ThunderCats Ho to ThunderCats No?

A look into the evolution of Lion-O and the rest of the ‘Cats from 1985 to now

Feb 10 · 11 min read
Lion-O in 1985, 2011, and predicted 2019

The ThunderCats original series will forever be near and dear to me as one of the first cartoon series I can claim to have fully watched. Originally broadcasted in 1985, the series is a creative mixture of the traditional heroic storytelling set in a fantastical sci-fi world with alien cat-like humans saving the day, known as the ThunderCats.

The Sword of Omens

Having to escape their dying home planet of Thundera and avoid the relentless attacks from the Mutants of Plun-Darr, the ThunderCats are the surviving nobility of the Thundereans who are tasked with protecting the Sword of Omens and Eye of Thundera. The eye being the source of the species amazing powers is embedded in the blade of the Sword of Omens, which can only be used by the Lord of the ThunderCats.

Due to the circumstances of the evacuation, this duty fall upon the young heir Lion-O who is barely old enough to understand the circumstances of their fleeing Thundera. He is accompanied by several other nobles including Jaga the Wise, analytical Tygra, incredibly fast Cheetara, Panthro the loyal warrior, the twins WilyKit and WilyKat, and Lion-O’s nursemaid/protector Snarf. To ensure the safety of the ThunderCats, Jaga tasks himself with piloting their ship to the nearest habitable planet, Third Earth. In doing so, he dies of old age while the rest of the ThunderCats survive through the journey with the almost totally anti-aging suspension capsules.

Base character references for the show (From Left to Right: Panthro, Tygra, Cheetara, Snarf, Lion-O [Adult form], Mumm-Ra the Everliving, WilyKit, WilyKat, Jaga, Mumm-Ra)

Each ThunderCat has a particular skill or related talent that provides benefits for their survival as the last of the Thundereans.

ThunderCats Jaga in Spirit form

Jaga has the knowledge of the history of Thundera and the skill of a veteran warrior, in addition to being one of the previous ThunderCat Lords. After his death he appears throughout the series as a ghostly guide for Lion-O to rely on in times of need.

ThunderCats Tygra

Tygra is one of the quieter, but still somewhat cocky, members of the group with a knack for the sciences and related information. He is able to create illusions as well as turn invisible with the help of his hybrid bola-whip, but flawed by being unable to swim when using such talent. With his counsel, Lion-O has told Tygra to take over being Lord of the ThunderCats if anything were to happen to him.

ThunderCats Cheetara with staff

At the start of the series Cheetara is the only adult female Thunderean present among the group and is a swift warrior. She is also the fastest member of the ThunderCats and has the developing ability of sixth sense, which enables her to predict ominous situations in addition to see visions of the future. Using such skill unfortunately leaves her very weak, but she is still a capable fighter by using an expanding/shrinking bo staff when facing enemies.

Thundercats Panthro

Panthro is both the strongest as well as most complex character in the ThunderCats in being the duality of compassionate and a cold warrior. He is the most respected out of the group and helps to build practically every tool/machine used by the ThunderCats through their adventures, but also is flawed with his fear of bats that he hides for the most part. Panthro’s weapon of choice is a specially crafted set of nunchaku, basically nunchucks with cat claws at the end, that are able to release sprays and other items to weaken enemies.

ThunderCats ThunderKittens WilyKat and WilyKit

The twins WilyKit and WilyKat are the second youngest members of the ThunderCats, with Lion-O being the youngest of them all. Throughout the series they are collectively referred to as the “ThunderKittens” being a mischievous duo using essentially above average utility belts to fight against enemies with various tools and tricks, in addition to their space boards that are pretty much hovering surfboards. WilyKat is the older of the two and in comparison to his sister WilyKit is a bit more cautionary and practical when figuring out a plan of attack.

ThunderCats Snarf

While Snarf is definitely a member of the ThunderCats, he doesn’t really bring much to the warrior or soldier like nature that the others certainly have. His task is to be Lion-O’s nursemaid and overall protector since he is still a child when the events of the first episode in the series, Exodus, takes place. This makes him very loyal to the young lord as well as the other ThunderCats, but is often portrayed in the series as a bit of a klutz or not that necessary to the plot development. Snarf, actual name being Osbert, is the only member of the ThunderCats to not be a Thunderean but is a member of the Snarf race, a similar cat-like species but more docile and better for servant type work.

