Tuesday, August 2, 2011
I posted a swear-filled rant about sexism in Thundercats about a week ago. And after a lot of comments, I decided that I should review the actual cartoon.
My criticisms of Cheetara remain unchanged. Her presence in the cartoon is the most extreme manifestation of comic book females that I have yet seen in a cartoon and this is a bad thing. The cartoon is being aimed at kids and we have study after study showing why exaggerated imagery like this has negative effects on a child's psychology. While the weight of responsibility for rearing a child falls upon the parent, we should not be introducing previously non-existent sexist tropes into children's media.
That said, after watching the new Thundercats, how do I think it holds up? I'm not going to say "read on!", I'm just going to tell you. It was very good. It was a breath of fresh air for a variety of reasons.
While it kinda' pissed me off every time Cheetara's ridiculous double-D prow was on screen, the rest of the cartoon delivered everything that you could want from an action-adventure cartoon, and this is why it's such a great show.
Action and adventure cartoons have seen a real dry spell for A LONG TIME. We had Avatar: The Last Airbender... and that was it. I mean, seriously, when was the last decent adventure cartoon? What do we have today? Ben 10, which is awful, and Teen Titans, which is serviceable.
Nickelodeon and Disney have their boy-oriented properties in the form of Nicktoons and Disney XD, and they are both trying desperately to build audiences. Disney has loaded up their network with Asian-produced Marvel properties which are all pretty bad. And Nickelodeon paid a bucket of money to acquire the rights to Dragonball Z Kai to convince boys that people now punch each other on Nick.
But it is Cartoon Network that has almost completely owned the boy market since the introduction of their Toonami/Rising Sun anime lineup in the late 90's. Cartoon Network has carried the banner of adventure cartoons and, perhaps because of the monster success of imported anime, original productions have languished.
We've had a few here and there. A He-Man update, which wasn't very good. A few permutations of Transformers, also not very good. This new Thundercats is the first one that felt like, one: it actually had a budget; and two: it actually had writers.
The new Thundercats, if the show holds up, is the best adventure cartoon since Avatar. Neither show is as good as the gold standard, Batman: The Animated Series, but then again, nothing is. The character design is a bit bland, and the animation is pretty stiff at times, but it's much better than most actual anime. The dialogue is also more than a bit stilted at a couple of points, but I consider these minor issues.
While I think that Avatar was better, in both design and writing, it was hampered by Nickelodeon's hilariously-conservative regulations. No deaths on screen. No mention of the word "kill" in a positive sense. No punching or any violent physical contact. It really sapped a lot of sense of threat from the cartoon. If it hadn't been for the skill of the creators, Avatar would have sucked. Thundercats has a real sense of danger and drama. The action scenes seem real and more mature. There's more energy to the fights.
If you're looking for nostalgia, go somewhere else. This is a complete and total reimagining of the show. I at least now understand why Lion-O sounds prepubescent, but they still should have given his voice more weight. You get the impression that he and Tygra are both well into their twenties, but only Tygra sounds like it. I've never liked the snot-nosed kid rising to power story. Well, Sword In The Stone was alright.
So in conclusion, the new Thundercats is a good cartoon. I think that it has a lot of cool images and action sequences and it stands a good shot at being the kind of cartoon that sticks in boys' minds. I say boys specifically because girls don't statistically watch many cartoons, and Cheetara certainly won't make them want to with this cartoon.
Oh, and they kept in Snarf. I actually kind of like him, now. He doesn't say anything.