Finding the right tone to appeal to a demographic with established IP is an interesting challenge. A couple years ago, “Thundercats” was rebooted as a slick anime style animated series. While it effectively traversed that angle, it might have been too dark or, by extension, too expensive with some of the great voice actors. It also might have gone over some of its audiences’ heads. The essence of the original “Thundercats” series in the 80s was that it was Japanese made but for primarily a US audience so the tonal balance was an interesting mix of two cultures but with the fast and furious beauty of anime at that time. The opening sequence of that series, before 3D animation ever took hold, is still breathtaking.
With the new Warner Animation series “Thundercats: Roar”, it takes a more borderline “Adventure Time” approach, and makes the Thundercats more like a big class of Kindergarten than life or death. With that approach, it perfectly encapsulates its tone. Lion-O is a hapless cat who is just out for himself who, once in a while, gets his angle right. Tigra, as seen in a later episode, is more of a homebody and OCD. Panthro has an inferiority complex. Cheeta is still gaining her footing but is the smartest likely of the bunch. The young Kittens are still finding their identity but basically make a mess. Snarf, as a matter of balance, is a whole other animal with a whole new backstory that has to be watched to be believed. This is not your Dad’s Snarf.
The stories are more based in light morality tales. One episode in this first part of episodes reviewed is Lion-O learning how to be a leader and what that means. Another is the Thundercats realizing how one of their own makes their life easier. Another is understanding the need for companionship even on a desolate world like Third Earth. One of the more intensive episodes is the first episode (since it runs a full 24 minutes) unlike the normal vignettes which run 12 minutes. The first episode focuses on the Thundercats landing on the planet and how the Lair as well as Mum-Ra’s fortress came about. It is silly but again speaks to the overall tone of lesson teaching. The Burbles who love to build just wanted to feel needed and appreciated, even if every time they say the evil lord’s name, they get struck with a lightning bolt.
There are odes to 80s rock as well as “Ren & Stimpy”, but the shenanigans never quite reach pop culture breaking point even with the elastic reactions of Lion-O. “Thundercats Roar” is an effective little side perception of the cats from a day-glo, abstract perspective keying into the short attention spans of its younger viewers while still relating key points with effective absurdity.
By Tim Wassberg