ThunderCats young Lion-O

Lion-O, who unsurprisingly is the show’s protagonist, is technically the youngest member of the ThunderCats and their Lord. Due to a slight issue with the anti-aging capsules, Lion-O’s body grows into adulthood while he still has the mind of a child, a theme which is explored much throughout the series. Despite still being a child, he wields the Sword of Omens, capable of releasing beams of energy, and is able to access the swords ability of Sight Beyond Sight, allowing him to see over far distances, in being the ThunderCats Lord. Lion-O houses the sword in the Claw Shield, ultimately a claw shaped gauntlet with grappling hooks.

With their ship to crash landing on Third Earth, Lion-O is first to emerge from the anti-aging capsules in his new adult body. After saving the rest of the ThunderCats from the Mutants of Plun-Darr and first using the Sword of Omens’ ability of Sight Beyond Sight, does the show really kick off with the various trials they have to face on their new home planet set up by the series main antagonist, Mumm-Ra.

Mumm-Ra is an undead sorcerer tasked by the Ancient Spirits of Evil to control all life inhabiting the planet of Third Earth. He uses various forms of magic to try and prevent the ThunderCats from interfering with his evil plans, as well as use the Mutants of Plun-Darr to enforce his evil deeds.

Over the course of the show more characters join the ThunderCats including the blind Lynx-O, blacksmith Bengali, healer Pumyra, and Snarf’s nephew Snarfer to name a few. Each one broadening upon the developments of the main cast with stories regarding past events that become present to the overall evolving story.

ThunderCats Lynx-O, Pumyra, and Bengali

The series has had several adaptations over the years with slight variations to each of them. ThunderCats (1985) by Leonard Starr is the baseline of each version that comes to pass.

ThunderCats the comic book series started almost a year later than the TV series. Published under Marvel’s Star Comics it was an almost perfectly replicated adaptation of the show in comic book format. Considering that it ran during practically the same time as the show it was more of an added appeal to experience the story of ThunderCats.

Several of the Star Comics versions of the ThunderCats comics

From 2002–2004 DC Comics took a stab at the beloved series under their WildStorm Comics branch by creating Reclaiming Thundera, The Return, The Dogs of War, Hammerhand’s Revenge, Enemy’s Pride, a Battle of the Planets crossover, a Superman crossover, and the story’s prequel Origins: Villains and Heroes.

The first three mini-series happening directly after the end of the TV series sticks to the same character designs and development in the same style of Leonard Starr’s original. Both Hammerhand’s Revenge and Enemy’s Pride are actually set during the 1985 series storyline but are more stylized that they are not officially recognized as an accurate part of the cannon plot line, separating them as their own individual storylines inspired by the original ThunderCats show. Origins: Villains and Heroes is different than the other comics WildStorm created since it very loosely relies on the information presented in the main TV series, but does help to develop the storyline of how the ThunderCats came to be. It also focuses on how Mumm-Ra became everliving and what his life was like before claiming such tremendous power.

Assortment of the WildStorm Comics variation on ThunderCats comics

Not only was the series redone in comics, it had another TV adaptation this time done by Cartoon Network in 2011 also titled ThunderCats. While the series was definitely designed differently than the original, it had its own charms and quite often referred back to the 1985 version throughout its rather short duration.

The two most drastic changes were the character backstories and the setting for the show. Unlike the 1985 version 2011 ThunderCats does not have the group evacuate their planet of Thundera, but instead places them on Third Earth having to flee their home, the Kingdom of Thundera. It’s an interesting taking on the dichotomy of Thundera and Third Earth, but enables the story to take on a more fantastical adventuring path sprinkled with advanced technology. If I were to describe it to someone, I’d say it reminded me of a fantasy game that was boosted with the power of new age technology.

ThunderCats 2011 (From Left to Right: Tygra, WilyKit, Lion-O, WilyKat, Panthro, Snarf, Cheetara)

Character backstory and development was were the newer show took a sharp left away from its original designs.

While the characters of Jaga, Panthro, Cheetara, and Pumyra ultimately remain the same, with only slight tweaking in backstory to better fit their new roles, Lion-O, Tygra, the twins, and even Snarf had some major revisions.

