When I was just a young boy, there was nothing that could make me quite as excited as hearing the theme song for my favorite cartoon come roaring over the speakers of our crappy television set back in the mid 1980’s. The song, and the opening animation sequence, was enough to blow my young mind. Action, adventure, fantasy, science fiction. It was all those things rolled into one marketable 1980’s package. This show was called Thundercats.
Thundercats revolved around an alien race of half-human, half-felines who traveled from their doomed planet Thundera, pursued by a band of mutants. Held in stasis as their ship traveled to Third-Earth, the heroes eventually land and try to make a new home on what should be a more forgiving planet. But what they don’t know is that an evil being resides there, calling himself Mumm-Ra The Everliving, and along with the persistent band of mutants, Mumm-Ra will prove himself a very dangerous foe.
Here’s the cast of characters, in case you’re not familiar (and these are from the original 1985-1989 series, and not the newer series).
Cool-looking team, huh? Imagine how cool that cast is to a young impressionable mind hungry for superheroes and heroic fantasy and science fiction. If you watched it, then you remember. But even cooler than those guys? Mumm-Ra, of course.
Thundercats was made during a time when so many cartoons of its ilk were basically just commercials for action figures. But it was fine, because oddly enough, despite their commercial bent, the shows weren’t shallow like some of today’s programming seems to be – cartoons back then had heart. Cartoons had a nice resurgence during the early and mid 2000’s but now, it’s hard to find anything worthwhile aside from some Japanese anime. Even the newer reboot of Thundercats only lasted for one season because it didn’t move toys like its predecessor did. For shame.
So, what’s the difference? Just different times, in my opinion. The 1980’s were when people were coming out of the gritty realism of the 1970’s. There was an overhaul in the way that children’s programming was represented, starting in the late 1970’s. The Thundercats even employed a psychologist to make sure that each episode featured a lesson for young people to learn. Other cartoons of the 80’s, like G.I. Joe, also worked to do that – and combined with the studio’s decision to work with a Japanese animation company, what we got was a smart, sensible show that would leave a lasting impression on our collective young minds for its great animation and cool characters and its sense of whimsy and adventure.
But what happened to the Thundercats? Despite it being a very successful cartoon it often doesn’t receive the same sort of attention nowadays that other cartoons of the early 90’s receive like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Batman: The Animated Series. Or, hell – even Darkwing Duck. Is it simply because those cartoons are better? I guess that people could argue that case. Certainly, those 90’s cartoons seem to have a finesse and practiced storytelling structure that Thundercats sometimes lacks…but Thundercats is really a very well-done show, with lots of complexity and lots of layers. And when you factor in some of the extended universe stuff, like the comic books put out by Wildstorm in more recent years and by Marvel in the past – the world of Thundercats is really a rich and well-developed fandom that deserves more attention.
So, if you’ve never experienced Thundercats before – give it a chance. You can currently find the series on Amazon Prime, which is where I’ve been re-watching it most recently. And, of course, there are many episodes you can find on YouTube as well, though sometimes the quality is lacking. Thundercats deserves a place among more well-known properties like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers, and shouldn’t be relegated to the forgotten annals of children’s television from the 1980’s. It has heart, complexity, and is loaded with fun. Trust me, you’re not going to regret checking it out. (The newer series is okay, too.)