Classic Geek Cartoons Revisited: Thundercats

An ever-living villain and a magical growing sword. It's way past time we celebrated Thundercats...

Thundercats (1985 – 1990)

News that the proposed Thundercats movie has stalled was greeted with a sigh of relief in my household. Re-imagining Lion-O et al on the big screen surely wouldn’t have worked and despite IMDb still pencilling the movie in for a 2012 release date, I’d be surprised if it ever gets off the ground again.

Which is a good thing, as to sully the memory of what remains one of my very favourite action cartoons would render me inconsolable. Well, not really, but I would be a bit fed up if they made a mess of it all. Which they would.

Thundercats was not the story of a bunch of alley cats making their way through bad weather, but was rather an interstellar tale of a group of humanoid cats protecting their newly-acquired home world (Thundera is blown up in the show’s pilot episode) from evil. The evil in this particular case was a take on The Emperor from Return Of The Jedi, with a face just as wizened and the same mad, bad, cackling personality. In fact, throw some dreads on The Emperor and you have as close a personification of Mumm-Ra as you’re going to find.

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Was Mumm-Ra really scary? It depends on your point of view. If you happen to find mad old men with salivating jaws scary then, yes, he was indeed a very frightening chap. If, however, you find the concept of a centuries-old mummy that’s camper than a tanned TV presenter too pathetic to strike fear in the hearts of men (or cats) then, no, Mumm-Ra was a big wuss who needed to hobble off, collect his pension and remember to put his false teeth in next time, the drooling old buffoon.

You won’t find such a blasé attitude towards the man-mummy here, though. Mumm-Ra was the stuff of nightmares for me, particularly in the rather fabulous opening title sequence.

If that isn’t one of the defining theme tunes of the 80s, I don’t know what is. It’s a brilliant sequence, setting up the powers of the Thundercats themselves, the very annoying American accent of Lion-O exhibits (he’s almost too American) and the fast-paced, action-packed nature of the show and the animation itself.

And then Mumm-Ra turns up, screaming into the camera and bearing his chest for all to see. As I say, the stuff of many a nightmare. And would you look at those thighs? They’re like tree trunks. I would not want to mess with Mumm-Ra, drool or no drool.

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As with the Centurions, Thundercats was a regular playtime fixture for me, helped by the fact that the accompanying toys themselves were superb. Muscular, over-the-top and clearly made with a lot of love, these were an ideal companion piece to the show and kept kids like me interested in the franchise.

Most of my scenarios involved Mumm-Ra and various mutant stooges taking on our furry feline friends, as indeed, most of the series’ episodes closely followed. And every time, just like on screen, the Thundercats won the day.

Which one did you want to be? I doubt it was Lion-O, as he was too heroic, too eager to be right and play the leader. He was a highly annoying character and without that sword he wouldn’t have made it in any gang.

Panthro, on the other hand, really should have been the boss. He was the mechanical genius and pilot for the group and also showcased the most bad-ass martial arts moves. And why was it that Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles couldn’t broadcast nunchucks in the UK, but Thundercats could?

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Those of the female persuasion could have had it much worse than the super quick, and rather lovely, Cheetara. The growing/shrinking bo staff was a nice weapon, too, although she did have one annoying quality: she knew everything, know-all.

Tygra was pretty cool, too. His whip, which could also render him invisible, was daddy cool and I remember secretly wishing that he would usurp Lion-O one day and take command of things.

I doubt anyone wanted to be WilyKit or WilyKat. These were the obligatory cute (although they weren’t actually cute at all) kids used in the show in an attempt to make children more interested in it. It failed for me, as I hated it whenever they were on screen. Not quite as much as I hated Snarf, though. Still do, in fact. He is, and will forever be, a first-class fool.

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Thundercats was everything an action cartoon should be, with its silly villain, fabulous range of heroes and a bunch of weapons and powers that all children wanted a slice of. It went on for too long (the introduction of some new Thundercats was a bad idea), but those early series were just fantastic. Ho!