New ThunderCats interview!

Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! ThunderCats. Hooooooo! As the rebooted feline cartoon comes to UK screens, we chat with the creative team behind it…

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After nearly a quarter of a century, it’s time to feel the magic and hear the roar once more, as ThunderCats returns in a 21 st century reboot. The 26-episode season features a new backstory for the Cats and new voice talent (though original Lion-O Larry Kenney is back to voice Lion-O’s dad, Claudus), but otherwise you’ll recognise Lion-O, Cheetara, Mumm-Ra and co – even though they’ve all been given an anime-ish makeover.

The new show comes to UK screens on the Cartoon Network at 11am on Saturday 10 September.

People have been trying to bring ThunderCats back for years. Why has it come together now?
Ethan Spaulding [producer]:
This project had been floating around for about ten years, people had picked it up and tried to develop it but it didn’t get greenlit until last year – there had been various incarnations of the show, people trying to reboot the show because of its popularity.

Dan Norton [art director]: Of all the ’80s properties I thought it was the better one of the bunch and yet no one touched it. I think it’s because when you make a military show you know what the brackets are – it’s dudes with guns, it’s GI Joe . In a big fantasy show like ThunderCats it’s got everything. It’s got lasers and pirates and cat people. There’s so much! You don’t know where to put the brackets at! And I think that was the hardest thing, narrowing it down to figure out what can go in this thing.

You’ve changed the set up slightly, so that the ThunderCats start off on Third Earth rather than travelling there from their home planet, Thundera…
Michael Jelenic [producer]:
They start off Third Earth and there’s a bigger mythology to this whole show. When we start off we’re only going to see a small portion of it but all the Cats, all the characters that we call Mutants, Mumm-ra, start off on what we call Third Earth, and Thundera on this planet is a kingdom. We’ve simplified the mythology in that way.

Are the characters going to be more complex this time?
We wanted to put a little bit more grey into this show. The old show was very black and white, the good guys were good the bad guys were bad. The show is primarily aimed at the 6-11 age group, so you want the bad guys to be bad – sort of like Darth Vader. So the bad guys are still bad guys but regarding what the cats have done in the past, there is a question as to whether or not it’s something they should have been doing.

Apparently there’s some mystery involving Panthro in the new incarnation…
I don’t know if “mystery” is necessarily the right word. We’ve set up this pretty dense world in the first two episodes. We don’t answer all of your questions. You’re like, “How did the ThunderCats get there?”, “How did Mumm-ra get there?”, “What is the relationship between Grune and Claudus?”, and “Who is Panthro?”, because we don’t really see him in the first episode. Every episode we try to reveal another layer of the mythology. As you go on through the first 26 episodes, the world will slowly start to expand in your head. The questions you have will be answered – maybe not all of them but a lot of them. That is how we’re writing each episode – let’s reveal the important scene.

So it starts assuming no prior knowledge of the show?
I wouldn’t say it’s from the beginning. We’re thrown into this world and over the first 26 epidoes you find out what happened in the 2000 years before and you find out what going to happen moving forward. You have this whole timeline. We’re exploring characters that aren’t alive in this current time, we go back to their ancestors. Really it’s a rich mythology. You’ll find out how the characters got to where they are. There are a lot of flashbacks involved in this story. The structure of a lot of episodes is that you have a little mission but in the course of that little mission we’ll flashback to some backstory. It helps explain who the characters are and what the world is.

Are we going to get the original theme tune?
You get a version of the theme. We have the theme but without the electric guitars from the classic one.

ES: Back then they had a minute and twenty seconds to do an opening title. Now, Cartoon Network is saying “Do it in fifteen seconds”. There is no way you can fit a minute and twenty seconds of awesomeness into fifteen seconds. But it’s the best opening of all time so how are we going to top that anyways? I think sidestepping into it is the smartest way to do it.

Was there anything from the original series that you felt didn’t work, and needed to be cut out for the new show?
I don’t look at anything from the original series and go, “I don’t like it”. Some people think it wouldn’t age well, but regardless of your personal taste issues on it, it worked. It was huge, the music people still remember, people remember the logo, and the animation. If anything the challenge was trying to replicate all those great things that worked so well rather than saying this doesn’t work. And it’s not an easy concept. If I pitched you Thundercats in 1983 you wouldn’t go, “Oh! That’s going to be a huge hit! Space cats with swords and nunchucks, of course!”

They took lots of popular aspects of the ’80s. Cats , the musical, was popular at the time, and Star Wars mythology and Superman mythology… I’ve even heard that Lion-O’s red hair was a Ronald McDonald reference – who knows if that’s true?! So all of these different elements came into something that people respond to.

You mentioned that you were primarily aiming the show at the 6-11 age group. How much of an obligation do you feel to their parents who may have watched the original show?
Anybody who is working on any show wants the show to appeal to them. I want to work on a show that I want to watch. While our core audience is 6-11 the challenge of what we do is, how you make it appropriate for that age group, but so that anybody who is four years old or 40 years old, or 50 years old or 20 years old can still enjoy it? So the show has to work on a lot of levels and I think this show does. Even in early development what was very important to us was, we wanted them to come to the show and force their children to watch the show. We wanted this to be a show that they could enjoy together and felt like the show they love. It’s a lot like Star Wars and Indiana Jone s, these great movies that kids can enjoy that adults can too. There’s nothing in Indiana Jones that 11 year old can’t watch. That’s the level of entertainment we’re going for.

ThunderCats airs on the Cartoon Network at 11am on Saturday 10 September.

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