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Cartoon Network premiered its revival of the hit animated series ThunderCats at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Based on the 1980s original, the “21st-century reimaging” is set on Third Earth, where the kingdom of Thundera is threatened by the lizard men and the evil sorcerer Mumm-Ra, leading young Prince Lion-O to embark on a quest to find the Book of Omens and claim his rightful place as king.
The screening began Friday afternoon with a smoldering version of the classic ThunderCats symbol slowly burning for several minutes as the sound of tribal drums grew louder and louder. The crowd cheered deliriously until the logo finally gave way to the one-hour pilot episode. Applause erupted repeatedly throughout the screening, especially whenever Lion-O’s legendary weapon the Sword of Omens came on-screen. Snarf, who doesn’t speak in this version, was also popular with the audience.
After the screening, a panel discussion was held with some of the cast and crew, moderated by Matt Fowler of IGN.com. It included producers Ethan Spaulding and Michael Jelenic, art director Dan Norton, Studio 4°C President Eiko Tanaka, Cheetara voice actress Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Claudus voice actor Larry Kenney, who portrayed Lion-O in the original series.
“You don’t have ThunderCats without Larry Kenney,” Jelenic said when asked what he wanted to keep from the original cartoon.
In the reimagined series, Lion-O is an uncertain teenager living in the shadow of his brother of his adopted older brother Tygra, significant departures from the 1980s original, in which the prince was essentially a child in an adult’s body (due to a malfunction of cryogenic chamber). “We wanted to complicate the relationships,” Spaulding explained. “This is very much a character-driven show.”
When it was revealed that the Berbils, a band of small robotic bears from the planet Ro-Bear, will appear in the new series, Kenney quickly offered his services. “Can I play a Ro-Bear Berbils?” he asked.
Chriqui, who plays Sloane on HBO’s Entourage, said she was drawn to the character of the mysterious Cleric Cheetara because, “She’s just so strong and fierce and she’s as good as the guys.”
In the new ThunderCats, there is a romantic subplot between Cheetara and Lion-O. “I’m 25 years too late for her. Where was that spark between Cheetara and Lion-O [when he played the character]?” Kenney joked, eliciting roars of laughter.
Norton said his favorite member of the team was the bruiser Panthro, while the most challenging to design was Tygra.
The floor was then opened up for a brief Q&A with the audience.
Asked why Lion-O doesn’t begin the series as a child and artificially age to an adult as he did in the original version, Jelenic joked, “We did it to make all the original fans really angry.”
More seriously, it was explained that, because one of the main themes of the new series is how the technophobic ‘Cats adopt new technology, it would be impossible to depict the hi-tech ships and cryogenic chambers of the original right away.
Asked whether there was a chance for a revival of SilverHawks, Rankin/Bass’ 1986 follow-up to ThunderCats, the panel revealed some of those characters could appear later in the series, along with members of the short-lived TigerSharks. All three properties are now owned by Warner Bros. Animation.
”It’s like Christmas,” Norton said. “You guys just tune in every Friday, open your gift and see what’s in it.”
ThunderCats premieres Friday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network.