If you’re a fan of the property, chances are you already know that the ThunderCats will be returning to television courtesy of Cartoon Network. Although the series doesn’t debut until a week from today (Friday, July 29th), the network screened the debut episode at Comic-Con in Room 6A. For my thoughts on the screening and the ensuing panel, hit the jump. [Warning: Spoilers may lie ahead]
Bombastic drums and a sparking ThunderCats logo kick off the screening in grand fashion. The longer the logo stays, the more the anticipation builds. Then, the premiere begins. A quick narrative sets up the episode as a small aid to those who may not be all that familiar with the franchise’s mythology (i.e. myself). The episode wastes no time introducing key characters such as Lion-O (Will Friedle), Cheetara (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and Tygra (Matthew Mercer) to huge audience applause. Only a few minutes in, it’s apparent that the series has a solid balance of action and humor.
The episode does a great job of establishing Lion-O’s conflict as an heir apparent who has a ton of potential and not enough maturity for someone wielding a weapon as powerful as the Sword of Omens. As I watched, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the similar conflict encountered earlier this summer by Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. If this were the ACT, you might say that Lion-O is to Tygra as Thor is to Loki.
Following a fight between Lion-O and Tygra, the episode spends a little time developing Wilykit and Wilykat, the orphans who will inevitably join forces with Lion-O. Shortly after, the series establishes some societal overtones when Lion-O convinces those around him to end the oppressive tension that exists between his people and the lizard inhabitants of Third Earth. The guy (er, cat) may be immature, but he’s light years ahead of Tygra and co. in the compassion department.
A little past midway through, a major battle is set up that will eventually validate Lion-O’s earlier claim that technology exists and, in order to defend yourself against it, you must choose to understand rather than ignore it. Moving ahead, the battle (led by an onslaught of Mumm-Ra’s minions) claims much of Lion-O’s kingdom, including his father, King Claudus. As heir to the throne, the ball is now squarely in Lion-O’s court and a round of applause explodes as he claims his father’s deceased sword and assembles his fellow ThunderCats for the first time. “This is only the beginning,” he says as the screen fades to black.
Obviously, I can’t speak for those who have previous ties to the property as nostalgia may win out over any iteration of the characters regardless of quality. That said, given how much I enjoyed the episode, I feel confident in saying that Cartoon Network has successfully crafted a ThunderCats series that will appeal to a new generation of audience members while satisfying a majority of longtime fans in the process.
Following the screening, producers Ethan Spaulding and Michael Jelenic discussed how they approached bringing ThunderCats to a new generation of viewers. They cited voice actor Larry Kenney (the original Lion-O and King Claudus in this series) and the sense of adventure found in the original as being the two things they were most concerned with carrying over. Chriqui then talked about how Cheetara’s independence and strength were the elements that most attracted her to the character.
Next, Kenney took the floor and thanked the fans (and their parents) for supporting the series and giving him the opportunity to be a part of the series and their pop-culture memories not once, but twice. As the panel was rushed for time, art director Dan Norton closed things out by taking briefly about the pressure he felt in bringing a beloved property like ThunderCats to life. As I said earlier, I think everyone involved has done a commendable job as I thoroughly enjoyed the episode and look forward to checking out the series on Cartoon Network.
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