Monday, August 08, 2011

Honking Box Review: Thundercats

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. A television show two or three decades old can be remembered with a fondness few shows of today can replicate. And aside from the warm ‘n’ fuzzy aspect, it’s big business. Bagpuss merchandise, Rainbow club nights with DJ Zippy, the reboots of Charlie’s Angels and Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman. And of course, the lucrative DVD releases, such as the long-awaited Thundercats boxset.

And it’s here where nostalgia shows its ugly side. Turns out your memories were replaying through a quality filter, masking the fact that it was actually quite shit the first time around. Thundercats, which some would argue was the defining cartoon of the 80s, has not stood the test of time. Shoddy animation, weak dialogue and wafer-thin plotlines may not have been a concern to our 6-year-old selves, but the act of revisiting Thundercats saw the rose-tinted spectacles brutally devoured by the Living Ooze.

So with the Cartoon Network giving the series a from-scratch overhaul, there’s not actually a lot hanging on it. Sure, it’s a big deal, but in terms of matching the original, they’ve not got much to worry about, particularly if the first three episodes are any indication.

Visually, it’s very nice indeed – a slick anime style which maintains its quality, unlike the inconsistency of the original which very clearly revealed when the animators were due their tea breaks. Each character’s image has been largely upheld, save for a few appropriate tweaks here and there. Oh, and they all have hairy shoulders.

Thundercats purists will perhaps be a tad irked by the fact it’s not quite canon – where the original series saw an established team of Thundercats escaping Thundera for a life on Third Earth, the reboot sees the actual formation of the group in a convincing hotch-potch manner, as they trek across Third Earth (on which Thundera is merely a walled city) in search of the Book of Omens. Following? Good.

Lion-O and Tygra are now brothers; WilyKit and WilyKat are a pair of street urchins; Snarf, mercifully, cannot talk; Lynx-O makes a fleeting appearance, in the interests of political correctness; Cheetara is some sort of ballsy second-in-command to Jaga, who is not dead but imprisoned by Mumm-Ra, whose partner in crime is rogue Thundercat and all-round bit-of-a-git Grune; and Panthro is dead. Panthro! Dead!

It’s all well and good picking out the details of the update, but overall, it just feels far more intelligent. There are undercurrents of terrorism and segregation, without being overtly moral, and the general narrative is one that forces you to give a bit more of a shit than the original ever did. It salutes the original concept with grace, yet stands alone as an entity in its own right. There’s no word as yet regarding any UK transmission dates, but some creative Googling will allow you to judge for yourselves. Whether it’s going to captivate a generation of kids in 2011 the same way the original did is the big question, but for those of us who should know better 24 years on, it’s definitely worth cracking open another crate of Berbil candyfruit in celebration.

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