Some unexpected computer problems the last week created a delay in my rewatch of the ThunderCats 2011 I had already seen. Instead of going through with my plan of watching smaller chunks, I watched the whole cat and kiboodle instead. So let's end this so we can get to what I think of the episodes I HAVEN'T seen.
In a strange bit of irony, SEVEN years after the first time, I find my position reversed. Once I loved the premiere and didn't care for the rest of the episodes. Now, I don't care for the premiere but have grown to enjoy (if not LOVE) what follows. This is bit of a boon to me since I was not sure how they would fare after my current lukewarm thoughts about the premiere. Then I ask myself...
“So what was it about these post-premiere episodes that made me lose interest, and do I still find them a problem now?”
The issue I remember the most from the first time watching was the characterization. One thing, there is not really much spark in the chemistry between any of the ThunderCats. Their interactions come off as rather cold and distant. We already know Lion-O and Tygra are brothers, but they do not come off as such throughout these episodes. They don't bicker nor do they band together with a familial camaraderie you find between sibling duos like say... Katara and Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender and (for better or worse) Mako and Bolin in The Legend of Korra. Cheetara provides a nice spiritual element, but again it's distant. Panthro is peak Kevin Michael Richardson at an impersonal distance, and Wileys Kat and Kit are barely used. This is unfortunate, those two have the chipper spirit needed in an already heavy-handed tale. And Snarf? Best character in the show. Doesn't talk much and does his best no matter what.
This leads to the more unfortunate volte-face decisions colouring the first three episodes or so after the premiere. So Lion-O, fresh off a dead father and a fallen kingdom, wants to go off to kill Mumm-Ra than find the Book of Omens (Ramlak Rising). Yet, despite having a chipper, overeager heart like in the premiere, he seems in the episode more morose than it seems his character should be. It's an unnatural writing of it, and the others go with it because... he's the King I guess? It does not matter in the end since he learns his lesson (after gleefully swinging around his sword against a sea monster), and we're back to the Book of Omens search.
After that (The Song of the Petalars), a decision to make a tactical retreat against some incoming Mutants is seen by Tygra as cowardice. After being wary of Lion-O's desire to fight Mumm-ra instead of retrieving the Book of Omens in the last episode, Tygra overemotes about how “THUNDERCATS DON'T RETREAT!” in this following episode. So... he was kindof eh when Lion-O 'retreated' from what Jaga requested of him in the premiere, but when facing an advancing force when the likelihood of defeat is very high and where death would mean the end of Thundera's rebirth? Oh, that's a bridge too far for Tygra. But then after an existential crisis by Lion-O, it's okay to be reckless because it is what dad would've wanted. I know I'm reading into it a bit, since one can yield from it the idea of “Don't run away forever, sometimes take the leap of faith and hope for the best.” Yet the at times haphazard dialogue, combined with the emotionally distant, underdeveloped, cast, does not help.
So one might ask, “When DOES it work?” Ironically, when it is just Lion-O.
The last two episodes of what I had watched (Legacy, The Duelist and the Drifter), reveal Lion-O at his most engaging since the premiere. Legacy involves him being forced to roleplay as his descendant as he feels his way through an interesting origin story regarding the cats, other creatures, and Mumm-Ra. Without anybody to boss around or yell at him, Lion-O has to use his resourcefulness in unknown elements or else he's screwed. The Duelist and the Drifter focuses on his cocksure attitude when it comes to wielding the Sword of Omens, but also emphasizes how his stubbornness can be a positive. Him being a foil to the episode's guest character (an excellent performance by Stephen Root), is terrific as it provides an amusing master-student dynamic, and it is not drowned out by the rest of the cast. It makes me wonder if it would have been better if Lion-O was alone at the start (except he has Snarf), interacting with the world, and THEN coming across the other ThunderCats. Maybe.
What is a definite however, in terms of unadulterated positivity, is my love for the world. The world building in these episodes is FANTASTIC. Sure Ramlak Rises is a Moby-Dickesque tale, but the Sand Sea never mind the plight of the fishmen who the Cats join up with is good. I may take issue with how the themes and dialogue were handled in Song of the Petalars, but the rapport between Lion-O and a Petalar, a species with only a 24-hour lifespan (a lifetime in their eyes), is of the utmost endearment. I cannot say no to the various flashbacks in this series, whether it is the entirety of Legacy, the whole backstory between Grune and Panthro, or the dungeon crawl that was Journey to the Tower of Omens. It's filled with enough wonder and polish that I'm more than happy to endure some of the flaws and foibles of the writing just so I can see more of it.
And as such, you will see more of this. Hopefully, as future episodes go, the series will address my concerns and maybe... just maybe... I will also lament with much fervour as its fans.
It's so weird to see Lion-O have an existential crisis in Song of the Petalars. Not only because he was so gungho in the last episode but also because it's funny hearing it in the same voice Will Friedle used for his Terry McGinnis/Batman.
The series also thankfully addressed my concerns on whether I should root for the ThunderCats, despite their questionable treatment of the other species through Legacy. Those lizards's contempt in the premiere make some sense now.
Like Green Lantern: The Animated Series, I appreciate how much murder occurs throughout these episodes of ThunderCats 2011. Fishmen get thrown overboard, Thunderian soldiers lie wasted in the battlefield, Panthro blasts lizards to smithereens. I like my modern action cartoons with some grit. Also copious ready usage of the words “Die” and “Kill”, especially when people literally die or get killed. No weaseling how an actual death is being 'destroyed' or some other euphemism. I hated it when it happened in Korra.
Lion-O only moves a couple of frames here even though he makes the most emotional “NOOOOO!” he can muster after Mumm-Ra tosses the lantern prison Jaga is in to the ground. What... did he think yelling at it would stop? Or did he think he could get away with moving little as Cheetara did what he wanted to do?
Generic character art today, episode screencaps resume next time.