While it may not have been as popular as its cartoon peers of the ’80s like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers, the Thunder…Thunder…ThunderCats were still pretty darn popular. Today, the show remains a sentimental favorite for many people who grew up in the age of all things “fresh,” “awesome and “totally tubular.” Why? Because like those other ‘toons that made up the late afternoon line-up, ThunderCats helped kids unwind after a long day at school and helped to bridge the hours between school and the nighttime hours spent doing homework. Or not, as your mind was probably blown away with what you just saw.
For those who need a refresher, the ThunderCats were a close-knit group of feline-like humanoids from planet Thundera. After fleeing their doomed planet in a spaceship, they land on Third Earth and begin to make a home for themselves there. But there’s soon trouble in paradise: Enemies from Thundera have followed them and promptly join forces with Mumm-Ra, an ancient overlord who once ruled over Third Earth and seeks to do so again. If you recall all that, then test your prowess now against this list of 15 things you probably never knew about ThunderCats!
15. THE MYTHOLOGY
Did you know the ThunderCats have a mythological precedent? As early as 1886, translations of Japanese folklore into English revealed the old traditions of a half-human, half-animal creature known as the “thunder imp” or “thunder-cat.” More accurate translations today categorize these fantastic creatures as raiju, a term meaning “thunder animal” or “thunder beast.” According to tradition, the raiju are creatures composed of lightning, but can take the form of different animals, like wolves, weasels, and cats.
Back in the olden days, whenever someone was struck by lightening, it was believed to have been a raiju escaping the clouds and pouncing down with claws bared onto its victim. Now, whether the raiju of Japanese tradition had anything to do with the modern-day making of America’s TV ThunderCats is still a mystery. But these cat-like cartoon heroes — particularly the blue-haired and pointy-eared Panthro — could easily pass for a badass raiju.
14. THE LIMITED EDITION CHEETARA ACTION FIGURE
Figuratively speaking, the fleet-footed Cheetara of ThunderCats is as fast as lightning. Of course, even the most casual fan of this cartoon knows that. But did you know that while in a jog, Cheetara’s speed was clocked at 30-seconds to the mile — which breaks out to 120 miles per hour? Well, Episode 5 of the show (“Pumm-Ra”) gave fans a pretty good idea of just how fast Cheetara actually is.
So here’s a question specifically for the fans of Cheetara: Did you know Mezco Toyz released a spine-tingling San Diego Comicon Exclusive Cheetara action figure back in the summer of 2013? This limited edition 14” tall toy, crafted from a fantastic sculpt, came boxed with the heroine’s signature bo staff and also included a 5” tall figure of Snarf. And as you’ve probably guessed, the figures went pretty…fast.
13. LION-O’S REAL AGE
In the original ThunderCats series, Lion-O often acted like a clueless kid and could be somewhat frustrating to watch. But did you know that he was actually a 12-year old in a 24-year old man’s body? If you started watching ThunderCats after the series was in full swing, it was easy to miss this factoid from the early episodes. Also, unless you understood the complex dynamics of interplanetary travel (and what kid would?), it was still easy to miss.
At the time Prince Lion-O and his entourage of loyal companions left the planet of Thundera, he was the same age as his playmates, Wileykit and WileyKat. But a malfunction in the stasis tubes in which Lion-O slept unfortunately caused his body to age into adulthood, but not his mind. So you really had to pity the guy for being on a serious (and sometimes really annoying) learning curve about “adulting.”
12. THUNDERCATS HO! WAS SUPPOSED TO HIT THEATERS
Now here’s something you probably never knew: The direct-to-video release of ThunderCats Ho! The Movie was originally planned for a nationwide theatrical release. After animated films like GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords (1986) and My Little Pony: The Movie (1986) tanked at the box-office, though, the film was instead divided into a 5-part story for domestic television broadcast and released as a two-hour home movie for the UK market.
The events that are depicted in ThunderCats Ho! The Movie actually take place prior the stories in the first season of the TV show, and function as a kind of prequel story before prequels really became a thing. Without any explanation, though, they formed the first five episodes of the second season of ThunderCats, and created a maddening bit of confusion in the show’s overall story continuity that still lingers to this day.
