Rankin-Bass brought ThunderCats to television in 1985 and the show quickly grew into one of history’s most dynamic and enjoyable cartoons. The story, which shifted from lighthearted to dark in tone, focused on feline beings leaving a dying planet, Thundera, and heading to Third Earth to eke out a new life. It was filled with tales of triumph with this new colony now led by the inexperienced Lion-O, who had to integrate the remnants of his people with other alien races.
It wasn’t the smoothest ride however, with the wizard Mumm-Ra and his armies continuously attacking Lion-O and all other species on the planet in order to enslave them and attain full control over Third Earth and the mystical gems it held. But as is the case with any cartoon from the ’80s, while there were many amazing characters, there were a lot of cheesy ones that flopped and left us wondering how the heck they made it past the drawing board. With that in mind, CBR decided to look deeper at the cartoon, its 2011 reboot ,which lasted just one season, and the other mediums that brought ThunderCats to life, to highlight the characters that ruled and the ones that were the absolute worst.
15. RULED: LION-O
Lion-O is one of the most recognizable faces from the ’80s and an iconic character in cartoons, period! Fans of ThunderCats toys, comics and video games would argue that he’s even better than the likes of Optimus Prime, He-Man and G.I. JOE’s Duke when it comes to pop culture’s best leaders, all thanks to his infinite sense of hope and altruism against Mumm-Ra.
When Thundera perished and the survivors left for Third Earth, Lion-O’s aging process resulted in his physical form growing, but not his mind, so he became a child in a man’s body. Nonetheless, he grew into his role as Lord of the ThunderCats, with a big heart protecting all life on their new planet. What stands out is his “sight beyond sight” abilities, which were bestowed by the Sword of Omens, making him the ideal opposer to Mumm-Ra’s tyranny.
14. THE WORST: SNARF
Snarf belongs to an intelligent race of fuzzy, cute cat-like creatures. He hated his name, Osbert, and so he took on the moniker of Snarf. What made Snarf so annoying were his sound effects and clumsy nature throughout the series, similar to Jar Jar Binks in the modern Star Wars stories. He was meant to be a protector for Lion-O, but as Lion-O grew into a warrior, Snarf ended up being comedic relief gone bad.
We can’t knock him for being a caring friend but he always found himself in dumb binds. As smart as he is, he rarely used common sense, which led to Lion-O and company constantly having to rescue him. ThunderCats was meant for youngsters but there were the adult themes of survival, war and conquest at hand, which Snarf just never seemed to fit into, in terms of narrative.
13. RULED: JAGA
Jaga was Lion-O’s mentor, similar to what Obi Wan Kenobi was to Luke Skywalker. In the early cartoons, Jaga piloted Lion-O’s team away from Thundera’s destruction and died of old age. He would appear later on as a ghost to the youngster and help teach him how to lead. In the reboot, he was loyal to Lion-O’s father, King Claudus, and even embedded his soul into the Book of Omens to protect it from evil.
Jaga taught Lion-O about the Sword of Omens and was the last link to old Thundera, constantly reminding Lion-O what kind of king he needed to be. He looked out for Lion-O like a son and the audience really connected with his wisdom, bravery and unyielding duty to fight against injustice, which undoubtedly rubbed off on Claudus’ son.
12. THE WORST: PANTHRO
Panthro was supposed to be a wise sage, right up there with the elder, Jaga. However, he was pigeonholed as an engineer — the man who built the gadgets and toys for the team, as opposed to a senior warrior that should have been guiding Lion-O more in his ascension as a Lord. Don’t get us wrong, we loved seeing Panthro kicking ass with his nunchucks, but we can’t help but feel that the character was short-changed.
He should have had a bigger role than just being the gearhead who designed the ThunderTank. The reboot added more depth to him as part of the war that ravaged Lion-O’s kingdom under his father Claudus’ watch, but in the old series, Panthro came off super bland and totally one dimensional, as nothing more than a mechanic.
