Tuesday, August 2, 2011

[Geek] Cat's Roar: An in-depth "ThunderCats" premiere review! (Warning: quite lengthy!)

[Note: I may be babbling quite a lot in this review and would more often than not spoil the show for those who haven't seen it yet. I'll try not to give too much away, though, but beware the visual aids; most of them are screen shots from the show. :)]

So... is the thunder back?

It is, indeed!

In fact, I don't even know where to begin! From the Miyazaki-like touches in the show's atmosphere and overall design; to the tweaks that are mostly improvements from the original; and an all-new soundtrack which may need some getting used to (that is, if you're a fan of the original series' music) but brimming with great potential, the 1-hour series premiere of Cartoon Network's ThunderCats was quite a pleasant surprise for those who have been skeptical at first, like me (yea, but I only had to admit that now, right? Lulz).

Now, the premiere is very much like a drawn-out "Prologue" with bits of "Chapter 1" thrown in for good measure to keep things hanging, starting slow at the beginning, but eventually building up until the point where it cuts at the very part that would make you go "AAAGGGHH, and then what happens next?!?!" Yes, kiddies. That brings us to the first noteworthy distinction the new series has with the original one: the original series had episodes which are mostly stand-alone and quite a few that are multi-parts, but upon reaching the end of the new series' premiere, you'd know that each episode would consist a part of one huge story arch, so you know that there's continuity like a good old afternoon soap, only heaps better. :P

The once and future king...
...against Ancient Spirits of Evil?

Ah yes, of course, everything begins with a "prophecy." The (now wizard) Jaga narrates what is written in the Book of Omens, something about a great king, the past, and the future, blahblahblah. It does set the tone of the series, sparking a quiet curiosity among the viewers and having skeptics suspend judgment for a while before even reaching a hasty conclusion. At least, in my opinion, anyway...

The walled kingdom of Thundera

[Behold the spoilers:] In this version, Third Earth and Thundera--two separate planets in the original--are one realm, with Thundera seemingly the name of the ThunderCat empire, ruled by the mighty King Claudus with his two sons: Tygra, an adopted son, and Lion-O, his biological son. Now, the very premise of Lion-O and Tygra being siblings in the first place paves way for a background story or two (or three), and the premise which opens the series of magic and sorcery being the norm, and technology being "imaginary" and even taboo, adds more than a touch of intrigue. Jaga, albeit still much a close friend/counselor to both King Claudus and the young Lion-O, is now head of the clerics, known as the "legendary guardians of the crown" who combat with speed and magic.

The clerics bearing the Sword of Omens

Jaga, wizard counselor

Furthermore, to add to the new spread of things in this adaptation, Snarf--a talking, ever-berating and worrying nursemaid of Lion-O in the original--is now made into a "pet" to Lion-O that doesn't talk but makes the cutest sounds very much like a small child's. WilyKat and WilyKit are introduced as two orphaned, thieving siblings, with their sense of frivolity and a bag of tricks up their sleeves still intact, the one factor kept from the original. The twins now sport young children's voices--very pleasing to the ears if you've got your maternal/paternal instincts tingling.

WilyKit, Snarf, and WilyKat

Lion-O is portrayed as the clumsy, curious young heir to the Thunderan throne, a struggling teenager finding his place in the grand scheme of things in the kingdom his father rules. His mind is but a clean slate, not overly eager to take his responsibilities as prince, yet having the urge to prove himself when it matters to both his father and older brother, and even to reptilian prisoners. The reptilian species has long been considered an enemy to the kingdom of "Cats."

Tygra--wow, so much changes done to this character, I must say!--is Lion-O's adopted older brother, the one who takes his princely responsibilities a little more seriously, who takes into account what the people in the kingdom say, who bests his younger brother in pretty much everything, so that's why he's frustrated with the fact that he can't be king in his brother's stead. In the premiere, however, Tygra's not so glamorous qualities are seen: smug, confident, and rather conceited, a contrast to Lion-O's uncertainty of himself and sense of wide-eyed wonder. This contrast already sparks some tension between the brothers, and as I mentioned earlier, this premise may work itself up or down the scale of awesome, so we'll just have to wait and see how the upcoming episodes play that out.

Cheetara, admittedly, was characterized somewhat flatly at this point of the series--which is still forgivable, given that the focus is more on Lion-O and the brewing of events that would lead to his ultimate calling. Then again, that may be part of her characterization scheme as well: a mysterious young cleric with amazing powers of speed and the ability to kick butt way better than Lion-O and Tygra combined. She's still beautiful, she's still well-built, but we still need to see her play out bigger roles in the future to get a real feel of her new character (fanboys, down, please! That's not the "feel" I meant! :P). The writers have initially planned a love triangle among her, Lion-O, and Tygra, and also admittedly, that made me do a semi-epic facepalm. I could only hope that the love triangle is integral to the plot, and not just a dollop of something to give a romantic angle in the new series which the old one didn't (at least, not evidently!).

