Other than issuing the guttural battle cry “ThunderCats — Ho!” without a hint of double entendre, odds are few remember much from this 1980s children’s artifact, which largely works to Warner Bros.’ advantage in undertaking an anime-style reboot. Clunky dialogue and familiar coming-of-age elements are mostly offset, thankfully, by fairly adult action and battles. Still, the revival marks a transparent attempt to unleash the merchandising potential in a dormant franchise, designed to fit purr-fectly with Cartoon Network’s animation-for-boys niche. By that measure, these “‘Cats” will be judged as much by action figures sold as ratings generated.
Going back to the story’s roots, the series finds the kingdom of Thundera under the stewardship of King Claudus (voiced by Larry Kenney), who worries his son Lion-O (Will Friedle) is too callow to serve as his heir. It’s an opinion shared by Lion-O’s adopted older brother Tygra (Matthew Mercer), who can’t quite fathom the kid’s (kitten’s?) fascination in the rumored existence of something called “technology.”
Of course, all hell eventually breaks loose in the one-hour premiere, as evil forces descend on Thundera, sending Lion-O and those loyal to him into retreat. The template sets up a semi-serialized storyline hewing pretty closely to the original but with some interesting twists, like whether the ThunderCats abused other species and what role mastering technology will play in Lion-O’s quest to fulfill his destiny and reclaim his birthright.
Yes, there’s still the Sword of Omens, which lights up and shoots energy in all directions (“Ho!”), as well as some of the clunkier comic-relief characters, including Lion-O’s irritating pet Snarf. But there’s also a bit more of “The Lion King’s” operatic tone woven into the premiere.
In short, “ThunderCats” represents a throwback to the drearily toy-driven 1980s, a period that seems destined to keep returning (a Transformers here; a He-Man there) as much out of pragmatism as nostalgia. By that measure, it’s hard to fault Warner Bros. and its cable sibling for seeking to wring additional mileage out of a property blessed with a cool look and some name equity, if little else.
Will it work? Even with the show’s deficiencies, marketed right, probably. In which case, that rallying cry could be replaced by the merrier sound of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” around Christmas.