Thundercats is at a cross roads right now. The brand is barely holding on, the show may not return and the toys have seen sparse shelf space and extremely poor distribution. Non-toy merchandise has seen an extremely slow trickle, with very little in the way to excite fans and kids. So when I ask, “Should Thundercats Be Saved?”, I solely mean this particular iteration of the classic franchise and not the brand as a whole.
Now, don’t get me wrong here…Thundercats, as a brand, can be a very powerful name. Thundercats (as a brand) can and should be in the market. But only if handled correctly; With respect by all involved, a dedicated master toy license holder willing to keep the line fresh and in people’s minds.
I’m going to take a look at 5 reasons why this current iteration absolutely should be saved and should continue on. But I’m also going to list 5 reasons why it might be best to cut their losses and start over. Read on to see what I’ve come up with. Why Thundercats SHOULD Be Saved
The Voice Cast
We really couldn’t have asked for a better voice cast. A very talented and fresh cast was brought in, and Larry Kenney returned to give us a taste of the classic series. The voice talent has grown into the characters and have really made them their own. Instead of simply emulating the voices of the original, the crew allowed people like Will Friedle and Kevin Michael Richardson to shine. Even voices like Matt Mercer’s Tygra, who many thought didn’t fit the character at first, has become a massive fan favorite, and rightfully so. They work well together and make you want to root for them.
The Animation and Art Design
What this show has done, that I haven’t seen in a long time, is fully embrace cinema quality 2D animation. The characters, sets, locations and vehicles have all been given detailed and worthwhile updates. Art Director Dan Norton took no shortcuts when it came to these designs.
WB has allowed their animation studio to run with that. Not a single episode has looked anything short of stunning. The amount of detail placed into each animation frame is staggering. Even mundane events and episodes are presented with the best 2D animation on TV right now. This attention to detail and high quality of work deserves greater than being dumped to prematurely.
The Villains Are Actually Dangerous
Many cartoons, both new and old, continually neuter their villains to make sure the heroes can always espouse the “Good Will Always Triumph” cliche. That definitely isn’t the case here. Mumm-Ra and his crew win almost as much as they lose. The writers actually allowed them to destroy and completely wipe out the entire cat race (until they decided to reverse course and “reveal” that hundreds of the cats survived). Not only that, but characters like Addicus and Kaynar have been portrayed as ruthless criminals and murderers. At one point, they even succeed, though briefly, at killing Lion-O. It gives weight to their encounters and allows us to think that not everyone is always safe and that their are actual stakes during battles.
Perfect. Not much more really needs to be said about the music in this series. Kevin Kliesch has created memorable themes for each character, and has put together one of the most fitting, cinematic and rewarding musical experiences I’ve heard in a modern cartoon. And it’s not just the upbeat or heavier battle music; It’s the quiet, character moments where Kevin’s score shine brightest.
It was Rebooted The Right Way
One of the biggest challenges with reviving a long dormant property is giving people a reason to care. If you’re going to retell the origin, give it a fresh take and alter what had come before, it had better be somethign worth doing. In the case of Thundercats, it’s had not had a TV show update, reboot or continuation in over 20 years. And right now, that part is already out of the way. As this season comes to its conclusion, we already have the brand back in public view.
The hard part of reintroducing the characters, the story, and this world has already happened. Killing the show and this entire iteration would do a massive amount of damage to the brand. The series has been rebooted, people (for the most part) bought into it and the frame work is in place for a long run.
Why This Thundercats Iteration Should NOT and Can NOT Be Saved
Bandai’s Toy Line
What should have been a slam dunk and a real force in the boys market has sputtered along in near obscurity and poor decisions. When initially presented, the reintroduction of the Thundercats toys held so much promise. Bandai had a bit for everyone. Small scale figures and vehicles that would act as the “main” toy line; 6″ incarnations of the main characters and a collector oriented “classic” 8″ line with 2 characters released at a time. It sounded brilliant. The initial offerings were snatched up and things were looking good. But there were issues and missteps from the start that this toy line has failed to overcome.
Some stores initially passed on the line all together. Most notable among them was Target. Stores that did decide to carry the line relegated them to back aisles for the most part, far away from sections for “hot” or popular properties. Then came Bandai’s infamous distribution method. A newly reintroduced property like this relies on the quick availability of newly introduced characters. However, none of the smaller, one off characters received toys. Many characters that are now considered main stays or iconic (Pumyra, Addicus, Kaynar, Jaga) have yet to be produced or so much as announced. Now many stores are trying to clear out their stock. Most have yet to stock up on the newest waves and the toys are making their way to bargain retailers. This isn’t even touching on the debacle that is the Classics line. From the get go, Thundercats was treated like a second class toy line and getting the master license away from them should be the #1 priority for WB.