11. MILLA JOVOVICH WANTED TO PLAY CHEETARA
Speaking of the movie business, actress Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, Ultraviolet), one of Hollywood’s most unlikely action stars, made it known earlier this year that she’s a big fan of ThunderCats. In January 2017, while discussing Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the actress stated that she’d even like to take on the role of Cheetara in a ThunderCats film.
Despite the fact that a live-action ThunderCats adaptation has been in production purgatory since 2011, with a He-Man film currently in development, fans are especially hopeful now that a film adaptation of the property will someday make it to the screen. Jovovich, who’s more than proven herself in sci-fi and action movie roles over the years, has our enthusiastic co-sign to play the butt-kicking Cheetara. So somebody in La-La Land give her an orange leotard and bo staff and make it happen already!
10. LION-O ENDED UP PLAYING HIS OWN FATHER
If a live-action ThunderCats film does finally see the light of day, let’s hope that gets a better reception from fanboys and fangirls than the animated ThunderCats reboot that Cartoon Network brought to the small screen back in 2011. Despite handsome production value and smart storytelling, the show had major challenges finding its audience amongst the new generation of cartoon watchers…and toy buyers. Unfortunately, the show was unceremoniously cancelled after only one season.
In spite of its inability to establish itself in a competitive market, the show did several things right and developed a small but loyal fan base. Among those things done right was the casting of the actor who played Claudus, the father of the character Lion-O. The voice of Claudus was handled by Larry Kenny, the actor who played Lion-O in the original ThunderCats TV series. But, of course, as a hardcore fan you knew that, right?
9. THE THUNDERCATS WENT LIVE
Okay, ThunderCats fan, did you know that there was once a “ThunderCats Live!” touring stage show? That’s right, this senses-shattering spectacle featured a costumed menagerie of (probably desperate) young actors playing the roles of the show’s eponymous felines, as well as characters from other programs then under the Rankin/Bass & Lorimar production banner, like Silverhawks, Gumby & Pokey, Tigersharks, the Street Frogs and Karate Kat.
The 90-minute show toured major cities across America, entertaining ThunderCats fans of all ages along the way. The production itself was set to play out like a guided tour led by the roller-skating duo of Gumby & Pokey. Somehow the show’s writers and producers managed to merge these wholly unrelated animation properties into a seemingly cohesive narrative. If up to this point in your life you never heard anyone talk about it, then it’s probably safe to assume that “ThunderCats Live!” wasn’t all that memorable.
8. THEY HAD A PSYCHOLOGIST READ THE SCRIPTS
Did you know that Rankin/Bass, the production company responsible for ThunderCats, had a psychological consultant on its staff specifically to work on their two action-oriented cartoon shows, ThunderCats and SilverHawks? Dr. Robert Kuisis, a psychologist with over three decades of experience, was charged with the responsibility of reading and evaluating every single script, to ensure that each episode contained a positive moral lesson. Kuisis even drafted brief reports to assess many of the ThunderCats episodes.
One of the somewhat unique things about ThunderCats is that the show was developed and designed by its creators to teach young after school TV watchers valuable lessons about life and how to grow up to be a responsible citizen. It’s one reason the show was liked by the parents of America’s cartoon-loving kids in the ’80s. So file that senses-shattering factoid away, because knowing such things might help you impress the ladies someday.
7. JESSICA ALBA WAS A HUGE FAN
What woman would care about your geeky factoids about an old TV toon, you wonder? Well, women like Jessica Alba for starters, who has admitted she was once a big fan of ThunderCats. Although like most girls, Alba was made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Unlike her prissy peers, the star of films like Sin City and Machete also had a thing for nunchucks, whips and big pointy spikes!
In her 2013 book. The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You, Alba says that as a young girl, she was a “total tomboy.” Playing dress-up and princess, and waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming was of no interest to her. Alba’s surprising passions then were baseball, He-Man, She-Ra, and the ThunderCats. Now is that prime wifey material or what?
6. GRANDPA HUXTABLE WAS A THUNDERCAT
Speaking of finding a wife and starting a cartoon-watching family (we kind of were, right?), once upon a time, the ’80s TV program The Cosby Show featured the epitome of what a wholesome family should be. And one of the actors who appeared semi-regularly on The Cosby Show was a series regular in the cast of ThunderCats.
