[Image from Cats Do Funny Cats]
I managed to catch hold of the premiere of the ThunderCats remake, and found it competent and enjoyable, but with very few surprises. The only way it would seem shocking was in comparison to the original, namely in the way that the plot and the production values are miles ahead of the original series, but when compared with the whole of fantasy fiction, animated or otherwise, ThunderCats is standard fare.
It’s essentially the same type of heroic fantasy you’ve seen before. Technology appears in the end, but it is a legend that becomes real, a thing of faraway lands and eccentric tinkerers—which is one of the clichés. The other ones are there: the father dies, the old mentor dies, the prince takes on an unsure new role, a long-defeated enemy returns, there are visions of a dark future, somebody turns traitor, the clever street urchins think they’re destined for better things...and so on.
One actual change from both the original series and most standardized epic fantasy was that it tries to show the good-guy species actually being jerks to other species, including the villainous ones. The best bit is when prince Lion-O convinces the authorities to let two imprisoned lizard-people free. Lizards then attack the city, and Lion-O’s father berates him for being too soft for a future king. However, one of the freed lizards later sneaks a key to the captured Lion-O, allowing him to go free. Because of how standard the series’ plot otherwise is, I’m worried about later episodes forgetting to “humanize” the enemy species, but I hope I’m wrong, because this sort of thing really helps.
I have no idea if fans of the original series will like this or not. ThunderCats takes more risks than the 2002 He-Man series in terms of changing things and making concessions to modernity; despite being very standard fantasy otherwise, it therefore manages to avoid that air of rehashed blandness that He-Man had. On the other hand, there are a lot of familiar things here, so it’s anybody’s guess.
(I know that I’m all in favour of the new series turning nursemaid/wet blanket/comic relief critter Snarf into a voiceless pet. Though nu-Snarf still indulges in some pantomime and is the victim of some slapstick, it’s very mild…and I’m not ashamed to say that he is now adorable.)
While the art and animation quality isn’t quite to the level, the experience of viewing the ThunderCats premiere is akin to watching the largest of Disney: something whose art and acting is top-notch, and whose characters are distinct, and whose story is archetypal and status-quo oriented. I can enjoy stories like this, but I usually don’t, which is why I’m not completely into ThunderCats as now.
That’s not to say I didn’t like it, just that ThunderCats seems that it’s going to be something that I happily watch once, never delve into. I don’t usually care for this type of story, but somehow, I liked a little bit. It was made with enough care and visual pizzazz that it became exciting for a brief time.
The animation is good, the characters are distinct, and it’s obvious that a lot of work was put into this. I’m strongly reminded of Avatar: The Last Airbender, not only in it being “anime style”, but a similar “anime style-style”, if that makes any sense at all. The somehow novel-like feel is also the same as ATLA, though ATLA felt far less like it was trying to hit all the heroic-growth plot points, and was overall much more entertaining than ThunderCats at the same point in their respective series.
I’ll be keeping up with this: not grudgingly, but it likely won’t end up on my list of favourite cartoons. It’s nice to look at and interesting, but doesn't grab hold of me that strongly.