Thundercats and the Elephant on Third Earth


Heh, heh, sword-fighting. Seriously, though, this cartoon is lame.

In the hour-long pilot for the recent reboot to Thundercats, which aired on CN in 2011, we see the feline inhabitants of a prosperous Thundera openly hassle two lizards locked up in stocks in the middle of town. There’s no mistaken these people are supposed to be drunk; after all, they are in the midst of a celebration when this happens, and the arrival of a missing and celebrated soldier only heightens the light and festive mood. Well, not so much for the lizards, who are abused and mistreated up until the point that the inherently noble Lion-O rushes in and protects them (along with Tygra’s and Cheetara’s assistance).

In a desperate plea by Lion-O, his father and ruler of Thundera lets these lizards go, albeit reluctantly. He clearly cares little for these creatures. In addition, there’s no telling how many lizards are still stuck in prison, otherwise tortured or abused – or other species, for that matter, as Thundera’s walls keep our questionably moral citizens cut off from the rest of the planet. Thunderians are hated by the rest of the world.

To make matters worse, Thundera is eventually invaded, Trojan-horse style, and conquered. Here’s the kicker: not only is Lion-O’s father killed, but EVERYONE ELSE IN THE CITY. The whole entire population is straight-up massacred. (There’s a chance that two or three cats fled, but by the show’s own portrayal, everyone else is a rotting corpse.) In a day, a lavish and bustling city is reduced to death and destruction. The survivors are only Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, WileyKit, WileyKat, and Snarf. (We learn later that Panthro is alive, too.)

Every moment in this pilot is heartbreaking. But also filled with dramatic potential. The cats are left wandering Third Earth to stop the evil Mumm-ra by finding some magic stones and a book and other generically powered items. The real story, though, is the tragic remnants of a ideal city forced to deal with a planet of creatures that hate and/or distrust them, coming to terms with the personal and horrific death of millions, and essentially finding their place in a world they don’t understand, while coming to grips with the past atrocities of their people.

I’m sorry. That would be the show we actually expected from the pilot.

Instead, we got a Moby Dick-parody. We got a lot of flashbacks and a pretty uninteresting romance. We have two young cats who don’t seem to be too traumatized by being survivors of a mass genocide. There was an episode of about learning the art of defense, or something. The episode with the singing flowers had dramatic promise, but then the cats dealt with robot Ponyo-esque creatures, so I guess that fell by the wayside. When they started racing each other with the pieces of the ThunderTank, cat drag-racing, Thundercats completely lost me.

It’s absolutely inexplicable that at no point did this show address the amount of harrowing depth showcased in the pilot. Believe me, I understand that it’s a kids show, but it’s definitely aimed at older teens and an audience cognizant of the classic series, two groups of people who understand nuance, stakes, death, and consequences. And even if we are focused on kids, you cannot tell me that they, the readers of the Harry Potter series, would have dismissed the stakes established by the pilot. A 10-year old, upon watching the sixth episode, probably asked him or herself, “Fine, but when are they going to deal with ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE?”

Every waking moment watching the series, you can’t help but wonder when the results of Thundera’s torturous past will come to focus for our crew. The reality that they have NOTHING to look forward to, even if they do succeed, doesn’t seem to faze them. They only talk about their father, while understandable, but the massacre of all of Thundera is nary mentioned. Hell, even when Lion-O introduces himself as “Lord of the Thundercats,” no one goes, “Oh, you’re a refugee?” or “Oh, you mean the city that was wiped off the face of the fucking map?” or
“Oh, the people that tortured and ignored half the planet?” Viewers keep expecting these points to be brought up, and they never come.

[Were the elephants in the final three episodes the creators’ way of saying “Yeah, just forget everything that happened at the beginning”? With their forgetful ways, and my oh-so-clever pun in the title of this post, you’d think that’s exactly what they were doing.]

Film and TV are best when they implement the “show-don’t-tell” mantra, but Thundercats would benefit from a serious increase in conversation. I understand the need to budget, cutting down on the need for lip-syncing, but DAMN. The show is a black-haired character way from being an emo-action fest without necessarily dealing with the elements that would justify that emo-ness. When the biggest issue brought by the season finale was a “betrayed by a kiss” moment, (oddly downplaying Pathro’s appendage sacrifice), all potential stakes have sizzled into nothing. Lion-O failure to get his jollies off was portrayed as such a huge disastrous dramatic moment, despite him sucking at everything and the utter need to focus on progressing forward in his destiny and dealing with all the terrible shit in his life. (Also, the whole moment was extremely unearned.) It’s such a pervading question and concern that we’re asking the emotional/dramatic equivalent of when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory.

The show is so straight-forward it’s a mess, when being a “mess” is essentially what the show needs. It sounds like a contradiction, but the circumstances in which the show puts itself into demand a complex, Battlestar Galactica-esque commitment, but instead portrays something akin to a laughably-serious take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which was already done with the CGI movie a few years back, and look how well THAT turned out). It’s a show where more would actually be more, and it’s unclear if the writers actually grasp that. The stakes are high, but no one actually seems to care.

If a season two is indeed in the works, I’m hoping that they’ll have the Thundercats actually face the adversities that are established in the pilot. If not… well, we’ll be right back to the 1980s, only in HD.


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