The Rankin/Bass animated series, ThunderCats, debuted in 1985 and told the story of a group of half-cat/half human looking creatures called the ThunderCats from the planet Thundera. When their planet dies, a few of its citizens leave the planet and seek to make a new life for themselves but their space fleet is attacked en route to a new world by the Mutants of Plun-Darr who are out to capture a mystical Thunderan weapon known as The Eye Of Thundera, a jewel that is mounted in the handle of a sword. The Eye Of Thundera drives the attackers off but not before the ship is damaged in the battle and has to land on a planet called Third Earth. A ThunderCat named Jaga pilots the ship to the planet while the others sleep in suspended animation. Jaga passes away but the others awake safely on Third Earth where Panthro, Cheetara, WilyKit and WilyKat, and Snarf accompany Lion-O, the 'Lord Of The ThunderCats' where they construct a base they call The Cat's Lair.
While the other ThunderCats had their aging stopped while in suspended animation, Lion-O's was simply slowed down to a crawl so while he has an adult body, he has, in effect, an child's mind though he does have a noble heart and a sense of 'good' that endears him and his fellow ThunderCats to the natives of the planet. Unfortunately for all involved, the Mutants of Plun-Darr have figured out where their ship landed and while it's taken them some time, they're fully prepared to land on Third Earth and wreak havoc to get the Eye. Complicating matters further is Mumm-Ra, a mummy/evil wizard who lives on Third Earth and who allies himself with the Mutants because he too would like to get the Eye Of Thundera so that he can control the entire planet.
The episodes included in this two disc set, which represents only part of the first season of the series, are laid out in the following order:
Exodus / The Unholy Alliance / Berbils / The Slaves Of Castle Plun-Darr / Pumm-Ra / The Terror Of Hammerhead
Trouble with Time / The Tower Of Traps / The Garden Of Delights / Mandora The Evil Chaser / The Ghost Warrior / The Doomgaze
ThunderCats is fun in a nostalgic sort of way but it isn't really very good in terms of storytelling. The plots are predictable and pedestrian, many of them instilling in its young audience of the day a moral, which is all well and good but nevertheless comes across as forced. Where the series does excel is in character and background design - if the animation isn't always completely fluid, it's still a fair bit more interesting looking than a lot of other mid-eighties cartoon series and the bad guys, Mumm-Ra in particular, are quite a bit darker and creepier than even Skeletor from He-Man could ever hope to be. Unfortunately, like a lot of kids' shows, ThunderCats features bad forced comic relief, specifically in the form of Snarf, an annoying creature who, like the Smurfs, tends to use the word 'snarf' far more often than any one creature should. His high pitched nasal voice is nothing short of irritating and he does far more harm to the show than good.
While the plotting and pacing meanders and the storylines are, as stated, very predictable, the series does at least manage to provide some legitimate character development in the form of Lion-O. He does learn from his experiences and the slight continuity of these first few episodes shows that the writers were at least trying to develop a mythology here. The comedy contrasts very poorly with the dark side of the story and the whole thing is very erratic, but you have to admire the way that Lion-O does find himself getting more comfortable in his own skin as the show plays out and he begins to more often find himself able to rise to the challenges that Mumm-ra throws at him. Throw in Panthro's wise and tough character and Cheetara's weird cat-lady sex appeal (Don't buy that? Do a Google search and you'll see!) and ThunderCats at least has an interesting cast of characters, even if the storylines don't always take full advantage of them.
Nostalgia is going to play a huge part in how much you get out of this show. If you remember it fondly from your childhood in the eighties then the odds are pretty good that you're going to accept it as is and enjoy it for the goofy slice of bygone pop culture that it is. However, if you're expecting the more mature storytelling that has become more common place in a lot of animated series over the last ten to fifteen years, you'll be sadly disappointed, even if the animation design and character design still holds up very well indeed.
ThunderCats doesn't look so hot in the 1.33.1 fullframe transfers on this new release from Warner Brothers - in fact, these transfers look awfully similar to the previous sets released a few years ago, so this disappointed with the video quality of those discs can rightfully expect to be just as disappointed with the video quality here. Colors are slightly faded, detail is soft at best, compression artifacts are somewhat common in the darker scenes and there doesn't appear to have been much done to restore the series at all.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono tracks on this set are fine and free of any major problems. They don't sound amazing or anything but the dialogue comes through cleanly enough as do the sound effects and the score. The instantly recognizable theme song has some good punch to it as well. There's nothing particularly exciting to say about the audio, only that it gets the job done without any real problems.
Extras are slim, limited to menus and episode selection on each disc and, on the second disc, a seven minute featurette that serves as a look back on the series and includes some interviews with fans of the series. There are trailers for a few other unrelated Warner animation properties also included.
How much you get out of ThunderCats is really going to come down to nostalgia as the series itself is really not all that good. The animation isn't bad but the stories are goofy and Snarf is downright deplorable. Given the fact that this new release from Warner Brothers simply recycles their existing transfers and extras and that the more complete releases from a few years back are still around and easy to find, it's hard to recommend this reissue to anyone. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.