Well, even though I would’ve been happy to look at the Gobots meeting the Rock Lords (and still will!), it was Thundercats: Exodus that won the vote last weekend as the show for me to review this weekend, so let’s get to it.
A quick explanation first – I’m reviewing the video tape comprised of the first four episodes of the first season (Exodus, The Unholy Alliance, Berbils, and The Slaves of Castle Plun-Darr). Berbils is pretty much chopped in half, omitting a subplot with the Trollogs and Giantors, and stuff is removed from the other three episodes too (in the case of the British release I’m reviewing, including stuff with Panthro’s nunchucks, a problem that plagued Teenage Mutant Ninja [Hero] Turtles too), but there’s also stuff in this cut that isn’t in the TV broadcasts and editing of the scenes and the music omit a lot of the act breaks. That said, on with the show.
We start with the “lost” intro seen above, which beyond being awesome I always get a kick out of for Snarf being called “THE Snarf”, like he’s the Terminator or something. Then the classic intro, with the theme tune we all know and love (“Feel the magic, hear the roar – Thundercats are loose!”). Watch for Jackalman at the entrance of Castle Plun-Darr, who always has his back to the camera. The mini-narrative is the Thundercats being called together, then battling the Mutants, before Mumm-Ra transforms into his more powerful form and is vanquished, for now.
The episodes starts with the “naked” Thundercats leaving their home planet of Thundera, which young prince Lion-O is awoken from his sleep to see explode, which always seems like a bastard move from Jaga, before getting a motivational speech that seems like a blow job after a kick in the balls. I take it as granted, but there’s an amusing amount of snark between the characters at this point in the bringing together of them.
Lion-O gets introduced to the Sword of Omens, and finds that the weapon grows in his hand… must’ve been excited. I jest because I love, but not a single word of the script is wasted in clearly and effectively establishing the details of the show and who does what and what they’re like. Just as everyone gets their clothing and weaponry, the Mutants attack, and although we wouldn’t know otherwise it would appear that the Reptilians (led by S-S-Slithe), the Jackalmen (led by Jackalman) and Monkians (led by, you guessed it, Monkian) have decided to group their efforts in order to gain the Eye of Thundera. There’s a little bit of “I don’t trust you, but then you don’t trust me either” dissension between the leaders, who would become the main villains, but they’re mostly cohesive. I always look at the Reptilians, with their spiked crests, as like Mohawk punks.
Lion-O is cornered in the storage room for the sword by S-S-Slithe and Jackalman, but the Sword of Omens, which he otherwise couldn’t lift, empowers him and he goes full Regan MacNeil on them with his eyes rolling back and glowing, sending them and the rest of the raiders fleeing. Their ship is damaged (as well as other ships in their armada being taken down, effectively killing all the other Thunderians in them without it being said), so Jaga takes charge and tells everyone to get in the suspension capsules that will preserve their lives en route to their new home planet (Earth, but not named as such, and in the show referred to as Third Earth), knowing that he will have died himself by the time they arrive. It’s an awesome moment of bravery and leadership and I well up watching it every time, and the kicker that comes afterwards is that as an aged Jaga himself admits that he wishes he was as sure of their chances as he pretended to be, before dying in an aged state and utilising the robot pilot can get them there, getting an Obi-Wan Kenobi death as he dies, dissolving and just leaving his cape and wristlets.
The ship lands, but not without getting ripped to pieces, but everyone survives, including Lion-O, who through a fault in the suspension capsule has aged into adulthood as far as size and muscularity. The Mutants, who strangely haven’t aged, then conveniently arrive and start looking for the Sword of Omens. Lion-O, who can’t remember them but knows they’re bad guys, runs in to stop them, awakening the other Thundercats and leading them into battle as we get the first ever “Ho!” scene with the building music and action, which always reminds me of the football scene from Flash Gordon. The Mutants retreat for the first time of many, and the Thundercats celebrate their first victory and arrival.