11. RULED: CHEETARA
Cheetara is a very big deal when it comes to the ThunderCats, especially as she was made into such a strong female character back in the day when ’80s cartoons didn’t have that many. She wasn’t just a backup player, but was always front and center fighting alongside Lion-O. Her super-speed, fighting abilities with her staff and precognitive sense of awareness made her one of, if not the best warrior in Lion-O’s stable.
In the 2011 reboot, she was even more fierce! This time, there was an added twist as she was spun into a love interest for Lion-O and Tygra. This new series stuck to the character’s core, however, shaping her as a loyal and compassionate fighter. Cheetara often advised Lion-O on strategy, further compounding how much the writers valued dynamic characters on the roster.
10. THE WORST: PUMYRA
Pumyra was never done justice in the franchise. She wasn’t one of the most aggressive ThunderCats in the old series, used instead as a medic and healer in the field. Sadly, she didn’t have much personality when she was introduced as a late addition to the show, and honestly, she grew more forgettable by the episode. Her disposition was so drab that writers actually tried to correct this in the reboot.
However, they couldn’t strike a balance, painting her in her latter appearances as overly aggressive. They jumped from one end of the spectrum to the next extreme, making her betray Lion-O and crafting her as a lover for Mumm-Ra. Not even this shock made the character pop to life, though, as it felt so forced and was simply done to break her away from her originally drab vibe.
9. RULED: LYNX-O
Lynx-O was a cult favorite due to his blindness, which befell him in Thundera’s destruction. As he made his way off-planet with Pumyra and Bengali, an explosive blast blinded him. He would end up having to hone his other senses, much like Marvel’s Daredevil. He was very astute in engineering as well as in the field of battle, making him a mix of Jaga and Panthro.
Lynx-O was always cool under pressure and in the 2011 reboot, he was used as one of Claudus’ sentries. His history would have been explored even more had there been a second season, but that said, fans never forgot the impact he had when he joined Lion-O’s ranks later on in the ’80s. Lynx-O was also seen as a mentor to the young Lord, teaching him how to use diplomacy to rally support.
8. THE WORST: THE TWINS
WilyKit and WilyKat had potential in the early ThunderCats stories but ended up being either too comical, kids who always needed rescuing or simply plot devices that Mumm-Ra’s forces constantly exploited. The twins were fun to watch with their hoverboards and slingshots, but they should have been used more as Lion-O’s friends, given they were the same age. Instead, they appeared too subservient to him, and the writers ended up trivializing the characters.
The reboot gave them more backstory, steeping them in poverty and as street urchins stealing to survive, but this was cancelled so we couldn’t get deeper into what they were meant to be. Instead, we’re left with the remnants from the ’80s that sculpted them as wannabe-warriors who really couldn’t stand up against the oppressors on Third Earth. They should have been much more then just pesky, meddling kids.
7. RULED: TYGRA
Tygra was second in command to Lion-O, who made it clear that Tygra would take over as the new Lord if anything ever happened to him. Of course, it was no shock why Lion-O placed such faith in him. Tygra was quiet but using his whip and speed, he may well have been the most naturally-gifted fighter of them all, not to mention he was incorruptible and defended his clan to the death.
In the reboot, he was retconned into Lion-O’s adopted brother and there was a lot of tension between them, given they both loved Cheetara. However, this revamp dealt with Tygra’s sinister ancestors and truly showed how he wanted to redeem his family’s name by helping Lion-O in his journey as king. This punctuated that Tygra was always ready to put his people’s well-being above everything else.
6. THE WORST: THE MUTANTS
The mutants embodied all the cliched tropes of ’80s cartoon villains that annoy us to this very day. They came off just as stereotypical as Cobra Commander or Skeletor’s troops, and the villains from fellow Rankin-Bass shows like SilverHawks or TigerSharks. It wasn’t until 2011 that we started to get some depth to the likes of Slithe, Monkian, Jackalman, and Vultureman, but in the old series, they were nothing more than bumbling minions who couldn’t ever get the upper hand.
We understand that ’80s writers loved to make villains incompetent and shape them as comic relief, but when ThunderCats got serious, it really transcended the average cartoon. It’s a shame that these mutants didn’t do the same because we wanted more of their backstory and why they aligned with Mumm-Ra. Instead, they only gave the impression of being mindless slaves.
