I remember back in January 1985, there was supposed to be some new event on Boston's WXNE Channel 25 where they were gonna play an animated film at night, which at that time was a big thing. It was 8 PM on the weekend and they aired the two hour pilot/premier for a cartoon called "ThunderCats". It was about a planet called Thundera which was inhabited by humanoid cats and they always fought with mutant animals from a planet called PlunDarr. Their planet was about to explode so Claudus, the ruler of Thundera trusted his closest aides with the responsibility of taking his son Lion-O to safety.
Among them was his most trusted friend, Jaga The Wise. He was given the job of leading this group of Thunderan nobility that also happened to be some of the best warriors and advisors the planet had to offer. They were to serve as mentors, teachers and protectors of young Lion-O. Their names were Panthro (the token Black guy), Tygra, Cheetara (the token adult female) and the twins that were a few years older than Lion-O, WilyKat and WilyKit. He also had a cat like attendant named Snarf.
They hopped on a spaceship and headed for a planet that could sustain life and where they could start over with the traditions and culture of Thundera. Jaga died during the long journey as he decided to pilot the ship while the other Thunderans stayed in stasis chambers. The odd thing is that while Lion-O stayed in stasis, something went wrong because while the others stayed the same age they were at the beginning of the journey, he'd reached adulthood when the spaceship crashed on the planet known as Third Earth.
The mutants of PlunDarr followed the Thunderans to Third Earth and attacked them. The ThunderCats kicked their asses and forced them to retreat. They first dealt with the death of Jaga as well as the problem of having an adult Lion-O that had the mindset of a 12 year old. They had to establish a base and bring Lion-O up to speed in record time because he was to succeed his father Claudus and become Lord Of The ThunderCats as well as find a way to survive in a dangerous new world. The Thunderans began rocking the gear they wore in times of war back on the old planet as opposed to the civilian look they had before.
They gave Lion-O the Sword Of Omens that allowed him to see people or beings that needed his help or it warned him of trouble looming on the horizon. It was called Sight Beyond Sight. He could also use the Sword to call the other ThunderCats, once they saw the ThunderCat signal they rushed to help Lion-O out. He was also given a gauntlet called the Cat's Claw. The ThunderCats encountered the mutants Slithe, Jackalman and Monkian but they later teamed up with the evil Mumm-Ra The Everliving who resided in a big ass pyramid on the other side of Third Earth. Jaga would often offer Lion-O words of encouragement in ghost form and help guide him along in his quest to become the true leader of the ThunderCats.
Once that initial two hour movie had ended, it was the equivalent of giving someone a free hit of Crack. Kids all over the country were hooked and the special was shown on a few other syndicated networks at different times and the ratings were always through the roof. Months later, it was announced that the ThunderCats cartoon series would be airing in syndication 5 times a week. The cartoon was produced by the world famous Rankin/Bass Productions and distributed by the recently merged Lorimar-Telepictures company in Fall 1985.
Once the show finally got underway, it introduced the inhabitants of Third Earth which ranged from docile sheep people, a race of robotic bears called the Berbils (who I always joked that Tygra and Panthro Deebo'd into helping the ThunderCats build the Cat's Lair in record time), a race of Amazon women called the Warrior Maidens that treated the ThunderCats like shit when they first met them (they used to call 'em "aliens") and after the ThunderCats came to their rescue they were all cool with 'em after that. There were also a bunch of walrus people called the Tuska Warriors, among their relatives being the Snowman of Hook Mountain. They all helped the ThunderCats deal with the PlunDarr mutants and Mumm-Ra's plans to take over the planet.
Mumm-Ra couldn't be killed but he was cursed to have to spend most of his time marshaling his strength in his pyramid by the Ancient Spirits Of Evil. When he did transform, he was ready to tear shit up. Problem was that homie couldn't stand his own reflection (so Lion-O would show it to him in the side of his blade as a shortcut to an actual fight). Like most American cartoons of the era, they found shortcuts around violence which really sucked because we really wanted to see Pantro kick someones ass and actually hit them with the nunchakus as opposed to spraying some gas out of them or hopping in the goddamn ThunderTank again!
