Review: “Thundercats Roar” Is a Messy and Tonally Inconsistent Adaptation of The Classic 80’s Cartoon

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

“Thundercats Roar” is the third animated TV series centered around the “Thundercats” franchise, which previously saw TV adaptations in 1985 and in 2011. Though not the worst animated reboot in recent memory, it’s still a messy and tonally inconsistent adaptation that pales in comparison to its namesake and has little to offer on its own merit.

Originally intended to air in 2019, the series was delayed for a year and has now started this February. The series has also been subject to divisive reactions online with everything from the series’ art design to a more comedic writing style being endlessly debated and often criticized. Many hoped that the series would be able to overcome the backlash it faced. Unfortunately, the series has not only turned out to be disappointing in its own right; the attempts to condense the lineage of both previous TV series into a bunch of comical 11-minute vignettes has gone about as well as one would expect.

Seeing the destruction of the cats’ homeworld of Thundera played for laughs feels like a fundamental miscalculation about what would make a parody of the series work. In all fairness, the whole venture seems like it would be a better fit for a YouTube video or sketch on “Robot Chicken” than its own TV series.

Series creator Victor Courtright, along with fellow writer and animator Jeremy Polgar
(whose credits include many episodes of “Adventure Time” and “OK KO: Let’s Be Heroes,” and animations for the infamous “Movie 43”) set out to make a series that they would enjoy as much as potential audiences would; so it’s somewhat disheartening to see the final product turn out this way. That said, there are clear issues with the animation and writing. Many of the jokes land with a painful thud, and the divisive art shift from the previous “Thundercats” TV entries is actually the least of the problems with the show’s visuals.

On top of the more simplified artwork being an odd fit for the franchise, many of the other choices in art direction are downright baffling. Characters and objects seem to grow and shrink with no clear indication of how scale works. One scene shows a giant Mumm-Ra sitting on a throne that’s as big as a mountain, and the same scene shows the cats to be the size of ants. Hits the heroes deal to mutant supervillains flash onscreen so quickly that an intended homage to the previous versions instead makes the action hard to follow, and a tough watch for potential viewers with epilepsy. Snarf has now become an absurd “Deus ex Machina,” essentially a Furby with chainsaws and laser guns inside whose power runs out at inopportune moments. Whether this is a potential toy tie-in or simply a metaphor for the show itself is not entirely clear.

What is clear, however, is that this reboot is an uneven mess; despite the best intentions of the creative team. Other 1980s IPs have been successfully reimagined for a new generation, with newer animated series of “Transformers,” the Nicktoon versions of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and the excellent 2017 reboot of “Duck Tales” being key examples. Though the jury is still out on how the show will fare going forward, it’s evident that the creators have an uphill battle on their hands. Even if the series is not as bad as other animated reboots such as “Mega Man: Fully Charged” (which only lasted a season), it’s still not off to a good start given the cult following of the original 1985 series as well as the short-lived but much-loved 2011 incarnation.

Despite the best intentions from the creators, “Thundercats Roar” ends up having ugly visuals, inconsistent characterization, and a less interesting story than anything a typical housecat might cough up on the floor. Though there is room to improve, the initial impression is less “Thundercats! Ho!” and more “Ack! Hairball!”

“Thundercats Roar” (2020)
Starring the voices of Max Mittelman, Erica Lindbeck, Patrick Seitz and Chris Jai Alex
Created by Victor Courtright (Based on the TV series by Ted Wolf)
Available on Cartoon Network (Check your local cable or satellite listings)
Rated TV-Y7-FV
My Rating: *½:5

Review by: Steven Pryor

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