Revisiting cartoons from one's childhood is a risky undertaking that often leads to disappointment. While I had fond memories of the Legend of Zelda cartoon and He-Man, going back to watch them again years later left me slapping my forehead out of embarrassment. Other series like Transformers and Ducktales for whatever reason held the same entertainment value for me now as they did when I was younger. With this in mind I took Thundercats for a spin, because back in 1985 this was my favorite show on television.
I found sitting through the series again to be something of a mixed blessing. On one hand I loved the overall theme and several of the episodes present on the first two discs. On the other though there is some stuff here that is downright horrible, even when you take the time period and target audience into consideration. This is undoubtedly a product from the 80s, but there is a certain appeal to the concept that makes it timeless. And I don't mean the appeal of watching Cheetara run around in a leotard.
The whole point of the series is to present a relatively senseless good versus evil story. The formula of the show allowed for recurring villains, an adventure of the week and some slight continuity, though nothing much more than that. The cast of characters themselves were refugees from a destroyed planet called Thundera, hence the name Thundercats. During their escape the crew is placed in a suspended animation of sorts and the ship crash lands on Earth. Well, "Third Earth" to be exact. It's set in the future where there are no real signs of humans, apart from some ruins and a few stragglers. Many races call this new Earth their home now, so the Thundercats certainly aren't going to be lonely.
Unfortunately the race of space mutants that attacked them in the first place found out where the cats landed. They are after the Sword of Omens that contains the Eye of Thundera, which happens to be the Thundercats' most prized possession and legendary weapon. Whoever wields it becomes leader, and even though only a handful of their race survived, that task has fallen into the hands of young Lion-O. During the suspended animation, time didn't stop completely for the group and even though he was a young boy when he entered it, he emerged from the pod as a grown man. His new strength provides him with the power he needs in order to stop the mutants and keep his band of kinsmen alive. Joining Lion-O is an interesting, yet traditional, cast of characters. Anyone familiar with team based cartoons will instantly recognize the roles that are played out here.
Tygra is pretty much the second in command. He uses a bolo-whip and has some supernatural abilities like being able to turn invisible and such. He is very level headed and is often times, the voice of reason for Lion-O. Panthro is the brains of the operation and constructs many useful inventions. He also happens to be the strongest of the group and runs around with a pair of nunchucks. Wilykit and Wilykat are a pair of young pranksters that also serve as some comic relief, though not nearly as much as Snarf does. Snarf was Lion-O's nursemaid and as he would say, never gets the respect that he deserves. Last but not least is Cheetara, who is the only adult female on the team but is extremely fast and an adept fighter with her quarterstaff.
The Thundercats square off in each episode against a varying cast of villains, though mostly they fight mutants or an ancient mummy known as Mumm-Ra. The mutants are your typical background-less bad guys that prove to be more incompetent than they are actually a threat. They tend to bumble around for a bit and occasionally come up with a wily scheme, but of course they get beaten at every turn. How an alien race can be so advanced as to build space ships complete with blasters but board an enemy craft with maces and clubs is beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, Mumm-Ra is a much more developed, threatening and interesting character that gets a lot of play. He is an eternal incarnation of evil that lives in a pyramid and has the power to transform himself into various things.
The concept proves to be just as cool now as it was twenty years ago, though admittedly there are many gray areas that fond memories alone can't save. For starters, the dialogue is poorly written and acted even worse in most cases. There are also several secondary characters that appear in the show that leave a lot to be desired. Ro-Bears for instance are introduced as robotic-teddy bear-ewok things with irritating voices. There are also some lame pirates known as the Berserkers who like to repeat things three times whenever they speak.
Overall Thundercats withstands the test of time and I had a great time reliving the adventures of Lion-O and the gang. When I sit down to watch the show again though, I'm going to pick and choose my episodes more carefully. Most of the episodes here are golden entertainment. There are just a few that are total stinkers.
While the series has found its way onto a finely packaged box set from Warner Bros., this review is only for the content on the first volume of that set, which includes discs one and two. Twelve episodes find their home on these two discs and even though the first DVD includes the introduction to the show, it's not entirely complete. You see, the first three episodes on the disc were actually part of a movie or sorts that introduced the Thundercats and told their tale. Unfortunately once the show hit syndication it was chopped up in order to fit into the allotted time, so some of the content was lost. I'd love to see the uncut and unedited version hit DVD at some point, but unfortunately for now this is the best we can hope for.
Thundercats is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, which is what you'd expect from a cartoon that has hit the twenty year mark. What you wouldn't expect is a straight broadcast transfer with no re-mastering of the image, which is unfortunately what we get here. The image is riddled with problems such as grain, aliasing, speckle, edge enhancement and shimmer. Even though they can sometimes look faded, colors appear just as vibrant as ever. A couple of points popped up where the image jumped erratically, though it didn't appear all that often.
I would like to point out to folks who haven't seen the show, just how marvelously animated it is. Even by today's animation standards this stuff is fluid, fast paced and action packed. It certainly was a series that was ahead of its time and the look of the show is only proof of that.
Thundercats on DVD comes with an audio treatment that is not too dissimilar from the video. That meaning we get the exact original content as it was broadcast twenty years ago, in the glory of English mono. The quality is generally good for what the presentation is and everything sounds as clear as you'd expect. The audio comes with options for Spanish and French as well as subtitles for each of the spoken languages. If you pick up the set (or rare individual releases) you should be made aware that the second episode ("Unholy Alliance") has a flaw with the audio in which no music is available on the English track. Warner Bros. is offering a replacement disc that apparently fixes the problem.
On the first and second disc the only bonus content available is some talk with fans. Wil Wheaton chimes in along with some random super fans to talk about what made the show so unique and great. It's pretty disappointing to say the least, and it boils down into self serving praise from a rabid fanbase. If you've ever thought to yourself that you'd want to appear on a DVD singing the theme song from a TV show you watched when you were a kid, just stop for a moment, watch and revel in the embarrassment that Wheaton and fans put themselves through.
Thundercats proves itself to be extremely entertaining at parts, yet gruelingly terrible at others. After all of these years I still love Lion-O and the rest of the cats, though admittedly I will be skipping several of these episodes when I go back to watch the show. I was pretty disappointed with the DVD grade for this release though and was hoping that the video and audio would have gotten some extra attention. Heck, I would have settled for some more bonus material instead. As it stands if you're interested in picking up the Thundercats, get the entire box set instead of trying to track down the seemingly impossible to find individual volumes. This is a Grade A 1980's cartoon, but keep in mind that you have to take the good with the bad.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!