Another issue with the show was that the second a new character was introduced on the show, there was a toy available for them in stores. The mutants got a new mutant named Vultureman who was their mechanic and pilot. Toy in stores the next week. Next thing you know, the general of the mutant armies Ratar-O pops up one episode. Toy in stores next week. How was LJN able to crank out these toys so quick? Hachiman? Toy. Snowman and Snowmeow? Toy. Hammerhand and The Beserkers? Four pack in stores next week without fail!
The story was that the Thundercats cartoon and liscence all were created back in 1982 but legal red tape and other production issues kept the show in limbo for almost three years. LJN had all of the toy models created and ready to go for the longest. The first season of Thundercats episodes was 65 episodes long so it took 13 weeks to get through. This all afforded LJN Toys the opportunity to introduce the new character toys the second they were introduced on the show and they appeared in stores while they were hot. ThunderCats Fever was in full swing in North America, between G.I. Joe, ThunderCats, Robotech, M.A.S.K. and Transformers the toy market was exploding.
Marvel Comics imprint Star began running their own ThunderCats title in 1985, it used many of the storylines from the series but it often deviated from those plots and introduced original characters. It was noticably more violent than the cartoon was as well. One of the most annoying things about the cartoon is that Lion-O never really got to actually fight anyone it seemed. Whenever he got into a jam he raised the Sword Of Omens and called for the ThunderCats, they showed up in the ThunderTank or some other piece of equipment that Panthro and Tygra made and the enemies turned tail and ran. Yay. *Yawn*
The writers decided to have Lion-O earn his role of Lord Of The ThunderCats on his 20th birthday by creating a week of related episodes called The Anointment Trials where he had to defeat each of the ThunderCats at their speciality. In the end, Lion-O had to go to Mumm-Ra's pyramid, infiltrate it, and beat him without help in order to earn his title. He did so and the ThunderCats were officially the protectors of Third Earth after smacking the PlunDarr mutants, Mumm-Ra, Hammerhand and a gang of other villains. They were living the good life like Kanye West and T-Pain (no AutoTune effects on their voices).
Then the shit started getting stupid. There was another movie made to open up the second season of the show that told the story of three more Thunderans that escaped in another ship that also crashed on Third Earth. I think the ThunderCats all had dreams about them or something to that effect. Either way, the ThunderCats had to save the Thunderans from the newly awoken Mumm-Ra and his new horde of mutants. Once the ThunderCats saved the Thunderans, the made them into ThunderCats. They were named Bengali, Lynx-O and Pumyra. Oddly enough, it turns out that 50 Snarfs ALSO escaped Thundera before it exploded as well *rolls eyes* and the new ThunderCats went out and saved them then brought them all to Third Earth.
In the later years of the show I began to lose interest as Snarf's nephew Snarfer joined the the ThunderCats as well. Then they discovered that Thundera had been reformed by Mumm-Ra and they went to save it. Then they spread out and built something called the Tower Of Omens on Third Earth and split up the ThunderCats between Third Earth and New Thundera. Another storyline had Lion-O go back in time and save his father from dying. This is when the show jumped the shark for me. I'm surprised that they didn't fuck around and bring Jaga back to life at some point. The ThunderCats cartoon ran successfully from 1985 to 1987 in syndication airing over 130 original episodes that are either available on DVD or are forthcoming in the near future.
Only us oldheads remember rolling our heads at the slow delivery of the dialogue, the lack of violence (cats died on Speed Racer), being able to tell that damn near every voice was done by three different people. The oversaturation of new characters and vehicles and locales. The fact that the only time the ThunderCats ever really got to fight was when the Lunataks showed up (remember when they busted Mumm-Ra's ass?). Of course, who didn't wanna strangle the fuck outta Snarf? I'd have been first in line!
Even with all of it's obvious flaws, ThunderCats was one of the iconic cartoons of the 80's. Spinoffs like Silverhawks were made and failed miserably. Copycat (pun intended) cartoon segments like the Tigersharks came and went but only the ThunderCats left an indelible impression on viewers. A full length CGI Thundercats movie will hit theaters in 2010. Maybe we'll finally get to see Panthro jump kick the shit out of someone in it? Who knows.