The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! ThunderCats! ..... yawn

Well, people on the internet have been jizzing themselves for months over this thing. Cartoon Network has been marketing this thing as much as I have ever seen any cartoon series marketed. There were even advertisements for it playing as trailers in movie theaters. I have a feeling that Cartoon Network really wants this to be their own "Avatar the Last Airbender." Did they succeed? I know it's just the first two episodes, but... no. No they did not.

That had to be the most cliche forty-four minutes of television I have seen in ages. I know some people will tell me "it's a cartoon for children, what did you expect?" Honestly, I did not expect anything from this particular show. But I did not expect anything from an aforementioned Nickelodeon cartoon a few years ago. Cliches aren't bad in and of themselves, it's how they are used. And "ThunderCats" is just... totally paint by numbers.

Let's do a brief cliche count, shall we?

* Friendly rivals (Lion-O and Tigra)
* Ancient evil returning (Mumm-Ra)
* Mammals good, reptiles evil (Cats vs Lizards)
* Clever street urchins with big dreams (Wily-Kat & Wily-Kit)
* Cute animal sidekick (Snarf)
* Death of the hero's father (*snicker* ....Clawdus)
* Death of old, wise mentor (Jagga)
* Vision of a dark future (Lion-O seeing Mumm-Ra in the Sword of Omens)
* Carefree young boy has to learn to be a hero (Lion-O)
* Medieval weapons versus technology
* Betrayal to the enemy (Clancy Brown)
* Trojan Horse ploy (SERIOUSLY!)
* Ugly bad guys, pretty good guys (lizards vs cats)
* Cute kid sidekicks
* Fantasy world where technology is considered a lost myth
* The Slow-motion "NOOOOOOO!" while father falls to his death in slow-motion.

Again, I acknowledge that cliches are cliches for a reason, but when you cram this many into such a short space of time, and you don't spin them around and do something new and fun with them, it's just tired. "Avatar the Last Airbender" had a lot of cliches too, but it did its own thing, had fun with it, and not afraid to step outside the box. "ThunderCats" stays inside its litter box, and seems perfectly happy to do so.

Now, I'm not saying that basic archetypes and fantasy storytelling are a bad thing. I'm a huge fan of the "Lord of the Rings" and that is about as archetypal as it gets. But, at the same time, this is 2011, and it's all been done before and better. Put your own spin on it. I will give them some points that at least one cat is bad, and at least one lizard is good. But I need a little bit more than that.

I also need to ask why Mumm-Ra is even in this show? As cliched as mammals vs reptiles is, I understand it. Where does a crazy mummy fit into all this from even a thematic position. And he just seems to come out of no where. His name is mentioned once at the beginning, and then he kills *snickers* Clawdus and reveals himself, and everyone is like "OH CRAP! MUMM-RA!!!!" Uh huh... I've seen "Transformers" remakes build up Megatron and "GI Joe" remakes build up Cobra Commander far better than this. Just poof, he's here and we're supposed to be terrified. I think the only reason Mumm-Ra is in this is because he was in the 80's cartoon and it's expected.

His dialogue was also quite cliche. "You cannot comprehend the forces you are dealing with!" I smacked my forehead the moment he said that, but I cannot say I was surprised by that point. Of course, Mumm-Ra needs viagra, because whatever he was going to do, he totally failed to get it up. So, when the time comes when the show really needs to sell their Big Bad, he's laughable right out of the gate.

The reveal that Cheetara is cleric of Jagga is weak. Why? Because we are never told who the clerics of Jagga really are? And why Cheetara being a cleric is surprising.

And then there is the first scene where Lion-O is attacked because the stupid, thuggish citizens didn't recognize him. When they find out he's a prince, they shit themselves and run. Then later, an angry mob decides to attack BOTH princes despite knowing who they are. So stupid.

Oh, and who else was shocked to see Clancy Brown turn out to be a bad guy? Yeah, the one character I liked and he turned out to be a villain. Though, knowing me, that might be why I liked him at all. However, I can contest this by saying he became much duller once his treachery was revealed. He betrayed the king because serving him "got him nothing" except, you know, a position of power, a great feast, and since the ThunderCats are imperialistic, probably land. If we didn't spend so much time focusing on stupid mobs trying to kill the princes, maybe we could have seen what motivated this guy.

So Lion-O and Tigra have a best friend/eternal rivalry thing going. Who else sees a love-triangle with Cheetara coming? In fact, it's such an obvious cliche that if it doesn't happen by the end of the first season, I will stick any foreign object you care to name inside myself.

And now, for some questions and random thoughts.

So, the Sword of Omens is the most powerful weapon on the planet. I know, in future episodes, Lion-O is going to use it against the far more technology advanced villains. And yet, I don't care how cool your sword is, if your fight doesn't end up like this...

... you fail.

Did anyone else expect Wily-Kat and Wily-Kit to break out and start singing this?

So, how soon until they cram in three or four other enemy animal races. I'm sure they'll have birds and gorillas because the old series did. Me, I want to see anthro chihuahuas.

Cheetara is making a lot of furries' balls drop now. But, I can hear the excuses now... "it's not furry if they have humanoid faces." I never got the cat-girl thing at all. But I also imagine she's going to be very popular in Japan.

Me, I hope Lion-O and Tigra turn out to be totally gay for each other, never admit it, have a huge falling out and Tigra turns into a winged lipstick monster and then rapes Cheetara after sacrificing Snarf, Wily-Kat, and Wily-Kit to the forces of Hell.

Seriously, how does a crazed mummy fit into this?


