Some of the voice actors and producers behind ThunderCats sat down last week with reporters at Comic-Con International to talk about Cartoon Network’s reimagining of the 1980s animated series.
The remake features several departures from the beloved original, most notably that Lion-O is now a teenager using the Sword of Omens to reclaim his throne, and that Thundera isn’t a planet but merely a kingdom on Third Earth.
Producers Ethan Spaulding and Michael Jelenic and art director Dan Norton revealed that the new ThunderCats has been a long time in development, with about 10 pitches submitted over the past decade. But once the series was greenlit in 2010, everything came together quickly, going from pre-production to air in less than a year.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, as Norton and Jelenic said they had to do battle with Cartoon Network over whether they could use the classic “ThunderCats – Ho!” battle cry. Executives were concerned that any use of the word “ho” might reflect poorly on the network. Luckily for fans of the original series, the persistence of the producers won out, and the mantra appears regularly in the remake.
Norton said he hopes parents who grew up with the 1980s original will encourage their children to watch the new ThunderCats – so they’ll have an excuse to tune in themselves. “We call them ThunderDads and ThunderMoms,” he said.
Jelenic said that any ‘80s cartoon not already in development probably will be in a matter of years, as today’s writers and producers love digging up pop-culture relics from their youth. “We are the Comic-Con generation,” he said.
He also hinted that ThunderCats viewers may see appearances by characters from SilverHawks, the 1986 space Western from Rankin/Bass. When pressed, Jelenic said another of the studio’s animated properties, TigerSharks, may show up as well.
Emmanuelle Chriqui, best known for her role as Sloan on HBO’s Entourage, said she’s enjoyed her voice-acting debut as the mysterious Cleric Cheetara, in part because of the easy-going work environment.
“The fact that you can go and play in the studio and it doesn’t matter what you look like is just great,” she said. “I know it’s not for everybody, but I happen to really love it.”
The 33-year-old actress said that although she’s never watched the ‘80s series, she’s now curious to see it. “If you’re doing a remake of something I don’t know how helpful it is to see the original, because you don’t want to imitate what’s already been done,” Chriqui said. “You want to create it and hopefully it’s just as good.”
“I had no idea of the magnitude that we were talking about,” she continued. “Now I’m like ‘Wow, I’m a part of cartoon history,’ which I’m really excited about. For Halloween this year, I’m definitely gonna be Cheetara!”
She said that she moves a lot while recording the character’s voice to help get her in the mood. However, she has to be careful of what she wears, as the microphones can pick up jewelry or fabric movements. The cast also tries to record together as often as possible, so they can feed off each other’s performances.
Having caught the voice-acting bug, Chriqui will also portray Page in Disney’s upcoming TRON: Uprising animated series. To her, voice acting “really feels like a cross between TV and theater.”
While Larry Kenney voices Claudus in the new ThunderCat, he’s best known Lion-O in the original series “We did the show back in the mid-‘80s, it was wonderful and fortunately it became a big success,” he said. “The chance to do it again is something that you never even hope for. It’s exciting to be a part of it again.”
He said it’s odd to be playing his old character’s father in this version. “Back in the ‘80s I was saying, ‘Father, I don’t know how to deal with Mumm-Ra, I’m afraid of the mutants!’ and now I’m his father saying, ‘Lion-O, you must learn to deal with the mutants!’”
Kenney said he doesn’t know whether any other original cast members will be invited back. However, hopes they will be, suggesting they could provide the voices for mutants or other supporting characters.
“We are all very dedicated to preserving what ThunderCats meant to the fans,” he said. He’s received many emails over the years from people who used ThunderCats as an escape to cope with illness or abusive homes, and feels he owes it to fans not to tarnish their memories of the series.
“You have a responsibility to protect that legacy,” Kenney said. “I feel very strongly about that. Again, I’m not trying to sound noble or anything, but I said I’ll be a part of it if they can show us they can do a ThunderCats series that is worthy of the original, and they have. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking about it, I didn’t need to do it.”
ThunderCats has its one-hour premiere Friday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network.