A crowd of fans looking for “sight beyond sight” when it comes to Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network’s relaunched ThunderCats took residence in the Esplanade Ballroom at WonderCon 2011 in San Francisco for a Sunday afternoon panel featuring the producers of the show.
IGN’s Joey Esposito introduced the panelists including producer and writer Michael Jelenic, producer Ethan Spaulding, art director Dan Norton and original Lion-O and current King Claudus voice actor Larry Kenney, who after leading the audience in a round of “Thunder, Thunder, Thunder…ThunderCats HOOOOOOOO!” said he was retiring the phrase so incoming Lion-O Will Friedel would be able to do it for fans moving forward. A constant refrain from the actor over the panel was how he felt the new show was honoring the original and, “If I thought they were going to screw it up, I would’ve stopped them.”
“‘ThunderCats’ is a huge part of our childhood…everything else has been rebooted — Transformers and G.I. Joe — so there’s a huge desire to see this property brought back. It’s exciting,” Jelenic explained. “This show has been in development for like ten years. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie version or the Rock Band version…so it’s a long time coming.”
Norton explained he’d been involved with the “ThunderCats” comic relaunches done at WildStorm, but during the days when the publisher expanded upon the original show, a final animated version never came to fruition. Doing the current full-on relaunch allowed the creators to change things up and make the series more modern. “Thundera is now more of a kingdom on Third Earth, and part of what you’re seeing [with the design] is an homage to the old show and our take on the Cat’s Lair…the ThunderCats have separated themselves from the outside world. We wanted to make this as large as possible,” Norton explained.
Kenney added, “I’m sure that many of you, like those of us who were involved, [when you] heard it was going to get remade thought, ‘Cool!’ and then your second thought was, ‘They better not screw it up.'” Once again, he expressed confidence in the final product.
“We came in with a huge respect for the original, but we were free to change some things…I think that the things fans hold dear will be present in this new incarnation,” Spaulding said, adding that for the music of the show “We’ll be going with a more epic movie score, but [musical] cues are in there from the original.”
Overall, Jelenic explained that the show is shooting for major plot threads to develop over the course of the entire series. “It’s a pretty epic story. In an ideal world, we’ll get 52 episodes…you should be able to come in to every episode and get a full story, but we see it as an epic, epic arc.”
The floor opened up to fan questions with Norton addressing the series’ mix of anime style with computer animation flourishes. “There’s this weird marriage that can happen between 3D and 2D, and if you don’t get it right, there can be a lot of bickering.” Spaulding credited Japanese studio 4-C with nailing the mix.
The issue of the planet Third Earth now featuring the ThunderCats home as a city rather than there being a planet Thundera came up. “We have a pretty specific mythology,” Jelenic said, reiterating that Thundera will be a city on Third Earth as the story opens. “We’re going to stay true to the original concept where Thundera will be destroyed, and the Cats will be pushed out into that world.”
This series’ take on leader Lion-O, Spaulding said, will skew younger — at least at the start. “He’s a lot younger, and it’s keeping with the original where he was a ten-year-old in a man’s body…but later on in our show we are going to age him up.” Norton added, “Lion-O, you get to grow with him, but if he starts as a 42-year-old man you’ll go, ‘Eh, not that much.'” Kenney said that in the original show, he himself had to start with the character very young noting that many forget how Lion-O grew and evolved over the original 130 episodes.
Speaking of the original, the producers strived to make logic out of the mix of sci-fi and fantasy from the ’80s program. “The old show was sort of fantasy-meets-sci-fi,” said Jelenic, noting that part of their goal was to explain what it’s like for a society that uses nunchuks and bolo whips has to confront a high-tech world of walking robots and laser cannons.
Snarf’s new status came up with Spaulding explaining they were “treating him more like a Chewbacca or an R2-D2” in how he communicated with Lion-O. The character will say “Snarf,” however more of his comedy will be Charlie Chaplin-like physical comedy and characteristics. Snarf’s voice hasn’t been recorded yet, but what the panelists described as “the cuter Snarf” which will not speak full sentences will be recorded in Japan next week.
Norton addressed the always popular front of toys and vehicles saying, “You can’t make ‘ThunderCats’ without making a Sky-Cutter,” adding that the producers tried to take everything that was cool about the old show and work it into the new series. When a fan asked after fellow Rankin-Bass series “SilverHawks,” Spaulding said, “You should keep an eye out.”
The classic villains of the show will also make their presences known, including Slythe, Monkian and Vultureman. “These guys aren’t the Larry, Curly and Moe of the old show. They’re a threat, and they’re dangerous,” said Norton. “As far as the other villains, you’ll have to turn in and see.”
There will also be some slight changes to the core cast. “Part of our goal was to exaggerate the characteristics of the characters. We started to separate their builds a little bit just so they’re identifiable,” Norton said. “In the old show, if you look at a lineup, they’re all relatively the same height and build. When you look at Panthro now, there’s no doubt that he is the strong guy.”
The panel did reveal two more members of the voice cast at the panel: Clancy Brown will play the villain Grune while Robin Atkins Down will play Mum-Ra. Kenney joked that Charlie Sheen would be playing Snarf.
A fan asked if the show would at all work on a version of the famed “Trial of Lion-O” episodes where the lead fought his own team or whether additional ThunderCats like Lynx-O and Bengalli would appear down the line. The answer to both questions: “Yes.”