Lion-O with the Sword of Omens and Claw Shield

Lion-o’s is by far the most changed in character design with being deemed a teenager at the start of the series, rather than the whole space-time child to adult plot point in the 1985 version. While he still has the personality of a temperamental child, his rebooted self is also invested in learning about technology and advocating for equality between races (the rebooted versions of the Mutants of Plun-Darr) instead of focusing upon the history of the Thundereans and learning to use the Sword of Omens for when he becomes the next ruler.

Tygra with a gun wearing costume similar to 1985 ThunderCats

Tygra is another radically different character in the series with him being first introduced as Lion-O’s older step-brother with a jealous based rivalry against the younger. It’s interesting to compare these different versions to one another, considering how the older version was more collected and refined in contrast to the new brash and flirtatious version. Beyond personality, which influences the overall development of the story, it’s also quite fascinating to see how the character designs differ as well. Although he does wear a very acknowledging throwback to the original costume in the beginning, for much of the series remainder he dons rather technologically militaristic clothing and even uses a gun in combination with the bola-whip. The interpretation is designed to definitely be pitted against the newer Lion-O in almost a friendly rival type style, mainly seen in how Tygra opposes Lion-O’s ideas and actions.

WilyKit and WilyKat on space boards

The twins are only a bit off in comparison to their original designs, firstly starting with the choice of making them a fair bit younger in contrast to their 1985 versions. This decision definitely harkens back to the original designs and makes their mischievousness even more noticeable, in addition to being hilarious. Other than their age the ThunderKittens are also not nobles anymore, the only ones truly being Lion-O and Tygra in this adaptation, but instead are orphans of a low class family who came upon the ThunderCats happenstance when fleeing the Thunderean kingdom. In addition, WilyKit was also made to be the calmer in the duo instead of her brother who took that role in the 1985 adaptation.

Snarf eating

While Snarf did play a sizable role in the original ThunderCats his modern self turned out to be more of a pet for Lion-O than anything else. This version does not allow him the ability to speak, but instead making traditional cat noises and not until later in the season is able to actually say “Snarf” in a Pokemon type fashion.

Both the 1985 and 2011 versions of ThunderCats have their own stylistic and character based differences. I believe that many of these variations are due to the time period and how the teams working respectively on each project wanted to tell the story of Lion-O and the rest of the ThunderCats. For me personally I can say that I’m very happy with the results of each series, if not a little more partial to specific aspects of one over the other. I feel that the newer version serves justice to the old, but also is able to make a name for itself by expanding the story to a more modern audience.

From what I’ve heard and seen of the teasers for the newest version to come out in 2019, it’s hard not to say that this adaptation is not controversial. In comparison to its predecessors, the overall vibe of the animation and limited storytelling makes it feel that this version is to be a little less serious more for younger kids version. While the design of the characters is most definitely in reference to the original 1985 series, the simplistic almost slapstick-like dialogue and highly cartoonish design by far separate it from the other two versions.

Clip from the Warner Brothers ThunderCats Roar 2019 announcement trailer (From Left to Right: Panthro, Snarf, WilyKit, Lion-O, Tygra, WilyKat, Cheetara)

I’m not going to lie that I wasn’t disappointed when I saw the first few pictures and clips of the project. The announcement video alone on the Warner Brothers YouTube channel currently has 23K dislikes, and its reposting on the channel moviemaniacsDE totaling to 110K dislikes. Instead of outrightly hating the project, I’m going to wait on passing final judgement until it comes out and I can watch it myself to see how this interpretation stands in comparison to the ones that came prior. Here’s to the future of ThunderCats, whether it’s a Ho or a No is yet to be determined.

Here’s a few links that I relied on, because I was not going to solely rely on my memories of the show to do this assessment justice.

General Information on ThunderCats Characters: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ThunderCats_characters

General Overall History of ThunderCats as a Series: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ThunderCats

ThunderCats Wiki: https://thundercats-ho.fandom.com/wiki/Thundercats_Wiki

(I took the creative liberty to omit both the 1987 and 2012 ThunderCats video games from my adaptations analysis due to most of the content in the games being directly related or correlated to the developments of both TV adaptations. Additionally I did not include the live-action movie title, considering it has not yet come out due to being on hold since 2010.)

Sayre Cohen

Written by

Undergraduate student at Southern Oregon University studying in digital media and film. Co-Coordinator for SOU Honors College Social Media.

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