  1. I'll admit, I'm utterly indifferent to the new "Thundercats" series; just eyeballing it, it looks fun enough and I root for its success (because it can never hurt, from a marketing standpoint, to have another kid's action cartoon out there and doing well), but I've never even seen a lick of the original series and as such, can't really bring myself to give a crap about any of these characters.

    Given your multiple references to "Avatar: The Last Airbender" in this article, however, I was wondering if you could give some brief thoughts on the new "Legend of Korra" trailer that was screened at SDCC. If you haven't managed to catch it yet, I posted a link in the Station 8 Comment Room. Personally, I have hopes that this might turn out to be even better than the original series; the setting, if nothing else, looks to be rather exciting and fresh.

  2. Insightful as always Greg. I do kinda disagree on the mammals good, reptiles bad point though. I think the pilot did a fair job of establishing that the lizards have legitimate reasons to hate the cats. From what little we see of Thundarian society, they seem to racist, exploitative and imperialistic in general. To the point that Lion-O is considered some kinda of crazy radical for suggesting that lynching helpless prisoners might not be entirely ethical. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the average non-cat denizen of Third Earth ends up looking at Mumm-Ra as some kind of messiah for toppling the Evil Cat Empire.

    That said, I do agree with most of your points, particularly in regards to Mumm-Ra. He really was shoe horned in at the last minute. It probably would have been better to save him for later in the series. Maybe end the pilot with a tag revealing him to have been behind the lizard uprising and build him up gradually through the series. I know that’s kinda cliché in itself, but it’s a cliché that would have felt more organic.

  3. I'll give it a few more episode before making my final judgement, but I'll agree it's not as great as everybody makes it out to be. Beats the pants out of the original series, if nothing else.

    Young Justice had a pretty cool two-part opening episodes, but got seriously dull as the series went on. It might just be suffering from season one Justice League syndrome, though.

  4. So you didn't like it then? ;)

    I agree with your assessment of the flaws but I liked the show despite them. It might be because I liked the original as a kid and I even watched a few episodes of that series before the new one. I can say for certain that this is a massive improvement over the 80s series. Though that's not saying much as it was an 80s cartoon, it's hard not to improve on those.

    The world building could've been better but I think it established the main characters well enough. Unfortunately Cheetara got the short end of the stick in that department. She was badass and little else; hopefully we'll get more from her later on.

    "Medieval weapons versus technology" well it seemed to me that they are going for an "embracing both magic and technology" theme for the Thundercats. Which would be another cliché I suppose.

    I'm going to wait to see how the series plays out since there's a lot of potential here and there's only so much you can cram into an hour long pilot. When I first saw Avatar I was underwhelmed by the pilot and thought it fairly generic. It wasn't until the third episode that I saw why people were raving so much about it. It sometimes takes time for a series to find its footing and the first season is always the hardest. You yourself didn't like the Avengers cartoon till about halfway through season 1.

  5. DK> "Beats the pants out of the original series" isn't exactly high praise, if you ask me.

    And I think "Young Justice" has been pretty great. Very character driven, which is what I tend to prefer.

  6. I imagine I'll end up addressing a lot of this naturally when I walk through the premiere on Toonzone, but I do want to use this space to challenge a few assertions:

    1. I hesitate to describe Lion-O and Tygra as "friendly rivals." I mean, they care about each other, but there's also some palpable tension driven by Tygra's opinion that Lion-O is not at all up to suiting his responsibilities while he is much more capable and sensible but cannot rule at all. If the root cause of their rivalry is frustration, can this really be called friendly? Lion-O flat out says he doesn't want to grow up to be like Tygra. That is how distinct they are in their thinking and temperament. In absence of family ties, I'm not at all sure these two would be friends.

    2. I think it is severely mistaken to say there is a black & white, evil vs. good divide between Reptiles and Cats. Not from where I'm standing. Was that assertion about inequality ever convincingly refuted? No. We even see an implication that there are Cats that even look down on other mammals.

    3. The cute animal sidekick...OK, fine, Snarf counts as a mascot if nothing else. But surely you can admit this is severely toned down from what Snarf was in the original show. He takes up a minute amount of time here whereas classic Snarf would hog whole lines of irritating dialogue. The new snarf exists on the periphery of the narrative, rather than distracting from it.

    4. How do we know Jaga is actually dead?

    5. On fantasy vs. technology: recall this moment. Grune taunts the king, asking how he can fight technology when he doesn't even understand it. Who does? Lion-O. Tygra acquires a gun and is seen using it in commercials with unaired footage. We've had staff confirming the Thunder Tank eventually coming along. Technology is something that is in the book of omens, a mystical artifact. We'll have to wait and see, but to me this suggests not a theme of fantasy vs. technology but rather the ThunderCats learning to fight back with these things together. Seriously, Lion-O has already used technology to fight once. Who is to say he'll neglect it from now on?

    Finally, while I certainly see the greater point on cliches, I think that Avatar's first episode or two is not so different. The idea of a chosen one training to gain strength to defeat an evil empire is not exactly a paragon of originality! But in the long run, the series proved itself. I'll be pleasantly surprised and maybe even stunned if I like ThunderCats as well as Avatar, of course, as I consider the latter one of the finest action shows ever done...but the point is, while acknowledging the appearance of certain well-known themes here I'm more than willing to stay with the series and see where it goes. And I'm definitely not ready to make some of the assumptions about its direction that you make in this post.

    But we'll see. I do think Young Justice had the stronger start (better than Avatar's too, for my money), though I very much like both at this point.