Nostalgia. It's a big, dumb, powerful force. It makes us do things like buy Flight of the Navigator on release day, or spend $34.98 on The Last Starfighter, or get excited when a friend buys a used, full-frame copy of The Wizard on VHS for our birthday because it's not on
DVD yet. This is the awesome power that Warner Bros. is attempting to harness for evil. You see, ThunderCats: Season One, Volume Two is $64.98.
Now, maybe I missed something, but I'm pretty sure "ThunderCats" wasn't an HBO drama produced in association with Steven Spielberg. This is a cartoon. Other animated shows from the '70s, '80s, and '90s are reasonably priced between $30 and $50, and many of them have smaller audiences, or remastered video and audio, or even more than one extra per release. Charging $64.98 for 32 episodes of "ThunderCats" is something Paramount would do. Or OPEC, if they sold 20-year-old kids' superhero shows on DVD.
Now, let's be clear; "ThunderCats" isn't high art. It's repetitive and even occasionally boring, and sometimes – okay, frequently – the storytelling isn't that tight. But it deserved a better release than this. The disappointing fact is "ThunderCats" is the definition of "slapped on DVD," with minimal effort given to video, audio, and, well, you name it.
For those of you who haven't seen it, here's a brief, obligatory rundown: The ThunderCats are survivors of the destruction of their homeworld, Thundera. In their escape, they crash landed on Earth (which is now called "Third Earth") at some point in the distant future, followed closely by a handful of evil mutants from the planet Plundarr. Third Earth happens to be home to a nasty-tempered baddie named Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living, and with the help of the mutants, Mumm-Ra repeatedly tries to get his decomposing hands on ThunderCat leader Lion-O's weapon, the Sword of Omens.
If the setup sounds familiar, it should; it's basically a combination of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" and "The Transformers." To be fair, "ThunderCats" went into production before "Transformers" first aired, but its "swords, sorcery, and space" motif was successfully introduced with "He-Man," and capturing the imaginations of five-year-olds everywhere had a large hand in that series' phenomenal success, so why not create some parallels?
Unfortunately, the individual episodes don't fare quite as well, and in Season One, Volume Two, we're well past the introductory material. The episodes here fall into a familiar Saturday morning mold; almost every episode is about Mumm-Ra's latest scheme to defeat the ThunderCats once and for all. "ThunderCats" is notable, however, for its willingness to do multiple-episode story arcs, and those are naturally the best episodes of the series, and this set. The first of these, the five-part "Lion-O's Anointment," is included here. In it, Lion-O must prove himself to be worthy of the mantle of Lord of the ThunderCats by defeating the others in trials of strength, speed, cunning, and "mind power," and finally defeating Mumm-Ra himself – all without the aid of the Sword of Omens.
Other episodes include the similary-themed "Monkian's Bargain," in which Mumm-Ra grants Monkian ultimate power to defeat the ThunderCats (but requires a high price in return), and "The Superpower Potion," where Vultureman invents, well, take a guess. (There's another one with Jackalman, too, but it's pretty bad.) Mumm-Ra finds the most
powerful sword ever created in "Excalibur," and actually manages to defeat Lion-O until a certain ancient wizard shows up to stop him. And Mumm-Ra transforms himself into the "Dream Master" in the episode of the same name in order to take control of the ThunderCats' astral selves, managing to zombify all but Lion-O and Snarf in his bid to make Third Earth his once more.
As you can probably tell, every episode is fairly similar to any other episode on the set.
As near as I can determine, these episodes were dumped from tape masters, so they don't look much better than bootlegs. Pretty much every problem you would expect is here: grain, over-enhanced edges, undersaturated colors, oversaturated colors, etc. If you've seen an episode on Cartoon Network before, that's what you can expect here.
Dolby mono in English, French, and Spanish, with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. All of the episodes have their background music this time, unlike the first set.
Menus and Packaging:
The main menu is animated simply, with the characters sort of statically zooming into place in the Cat's Lair control room while the theme song plays repeatedly. Submenus consist of text overlaying screen captures.
The set comes in a nice box with a hologram cover of Lion-O that changes depending on your
angle, and the discs themselves are packaged separately in three plastic cases (there are six discs altogether). The artwork on the cases looks like every other Rankin-Bass movie cover in existence, which is to say that it bears a reasonable resemblance to the characters.
Every disc has a "special features" option on the menu, but only the final disc actually has one. The others just tell you to check the other discs for extras. The extra for the set is a 20-minute featurette with interviews with the producers and voice actors. It's really the only redeeming aspect of the set, as they all tell stories about how "ThunderCats" came to be and their experiences with the show and the fans, even to this day. Fans who are interested in renting this featurette but not buying the entire set should take a look at this last disc.
One interesting featurette can't save a mediocre series with an overpriced, slapped-on-DVD release. Even hardcore fans of the series should avoid this one. Skip it.