Episode 1: "The Sword of Omens"
(EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this review also appears at thundercatslair.org)
How do you reinvent a classic? This is the task that befell the writers of the new ThunderCats animated series when Warner Brothers announced that it would be reinventing the show for a new generation. With the original widely regarded by animation lovers as the cream of the 1980s crop, beloved by many for its immediacy, groundbreaking animation and strong fantasy storytelling, achieving this successfully is no mean feat.
So how do you reinvent ThunderCats? The answer is by taking all the key concepts from the original and adding greater emotional weight to all of them.
It's that theme that resonates throughout the ThunderCats series premiere. For, whilst on paper the series seems to have been altered radically, in reality all of the key elements, all of the source material that made the original series work, have been faithfully recreated and updated for a new generation, resulting in a masterpiece of animated storytelling.
Key concepts such as Lion-O, the lead character, growing from a boy into a man before the audience’s eyes. This new series explores that concept metaphorically rather than literally, but expands upon that it even further, showing that Lion-O, whilst lacking in maturity in many ways, is perhaps the wisest ThunderCat of them all, giving new meaning to the term “Sight Beyond Sight”.
Key concepts such as Mumm-Ra, the hell-spawned demon and series principal antagonist, now the assassin of Lion-O’s father, adding greater weight to the conflict between the two.
Key concepts such as Grune, the traitorous ThunderCat General, now given greater weight in the depth and extent to which he betrays his people and his comrades.
Key concepts such as the marriage of fantasy and technology that was present in the original, given greater weight by the Thunderians dismissal of technology as myth. That Lion-O’s belief in the fabled technology, and the Reptilian's ability to embrace it, could have allowed the ThunderCats to better protect themselves against their enemies. This theme is now a central part of the series’ storyline.
Smaller, and on paper less essential, aspects of the original ThunderCats concept have also been taken and given extra emotional weight. Not just Lion-O’s relationship with Jaga, which is given a nice contrast to his relationship with his father, Claudus, but also Jaga’s sacrifice to save the other ThunderCats.
There are other aspects that add to the greater impact that this retelling of the ThunderCats saga carries. Primary amongst those is the blurring of the edges between good and evil, providing the series’ villains (the Reptilians) with a true motivation and reason to hate the ThunderCats, and showing that the ThunderCats themselves, although doing what they believe is right, may themselves be subject to errors of judgement in their treatment of their enemies.
And while Grune may truly be a ThunderCat turned evil, with this blurring of lines it’s not beyond question to see other ThunderCats, full of arrogance, pride and a blinkered sense of right and wrong, also committing acts that could be classed as “evil”. This is part of the new series’ brilliance - an emotional believability that draws you into the wild and unusual world of the ThunderCats with ease.
The new series is about the characters and the way they interact with each other in a way that is engaging and believable. The series is about a family, about characters growing and evolving, about action, adventure and fantasy.
It’s the series you’ve been waiting 20 years for.
Feel the magic, hear the roar - the ThunderCats are BACK.
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