The new ThunderCats film must revive TV show's psychedelic magic

As Hollywood rediscovers the power of animation, a reboot of the sci-fi classic has come at the perfect time

There is a certain slightly po-faced type of cineaste who cannot understand geek culture and Hollywood’s obsession with adapting fantasy TV shows, comics and old B-movies. Why would grownups flock to the multiplex to watch the latest Avengers flick when they could be taking in a daring, intellectual piece of arthouse?

We can be assured the news that Hollywood is working on a big-screen remake of the sci-fi cartoon ThunderCats will go down about as well with this demographic as one of Snarf’s dodgy jokes. For those who remember the series, it debuted in 1985 and fits into the same broad category as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: everything takes place on a magical planet beset by the local undead villain and his evil machinations.

Masters of the Universe ended up being made into an incredibly disappointing Hollywood vehicle for Dolph Lundgren. I still remember sitting in a cinema in 1987 wondering how on Eternia the makers had managed to wrench all sense of joy and colour from the big-screen version.

It’s bad movies like these that we recall every time there is news of a fresh Hollywood remake of something much-loved. But there are reasons to be cheerful about the proposed film. For a start ThunderCats was always better than He-Man: the animation, by Japanese studio Pacific Animation Corporation, was wonderfully crisp and stylised, the voicework (by a tiny team of close-knit actors) blending just the right mix of silly and serious.

Yes, there were some far-out moments – Tygra’s apparent psychedelic trip, Lion-O heading into deep space without oxygen – and the quality of the writing rather dropped off a cliff in later seasons, but there were few 80s animated series to match it.

This is important, because Godzilla vs Kong director Adam Wingard, who is taking on the project for Warner Bros, is promising to cleave as closely as possible to the original show. Perhaps the best news of all (particularly given what happened to Cats) is that there will be no attempt to render Lion-O, Cheetara et al in live action: the film will instead blend traditional animation with CGI.

“This is a huge passion thing for me,” Wingard told Deadline.” “Nobody on this planet knows or has thought as much about ThunderCats as I have. They gave me the reins.”

He continued: “I saw this as an opportunity to do a new type of fantasy sci-fi spectacle film that people have never seen before. It’s got a rich mythology, the characters are fantastic, the colours. I want to do a ThunderCats film that takes you back to that 80s aesthetic. I don’t want to reinvent the way they look; I want them to look like ThunderCats.”

This is all pretty vital stuff, as there have been attempts before to bring back ThunderCats on the small screen that have failed miserably. A boldly rendered but slightly vapid 2011 reimagining was cancelled after one season, as was an attempt to remake the show as a zany, Teen Titans-style comedy last year. Neither could match the intensely vibrant animation style and killer voice work of the original. Perhaps, if we are lucky, Wingard will be able to harness the current hype that surrounds animated fantasy material – nobody is insisting that everything needs to be live action any more following the Oscar-winning success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – and return us to the version of Third Earth that lingers long in the memory.

Contributor

Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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