Saturday morning cartoons were a big part of my childhood. I grew up in the 1980’s so I feel I had some of the best cartoons around, one of my absolute favourite cartoons being the Rankin-Bass production, ThunderCats.
ThunderCats began airing in 1985 and ran for 130 episodes up until 1989. The show was produced by the famous Rankin-Bass Animated Entertainment company. Created by Tobin “Ted” Wolf, the series follows a team of catlike humanoid aliens.
Goodbye To Thundera
The first episode of the series begins with the dying planet of Thundera crumbling and bursting apart. The royal family sends their only son, Lion-O, with his ‘nanny’ Snarf and a royal guard off planet. As the ThunderCats are escaping the planet, they are attacked by the Mutants of Plun-Darr. The battle that ensues destroys most of the ships with the exception of the flagship.
On board the flagship is not only Lion-O, prince of the ThunderCats, but the mystic Sword of Omens. This sword holds the Eye of Thundera, which is the source of the ThunderCats power. The Mutants are hoping to capture the Sword for themselves. As Lion-O’s guard attempt to repel the invaders, Snarf tries to get the boy to safety. Lion-O finds the Sword and as he grabs it, the Eye reacts to the true ruler of Thundera.
Mutant leader Slythe tries to take the Sword of Omens from Lion-O, but the Eye repels them with a force of power. With the invaders repelled the ThunderCats find that their ship is too badly damaged to get to their original destination. The wise mentor of the royal family, Jaga, says they can pilot the ship to “Third Earth”. The planet would sustain them. Unfortunately, there is a catch, the remaining ThunderCats will have to enter stasis pods but one will have to stay and pilot the ship.
Jaga says he will make the sacrifice. He orders Lion-O, Panthro, Tygra, Cheetara, WilyKit, WilyKat and Snarf into the pods. These pods are suppose to stop the aging process, but we find out later that Lion-O’s is faulty. Jaga dies on the journey, but returns as a Jedi-esque ghost when absolutely needed.
Welcome To Third Earth
When the ThunderCats awake from their suspended animation on Third Earth after ten “galacto-years”, Lion-O discovers he has now become essentially a child in the body of an adult. Basically, he grew in size and looks like an adult, but still has the mind of a child. Together, the ThunderCats and the friendly natives of Third Earth construct the “Cat’s Lair,” their new home and headquarters.
Unbeknownst to our heroes, the Mutants have tracked them down to Third Earth. The intrusion of these two alien races upon the world does not go unnoticed. A demonic, mummified sorcerer calling himself Mumm-Ra, recruits the Mutants to aid him in his campaign to acquire the Eye of Thundera and destroy the ThunderCats.
So just who are the ThunderCats anyway? They are led by their young prince Lion-O. He wields the mystic Sword of Omens and also uses the Claw Shield. There are times when Lion-O gets into too much trouble and this is when he can call upon the Sword to send a signal to call for help.
Panthro is the engineer of the group, and his weapon of choice are his nunchucks. He is known as one of the most noble warriors and a master martial artist. Tygra is the scientist and architect who wields whip-like bolas. He also has the ability to use his mind to create lifelike illusions in other people’s minds.
Cheetara is obviously based off of a cheetah and has super speed. She is also the only adult female left in the original group. She has a sixth sense that is almost premonition-like, and uses a baton weapon that can expand into a full on bo staff.
Then there are the twins of WilyKit and WilyKat. They are technically older than Lion-O, but their stasis pods worked, so they are still the young cats that left Thundera. Most of the other ThunderCats refer to them as the ThunderKittens. They are mischief-makers and utilise their cunning to trap and trick their enemies. They use these space boards to get around swiftly, and use special capsules, balls and other gimmick weapons carried in pouches and on their belts.
Feel The Magic, Hear The Roar
As with many cartoons in the 1980’s, voice actors would do as many voices as possible. The main cast for ThunderCats were no different. Larry Kenney voiced the main hero of Lion-O, but also voiced the Mutant of Jackalman. Earle Hyman is the only actor to voice just one of the main cast, and he took care of the noble Panthro. Earl Hammond had the task of voicing the wise Jaga, Mutant Vultureman and the evil Mumm-Ra.
Peter Newman was probably the busiest voice actor on the show. He handled the main duties of Tygra, WilyKit and Monkian, but also voiced many other characters throughout the series. Lynne Lipton was the only female of the original cast. She voiced the speedster Cheetara and WilyKit, and as the series went on she got to voice one of the main female villains, Luna.
The final main voice actor had to voice two characters who many found annoying. They also were probably quite hard to do as an actor. Bob McFadden voiced Snarf and the leader of the Mutants Slythe.
I didn’t know where to go from here, and I know others have broken down the seasons in the past. There is so much in each season, and I would end up writing way too much. I also don’t want to just write the story down word for word. So I have chosen to just tell you a bit about my five favourite episodes. These episodes were ones I would not want to miss every time the re-aired.
Together, the five episodes are known as the Annointment Trials. These were trials that Lion-O had to go through to prove he was capable enough to be the Lord of the ThunderCats. The episodes were suppose to air five consecutive weeks, as this was a weekly show, because each trial was the next day in the world of the ThunderCats. They were not aired properly and sadly had several episodes between each trial.
‘Day One: The Trial Of Strength’ is the first episode of my fab five. Lion-O had to out-do Panthro in a strength contest. Next up is ‘Day Two: The Trial Of Speed’ where Lion-O had to beat Cheetara in a race. Third is ‘Day Three: The Trial Of Cunning’ and Lion-O had to outwit both of the ThunderKittens, WilyKat and WilyKit, in an underground location. The fourth episode ‘Day Four: The Trial Of Mind-Power’ saw Lion-O pitted against Tygra in a mind-based challenge. Finally culminating in ‘Last Day: The Trial Of Evil’ where Lion-O had to defeat Mumm-Ra. In this episode, Lion-O discovered that Mumm-Ra was highly dependent on the sarcophagus inside which he had been mummified.
Through all the trials, the Mutants attempted to interfere so they could prevent the ThunderCats from having a leader. The remainder of the team had to try to foil these attempts without helping Lion-O as he would then be forfeit. I absolutely love these episodes, and whenever I re-watch the series I look forward to these the most.
I know that the show hasn’t held up well, but I still prefer the 1985 series to any of the new ones they tried to make. This show will always hold a special place in my heart as a favourite cartoon of all time. From the opening theme song until the end credits, I am hooked. Since I have been rambling on so much already, I will conclude by quoting the Lord of the ThunderCats when he needs help: Thunder… Thunder… ThunderCats… HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
Have you seen the ThunderCats? Do you like the show? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.