International stage and screen actor Earle Hyman, who played the very lovable Grandpa Huxtable, provided the voice of the sleek-haired and pointy-eared Panthro. Early on in his career, Hyman was formally trained for Shakespearean plays and regularly played the part of Othello in theater companies based in London and later Denmark — where he later moved for many years and became fluent in both Norwegian and Danish. Who knew?
5. TEEN TITANCATS
Did you know that in an episode of Teen Titans Go! paid homage to the ThunderCats TV show? In “Halloween,” episode 19 of the second season of Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go!, the young superheroes try to find a way to once again celebrate what had previously been their favorite holiday — before they grew up and became more serious about life.
In an amusing glance back at the last Halloween that they did celebrate together — when they all ate too much candy and became sick — the teammates are shown out on the sidewalk trick-or-treating. There, they appear dressed up as various characters from the ThunderCats TV show. Robin is dressed up as Lion-O, Starfire as Cheetara, Beast Boy as Tygra, Cyborg as Panthro, as Raven is Mumm-Ra, and Silkie wears a Snarf costume. Even more amusingly, though, this isn’t the only cartoon to pay homage to ThunderCats…
4. FAMILY GUY SPOOFED THE THUNDERCATS
Like The Simpsons animated TV show before it, Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy has regularly made it a point to include a slew of cool pop culture references, particularly those that relate to the history of film and television. In a really quick gag that takes place in part two of 2005’s direct-to-DVD movie, Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, the show’s produces cleverly spoofed the ThunderCats TV show.
As Lion-O does surveillance work within the Cat’s Lair, Cheetara passes by on her way to use the bathroom. Lion-O promptly puts the Sword of Omens to perverted use to give him “sight beyond sight” so he can peer through the wall and see Cheetara with her naked bottom on the toilet. Amazingly, the original actors Larry Kenney and Lynne Lipton were even called in to reprise their roles as Lion-O and Cheetara. Is that, like, gnarly or what?
3. THUNDERCATS/BATTLE OF THE PLANETS
Fortunately for fans, the gnarliness that is ThunderCats has extended well beyond the television screen. Since 1985, the year in which the ThunderCats cartoon series first made its debut, there have also been comic books featuring these beloved characters. And the stories written for comics have taken the heroes of the show in exciting new directions — including teaming them up with characters from other cartoon worlds!
One such merger was the 2003 ThunderCats/Battle of the Planets one-shot from Wildstorm Comics (a DC Comics imprint) and TopCow Comics. This 48-page tale, written and illustrated by Kaare Andrews and artist Kevin Yan (with alternate covers by J. Scott Campbell and Alex Ross) takes the winged heroes of G-Force on a mission to planet Thundera to stop a plot by their archenemies, Spectra. There they meet and team-up with the ThunderCats and work to rid the planet of its newest threat.
2. HE-MAN AND LION-O ONCE THREW DOWN
Back in the mid-1980s, kids used their imagination to team He-Man toys up with ThunderCats toys in epic adventures. This childhood truism was brilliantly mined for a gag in yet another episode of Family Guy titled “April in Quahog.” The gag features Stewie in his room playing with his He-Man and ThunderCats action figures — which he then uses to mount a hilarious philosophical attack on toxic masculinity in America.
Even better, 2016 saw the teaming up of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe with the ThunderCats in the epic DC Comics crossover event that fans had waited 30 years to see! And it was well worth the wait! Written by Lloyd Goldfine and Rob David, and beautifully illustrated by Freddie E. Williams II, this dimension-spanning story offered old school fans a six-part story that would even featured the shocking death of a major character. But, which one?
1. THE LOST EYE OF THUNDERA RETURNS
Last but not least in this list of 15 things you never knew about ThunderCats is the officially licensed video game ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera. You probably know that way back in 1987 Elite Systems Ltd. produced a side-scrolling hack-n-slash video game for various platforms, including Amiga, Atari ST, and the Commodore 64. But did you know that a remake of this baby was released in 2016?
That’s right, kiddies! A remake of the game was issued back in October of 2016. This overhauled version is free to download and features updated graphics, a cool remix of David Whitaker’s music track from the original version, seamless gameplay, added stages with the Thundertank, and a sorely needed full-on confrontation against Mumm-Ra — unlike to the original game which just ends abruptly after completing the last stage. So pour yourself a bowl of your favorite cereal and late the games begin!
Are there any other facts about ThunderCats that we didn’t list? Let us know in the comments section!
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