WB Has Already Given Up
Warner Bros. has pretty much abandoned this series. Where media outlets and fan sites were getting new Thundercats previews 3 days before every episode has been replaced with silence. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a preview release about 16 hours before the episode airs. Nothing new has been released by WB in weeks.
At the heart of this is the advertising and marketing approach. It’s been nearly non-existent since the first weeks of the show. There have been no commercials airing since the very first promos on Cartoon Network. Where other properties use their sister stations to push a big show, Thundercats hasn’t had a peep anywhere. While other companies will beat down your door to promote their shows and brands, this show has received next to nothing.
Cartoon Network has done everything in their power to make following a show as difficult as possible. This is not a new revelation. Ask Masters of the Universe fans about the treatment of their excellent 2002 show. Cartoon Networks poor communication (or should I say non-existent), constant hiatus’ and need to split the season into 13 episode chunks has killed any chance for momentum this show was building with their viewers. It could have been salvaged with some re-runs and episode marathons, but that didn’t happen until fairly recently.
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about that. WB is the parent of Cartoon Network. So any shows they produce will likely air on the network. And CN has shown little more than disregard for anything not produced specifically by them.
No Merchandising Opportunities
Even being dormant for 20+ years, Thundercats still had brand recognition. T-Shirt and apparel manufacturers were the only ones to attempt to cash in on the brand while WB sat on the Thundercats brand. But for one reason or another, when the new show started, we got nothing. How a DC Comics produced comic book was not read y on day 1 (and still isn’t being made) is puzzling beyond comprehension. Where were the school supplies, kids clothes, kites, skate boards, bikes, party supplies, coloring books, children’s books, lunch boxes? Why is the only video game a bargain title for a dated platform? Where are the mobile apps and games? The inability to capitalize on the relaunch of the brand probably cost them not only money, but much needed brand awareness among consumers.
This show started off with one of the best pilots you could ask for. It was dead serious, had excellent moments of levity and set up a larger world full of possibilities fro this show to explore. And early on, that’s exactly what we were getting. then…Well, then it all fell apart. Characters consistency has been elusive. At times it doesn’t seem like the writers quite understand the character development that had come before their episodes. We’ve been subject to personality swings left and right (Pumyra likes Lion-O, Pumyra hates Lion-O, wash rinse and repeat again and again).
But what’s worse is the writing team can’t seem to keep the story itself moving forward. We will get a string of episodes that seem to right the ship, followed by a series of one off adventures that do nothing but pad out the season and offer nothing to the (supposedly dire) situations at hand. At this point, the writers can’t get on the same page and one episode negates the character advancements of the last. Now, we’re in the run up to the season finale. Logic dictates that you build to a finish. that you leave the last few episodes as story arc driven events to emphasize the important events that will transpire before going off the air for the season. But that hasn’t been the case here. We were treated to a strong 3-part arc that pointed the characters all directly at the task at hand, had tremendous story telling and had all the characters in the right frame of mind. Then we’re hit with a series of episodes that grind the series to a halt and showcase everything that can turn off an interested audience.
The most frustrating part about the writers is that they have the talent to do better. We’ve been treated to episodes early on that hit everything perfectly. There are times when they can tug on your heart or make giddy during a stunning turn of events. You have to look no further than episodes like the pilot, Legacy or Native Son to see how this show can be something worth rooting for.
So what’s the final verdict? Should these particular Thundercats stay or go? Honestly, that’s still a tough question to answer. As a fan, someone who has invested serious time and money into this franchise, I absolutely want it to continue. I bought into the initial premise. We have been given more than few glimpses at what this show and franchise can be. And those glimpses keep me hopeful that WB can right the ship and make this show successful.
In the same stream of thought, I’ve seen the massive mishandling of the franchise so far. The lack of commitment and support from everyone involved is deflating. And that part of me just wants it to end, for them to regroup and try again to get it right from the start. But I also know to be careful what I wish for. This series was not a cheap one to produce. And if it is washed away, the end result will likely be a cheaper, lower quality and lower risk reboot that abandons the excellent ideas presented in this show.
The people who are supporting this show deserve better. Just looking at this forum alone, I see a group of very dedicated and passionate fans who want nothing more than to have a show, toy line and brand that’s easy to support and be proud of. But they have to be given the chance to do so. They have to have the products to buy, a show that’s not jerked around and a stream of info to keep them excited. And for that, I think this show ultimately should be salvaged and continue on. But it can’t keep it’s current problems and things do need to change to make this a success.