5. RULED: GRUNE THE DESTROYER
Grune was a power-hungry traitor who betrayed Jaga and King Claudus in the early series, only to be exiled in space for his actions. Based on the sabretooth and armed with his trusty mace, this ferocious fighter would eventually end up being used by Mumm-Ra to fight the ThunderCats on Third Earth. There, he continued to hate Jaga and Lion-O’s new clan because he felt he should have ruled over Thundera. This led Mumm-Ra to exploit him and push him into waging war on Lion-O.
In the reboot, more of Grune’s backstory was touched on, with Panthro being the friend he betrayed, as he even schemed to use Mumm-Ra to take Claudus’ throne. What makes Grune so compelling is how he views Thunderean society, its caste system and how his people should evolve, reminding us of villains like Zod and Maximus the Mad.
4. THE WORST: THE LUNATAKS
The Lunataks came from the moons of Plun-Darr and were led by the evil sorceress known as Luna. Mumm-Ra had his mutants free them from their molten prison and wanted them to work for him, but they had plans of their own. However, instead of another awesome villainous faction, we got a team of criminals who were similarly inept to Mumm-Ra’s mutants.
From their floating Sky Tomb fortress, they felt just as boring as Slithe’s army, and were nothing more than a rinse and repeat of so many other Rankin-Bass despots. They more or less confirmed that the writers were short in terms of imagining new villains, with the likes of Amok (a demonic bulldog), Chilla (who controlled heat and cold) and Red Eye (with his infrared vision), coming off just as laughable as they looked.
3. RULED: THE ROBEAR BERBILS
Star Wars fans would agree that the Robear Berbils were the ThunderCats’ version of Ewoks. These partly-furred robot-bears came from the planet Ro-Bear and explored other worlds to colonize. Given their intelligence, kindness and compassion, not to mention their cuteness, it was hard to not love them, especially when fans saw how loyal and helpful they were to Lion-O’s people as they rebuilt their society. The Berbils were crucial in helping construct the Cat’s Lair and the Tower of Omens, after all.
They also saved Lynx-O, Bengali, and Pumyra, who would later join Lion-O’s team, proving they were more than just architects and gardeners. These creatures were so essential to the Thundereans and the 2011 reboot smartly decided to use them in the same light. Lion-O consistently acknowledged how important they were and treated them just like his family out of gratitude.
2. THE WORST: MUMM-RA
Mumm-Ra sucks because he couldn’t get the job done, despite having all the tools at his disposal. The demon-priest was transformed from his mummified form into a stronger, much more powerful warrior thanks to the Ancient Spirits of Evil, yet despite all of this, he couldn’t inspire his army. Even when using sorcery and shape-shifting, he somehow found a way to fall short of the mark.
Lion-O and his team always outsmarted the villain, which saw the Spirits repeatedly threatening to strip him of their power. They were always frustrated by his incessant failures but Mumm-Ra kept taking advantage of the fact that he had no competition. Quite frankly, we’re surprised the Spirits didn’t put him back in a tomb for good. We spent more time laughing at him than being intimidated by his antics, which isn’t the mark of a great villain and certainly not befitting his amazing design!
1. RULED: THE ANCIENT SPIRITS OF EVIL
The Ancient Spirits of Evil were terrifying, and whether they were transforming Mumm-Ra or lashing out over Lion-O’s rule, let’s be real, we all got scared! These four spirits were the source of Mumm-Ra’s powers and stood as his eternal masters. They were represented by Egyptian-esque statues which embodied various animals such as the vulture and crocodile.
Trapped within their Black Pyramid, they used Mumm-Ra as their avatar of destruction, with the ’80s “Doomgaze” episode hinting they were part of H. P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, as Mumm-Ra invoked Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu. In the reboot, they helped create the Sword of Plun-Darr in response to the Sword of Omens, and even tried to take Tygra as a sacrifice in order to cure his people, who were sickly outcasts. These entities constantly added the element of horror and dread to the franchise, even when they were just looming in the background.
Agree with our picks? Let us know which other ThunderCats characters rocked and which ones didn’t in the comments!
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