Then into the second episode, with the Mutants scouting for a site to build their fortress, Castle Plun-Darr, but coming across the Black Pyramid. Inside, the seemingly shrivelled Mumm-Ra, a mummified sorceror who has been around since Third Earth was First Earth. He pulls the first dick move in their relationship, sinking their ship beneath the sands, trapping them on Third Earth (it would be raised so that they could get their vehicles the Nose Diver and Skycutters out in a later episode) and sending them with info to attack Lion-O, out on his first excursion. He manages to defeat them, so back to the Pyramid for a tongue lashing, but then they throw it back at him and challenge him to try Lion-O on for himself, triggering his first transformation.
Worth mentioning at this point the voices, which in the case of the heroes are very straight at times, especially Tygra, who is close to being a boring buzzkill, but the Mutants have very defined voices, with S-S-Slithe having a deep hiss, Jackalman having a cowardly cackle, Monkian having a grunting whoop, and Mumm-Ra himself having an incredibly theatrical voice, deep and resonant, but also prone to roaring and screaming, with a mouth that sounds like it’s full of slobber. Mumm-Ra is pretty much indestructible, but it’s not like he doesn’t feel pain or agony, so his defeat at the hands of Lion-O, sent back to his sarcophagus after recoiling at his own reflection in Lion-O’s claw shield, sees him quietly slinking away from his new comrades in a moment that ensures he still stays a villain despite being so tough.
Into the next episode, Lion-O and Snarf fall into a trap and the clutches of the Ro-Bear Berbils, robotic teddy bears that sound like they’re voiced by Peter Frampton and Laurie Anderson. They actually pull off a pretty good villainous appearance at first, showing no visible emotion beyond their flickering eyes and laughing at Lion-O, but when they go back to their village of pink and white huts and candy-fruit, they’re obviously good. Mumm-Ra continues his assault, raining down on the other Thundercats with boulders, but luckily Panthro has constructed the Thundertank to help get them out, then turning up at the Berbil village as a giant locust. Lion-O rides him into a volcano, but survives almost being submerged in lava with the help of the sword. The Berbils end up becoming allies and friends of the Thundercats, volunteering to help them build Cats’ Lair, their base, from their fallen starship.
In the final episode, Mumm-Ra takes a break and it’s the Thundercats against the Mutants, who have enslaved some simple-minded Brutemen, who are like bipedal mules, to help them build their base, Castle Plun-Darr. After Wily-Kit and Kat have escaped from Monkian (who it’s kinda played like he’s A Monkian rather than THE Monkian), the adults go back to battle the Mutants and liberate the Brutemen. Cheetara manages to elude Jackalman with her speed. Tygra uses stealth to get around Monkian and avoid the blasts from his shield, which seems to fire cannonballs. Then Panthro and S-S-Slithe battle hand-to-hand before the latter escapes, knowing his thrashing tail is no match for the former’s strength, with all three of these battles played against some sweet leitmotifs (and most of the characters and vehicles have their own little theme tune).
Lion-O’s job is to free the Brutemen, but S-S-Slithe doses them with warp gas, which changes them from meek and compliant to hostile. Panthro succumbs to them as well, but Lion-O is able to use the Eye of Thundera to summon the others and help turn the tide, all against some moralistic preaching from his compatriots about following rules, not taking things out on people who aren’t responsible for a situation and how far to be prideful. Of all the shows that weaved public service announcements into their productions, Thundercats was probably the show guiltiest of doing it a bit, and then a bit more, and then some more on top.
By episode’s end, Cats’ Lair is built, the Thundercats have made some friends, a vehicle is at their command, and Lion-O is maturing and learning how to become a leader. I’m conscious of how my review is possibly mostly about the story and less about the characterisation, so down the road I’ll return with a review of Lion-O’s Anointment, wherein over five days Lion-O has to meet each of his friends in combat and then Mumm-Ra in order to secure his position as the lord of the Thundercats, then I’ll be able to comment more on the quirks of each character.
Overall, it’s an excellent start to the series. Exodus is the best episode of the four, followed by The Unholy Alliance, then Slaves, then Berbils (regardless of whether it’s the full episode or not). As said before, it’s an epic job of establishing and cementing the rules and conventions of the show so effortlessly, to where you know who is who and what their skill and power is. It’s bizarre that both He-Man and Thundercats haven’t enjoyed as much popularity or success as they did in the eighties, because they just did everything so right.