunningBull
Trying to look back through the eyes of 11 year old me at the original incarnations of Thundercats, G.I. Joe, Transformers, etc. but I can't do it. I know that I thought these shows were so cool but now in my mid-30's I cannot watch an episode of these 80's gems without cringing at how limited they were.

Now, the new Thundercats, G.I. Joe: Renegades, and even He-Man from 10 years ago are far superior in plot, character development, animation (admitredly, I can't stand to look at stills from G.I. Joe but as animation it really works well for me), relevance, and plausability. Yeah, I know...but still outside of making action figures can anyone explain the over-the-top stereotypical "wrestler costumes" worn by 95% of the G.I Joe force? They were U.S. military personnel for crying out loud.

I also dig the way that the new Thundercats dropped reference (through flashback with Mummra in his space ship temple) to "Silverhawks", another formulaic show using the "Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets" template though not nearly as closely or successfully as "Voltron" (the REAL Voltron - with Lions - thank you very much). If you haven't watched the new version on CartoonNetwork yet, do so; just put aside your preconcieved notions and enjoy the ride.
Joshua Grzegorzewski
21. RunningBull
Trying to look back through the eyes of 11 year old me at the original incarnations of Thundercats, G.I. Joe, Transformers, etc. but I can't do it. I know that I thought these shows were so cool but now in my mid-30's I cannot watch an episode of these 80's gems without cringing at how limited they were.

Now, the new Thundercats, G.I. Joe: Renegades, and even He-Man from 10 years ago are far superior in plot, character development, animation (admitredly, I can't stand to look at stills from G.I. Joe but as animation it really works well for me), relevance, and plausability. Yeah, I know...but still outside of making action figures can anyone explain the over-the-top stereotypical "wrestler costumes" worn by 95% of the G.I Joe force? They were U.S. military personnel for crying out loud.

I also dig the way that the new Thundercats dropped reference (through flashback with Mummra in his space ship temple) to "Silverhawks", another formulaic show using the "Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets" template though not nearly as closely or successfully as "Voltron" (the REAL Voltron - with Lions - thank you very much). If you haven't watched the new version on CartoonNetwork yet, do so; just put aside your preconcieved notions and enjoy the ride.
Dancer
22. JPO
"I’m not sure I remember the various “traits” of anyone other than Liono was the leader, and Cheeterah was “the girl."
He's not sure he remembers. THAT tells you right then in there that he hasn't actually seen the show since he was a kid. So to cite how horrible it is when you haven't recently seen it renders all your points moot.
Dancer
23. Inkthinker
Before anyone goes further on the quality of the animation, please remember that only the opening and the first five episodes were animated by Topcraft... but after that, when the series proper began, the animation quality dropped off sharply. It's not a well-animated show, it's a show with a well-animated intro.
Dancer
24. justme
I remember all the animated shows mentioned , and would have to say they are both wrong ! all of these shows were poorly written , poorly animated trash ! as bad as ren and stimpy was it was done better than any of these poorly disguised sales adds for toys !
Dancer
25. filkferengi
The real best cartoon was "Thundarr The Barbarian"--and not just for having inspired the awesome group Ookla the Mok, either.

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