Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Toon Review: Thundercats

By the Eye of Thundera, Teletoon Retro is the final bastion of TV entertainment on Third Earth! Well, no, not really, but damn, do I love cartoons so. I recently saw 24 episodes of a Thundercats marathon. Not all in one sitting, but STILL. I apparently feel THIS is what I should do with my time. And now I get to waste yours, too! So be it!

Produced by Rankin/Bass in 1985 and for several years afterward, Thundercats is Saturday morning fantasy fare chronicling the adventures of a handful of humanoid felines; alien survivors of the crumbled planet Thundera. Perhaps fittingly for a cartoon about space cats, the head writer was Leo Starr. Well, I thought it was amusing. He also wrote Little Orphan Annie and Morbius the Living Vampire, apparently. Appropriate for a program that fluctuates in tone somewhere between sweet and horrifying.

Despite the bizarre premise, the episodes I saw were played almost entirely seriously, very rarely for laughs. Perhaps that was the only thing stopping this from becoming the mega-hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soon would be. Still... four seasons, Marvel comics, awe-inspiring Halloween costumes, a CGI movie caught in limbo- somebody probably made out like a Plun-Darian mutant bandit!

It may do them too much credit to call them "characters", since the principal cast, charitably, are probably what my buddy Ron means when he says 'cartoonish' as though it was a bad thing.

Our hero is Lion-O, orphaned twelve-year-old prince-ling in a grown-up body thanks to the failure of his suspension capsule. He inherited the mystic Sword of Omens & is psychically guided by the spirit of a wise deceased warrior/scientist called Jaga. In other words, Lion-O is Luke Skywalker with a shaggy mane. I should say shaggy RED mane. NOW you won't mix them up.

Lion-O's fellow colonists on the strange world of Third Earth are brave, noble, stock types. Panthro is the gruff mechanic. Tigrra is the dashing architect. Cheetara is the speedy lady cat who hits things with sticks. Wilykit & Wilykat are inquisitive kids. And old Snarf "The Fierce" is the truculent house cat/tiny bearded dragon. They seek to build a mighty empire on their adopted world of Third Earth. If they (mostly Tigrra for some reason) can keep from being bamboozled, drugged, or stumbling into nets and deadly danger.

Like the Third Earth, this cartoon seems to have been made of little bits of everything else.

Like Superman, they were rocketed from their dying planet, with advanced technology, an ancestral guide, and inhuman powers to help them. Plus a pesky mineral from their home planet that weakens them (Thundranium, in case you're wondering.)

Like He-Man, they have a barbarian harness-y mode of dress, a life of unending quest and combat, and a skeletal sorcerer arch-foe who lives in a creepy ruined castle with his beast-men armies. Plus, they're very 'toyetic'! Although I, personally, skipped right over Thundercats, never seeing their show at the time and graduating directly from He-Man toys to Ghostbusters toys, I did get a Snarf one Christmas. (Heh. That sounds dirty.)

And like Star Wars... well, everything. The first ally made by the Thundercats is the Ewoks, oh, sorry, I mean the Ro-Bear Berbils, an agrarian tribe of helpful teddy bear droids who build them their Cat's Lair and spending the rest of the season getting captured and needing to be rescued. Frankly, between you and me, if I was one of only four males of my species with only one grown female between us, I'd be more in the mood to rescue the native girls than the teddy bears. But that's neither here nor there.

The animation is a jumbled mix of the very deft and striking and the very rushed and recycled. But what else can you expect if you make 65 episodes in one season! Snarf me!

It's all very silly and inconsequential, but even after 24 episodes I can't say it was getting easier to predict. Any given episode they might be rescuing unicorns from cyborg Vikings or in an undersea frog-mecha battling giant eels, or roaming back in time through the astral plane to free imprisoned alien wizards. Whatever Third Earth was, there was a LOT of it! It's either endearingly eclectic or just dizzying and annoyingly erratic.

Take, for example, the episode where the Thundercats discovered a cave that caused rapid aging, and a fountain of youth that could cure it. Cheetara's fleet feet could navigate both without consequence. So... nothing. When the immediate threat was over, nobody suggests Lion-O try to restore his true age. But... you guys just found the fabled well of immortality! You could... oh, never mind, there's space bounty hunters chasing trolls beyond the River of Despair, you'd better go hit them with sticks.

Would YOU like it? Are you a twelve-year old kid?

Do I like it? Yes.

As Marshall said of Ted on 'How I Met Your Mother', my heart is both drunk AND a kid.

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