The aforementioned changes were ones which fans of the original series took time to debate on and get comfortable with, as these changes draw far away from the 80's version and may make or break the new adaptation. So far, however, these changes are falling into place, bringing out a new dish of "high fantasy" with  sci-fi thrown into the mix in a more organized way! To compare it a bit with the 80's version: well, Third Earth in the 80's version was a hodgepodge ecosystem made up of different species and living things and odds and bobs, and while the show inserts many an element of fantastical surprise throughout, there ARE instances when a viewer--old and young/new--might just simply grab their heads and think "WTF???" as their suspension of disbelief would be tested to the LIMIT. That was the charm of the original series in the day, but in all honesty, that version lacked the structure which the new one is trying to build. By Thundera, I do hope it does! :P

A feast at the palace grounds

So MANY denizens!
The royal balcony :P

Third Earth and Thundera is also hugely populated, unlike the sparse quantity of life featured in the original. An entire civilization with a long history is established, and a brief glimpse of the history of the quarrel between "Cats" and "reptilians" is made.

I say, though, that the creators of the new series should try not to get carried away in trying to bring the new series to epic heights. There is a well-done tale, and there is an overdone tale. The premiere alone already borrows from so many mythos (cough, Trojan Horse strategy, cough cough Brutus and Julius Caesar cough) and as Paul Montgomery from ifanboy.com puts it, "It looks like the Battle of Helms Deep with cat people!" Of course, that remark is for the overall impressive feel of the new ThunderCats world if not for the battle scenes alone. But while the borrowed elements are considered classic and maybe archetypal, the creators should also draw the line between that, and being cliché. Else, the series might end up being too predictable, and would cause the inevitable downfall of an already impressive start! That's looking too forward, though, with being overly-critical. Right now, I'm just delighting on how the premiere launched the series with a bang that present and possibly future missteps may be overlooked. ^_^;;;

Elvish-looking armor! :D  At the battle of Helm's Deep for Thundera

I've noticed something coming into trend among films, shows, etc. which goes beyond the black-and-white panels of the good versus evil conflict device, and ThunderCats may have adopted that as well. The ambiguity of who are the good guys and the bad guys in the bigger picture is revealed like a tip of an iceberg, revealed in snatches of dialogue (so listen closely when you get to watch it, my pets! :P). While there's no doubt that Lion-O, Cheetara, and yes, even Tygra (who most likely would cause some opposition in future episodes) are the protagonists (the real Panthro will make an appearance in the future, but we don't know how that's going to turn out!), there's a hint that the reptilians in league with the apparent baddie, Mumm-Ra the Ever Living (tm) have their own side to the story. Now, that's something to look forward to as the series progresses!

Mumm-Ra, the Ever Living
Slithe and his reptilian soldiers--armed with TECHNOLOGY!

Grune the Desotryer

YES, there are MECHS--unfortunately, not on the ThunderCats' side

One can almost guess what the "necessary tragedy" is to make way for Lion-O to step up to his place as the new lord of the ThunderCats. That's one short-lived voice cameo for Larry Kenney; but who knows, he might pull off an Obi-Wan just like how Jaga did it in the old series. :P The potential and possibilities of the new ThunderCats series are wide and great, and some fans are already gearing it up as the next Avatar: The Last Airbender (one of TC's current producers has worked on A:TLA). The voice actors themselves know that they have expectations to meet, as the original series had been a part of their childhood too (see the cast interview here)! ThunderCats is already having big shoes to fill, and so far, at least at this point, they're getting the size right. :)

So... what awaits our young heroes Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, and well--Snarf? Will WilyKit and WilyKat come to their aid soon? Will they rescue Panthro or will Panthro rescue them from the vast reptilian armies and the ancient spirits of evil? Find out in the next episode of--!!! OKAY, enough cheese. :P

Cheetara, Lion-O, Snarf, and Tygra: "This is only the beginning."

All in all, I give this 1-hour premiere a 4.5 out of 5 stars. That's a pretty high rating, but I believe a good number of TC fans, old and new, would agree! :)

ThunderCats airs every Friday, 8:30/7:30c on Cartoon Network in the United States. Some have already set their DVR's in record mode for the upcoming episodes. :P

So, for those who have watched it: what do you think of the 2011 adaptation of a beloved 80's cartoon? Thundercats HOOOOOO or Thundercats NOOOOO? I say, it's the former, but don't let me cloud your own impressions and opinions of the show! ^_^

*most photo credits go to thundercatsthemovies.blogspot.com. They've pretty cool screen shots from the show. 


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