Ok just pipe down for a second, just be quiet……..I SAID SHAD UP!
I know some, if not all of you reading this let out a groan as soon as you ready the title but on this week’s instalment of ‘memo to the executives’ I’d like to take a look at a potential motion picture franchise rather than one that already exists. When the first Transformers film became a hit, all of us nostalgic dreamers, us children of the 80’s pondered which of our favourite cartoons might hit the big screen but I have to take the blinders off and be honest about this. I really don’t believe another He-Man movie is ever going to get made (or Voltron or Robotech for that matter). I’m not even sure it’s possible to make a great film adaptation of He-Man or that today’s audiences would buy into it.
But I honestly do believe that Thundercats could make an awesome film. It has a classic story (albeit pilfered from many other sources), great characters both male and female, a scary villain, swords, gadgets, vehicles and a world completely separate from our own where anything can happen. Most importantly, you could adapt all that makes Thundercats work into one film rather than telling a two hour set up movie in the hope that it will make enough money to turn into a franchise which will gradually get to the stuff the fans really want to see (I‘m looking at you G.I.Joe).
Now we have heard that a computer animated Thundercats movie was in development at Warner Bros. but it’s been several years since that announcement and not a peep since. Besides, it’s going to be much more exciting to see this in live action, to see real actors covered head to toe in furry prosthetics. I think, even knowing nothing about Thundercats, if you saw a trailer where the cast were cat people (done well of course), you would be interested. Unlike He-Man, the tricksy subject of the characters wearing barely any clothes can be partly deflected by the fact that these are animals/human hybrids. For once, the idea of our heroic ensemble wearing black leather outfits would be less plausible and far more horrific than seeing them wear their original costumes from the show.
For those not in the know, the story begins on our main characters home planet of Thundera where a small band of elite warriors known as the Thundercats preside and protect the population from a band of mutant pirates who seek to destroy them. But they are unable to save their planet from the forces of nature and abandon it just before it’s destruction. Their trip in deep space to find a suitable new home takes so long that they are forced to sleep in suspension capsules with the exception of their leader Jaga who sacrifices himself to pilot the ship until old age and death take him. Arriving on a mysterious planet known as Third Earth, the Thundercats try to rebuild their lives only to be relentlessly persued by the mutants who have tracked them down and the planet’s own embodiment of evil; Mumm-Ra the ever living.
The team might be ready for the challenge save for the fact that Lion-O, destined by tradition and lineage to be the lord and master of the Thundercats is in no way equipped for the task. Due to a malfunction in his suspension capsule, Lion-O, only a child when his planet was destroyed, has now grown up possessing a man’s body but the mind of the innocent young boy he essentially still is.
Maybe that sounds pretty similar to the Tom Hanks film ‘Big’ (which came after Thundercats just so you know) but, to me, that’s the heart of the concept right there. You are able to give the Thundercats movie a focus and a theme by making it about a boy’s right of passage to becoming a man, with the irony being that he already is one in all but spirit. If you do that then Lion-O becomes anything but the boring, one note, perfect hero we were used to seeing in these shows. Children can relate to him because he is technically a child, older guys can relate to him because we all do immature things and feel younger than we are, and, shallow as it sounds, if you cast a really hot guy then you have the ladies hooked too.
One way you can improve upon the show, and thereby giving the other Thundercats some individual personalities, is to create some antagonism between them and Lion-O. In the series, all of them were eager to accept him as their leader just because dem’s da rules of the code of Thundera. That isn’t going to work on film. You have to remember that these people are the last survivors of their race, they witness the destruction of their planet with their own eyes and now they are alone, stranded on an unknown world, still being hunted by the mutants and unsure if they can survive. The one who is supposed to lead, protect and ensure their survival is a naive man-child. How would you be coping?
Well the film should have each character cope in a different way. Tygra, the oldest of the group and probably the least popular of the heroic characters on the show (save one furry fucker I’ll get to in a few moments), would be the most cynical. Given the circumstances, why should the Thundercats hold to tradition and let Lion-O lead when Tygra is the most experienced and qualified? He’s not an asshole. On the contrary, he’d die to protect the rest of the group but he’s terrified that Lion-O will get them all killed. There are the young twins Wilykat & Wilykit, who easily feel a sudden distance between themselves and Lion-O as he used to be just a kid like them, who played alongside them and is now a hulking warrior charged with leading the team. They are at once envious of his new power and unable to relate anymore to the Lion-O they knew before.
And just when Lion-O feels like nobody is on his side, you make the obligatory hot female warrior character be his support; the only one who believes in his potential. Rather than being the token romance (the technical age difference between them makes this a shady concept anyhow), Cheetara is Lion-O’s mentor.
Now I know what you’re going to say. In the cartoon, Jaga was Lion-O’s mentor. Even after his death Jaga appeared, just as Lion-O was about to do something stupid, to correct his error in the guise of a ghostly blue visage. An old wise mentor with a snowy white beard, speaking perfectly eloquent English and appearing as a blue ghost? Get out of town, that’ll never work. And sadly (even though you could change his colour so it wasn’t so blatant) I think the inevitable comparison to Obi-Wan Kenobi makes Jaga the ghost a no-go in the film version. Maybe he could show up in a sequel but story wise, the first film will have enough characters as it is and it makes Lion-O’s isolation seem more palpable if Jaga isn’t there. So leave Jaga out of the first film.
That goes double for Snarf. I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with me on that. You can’t spend all the time and effort on make-up, sets, and costumes to make Thundercats really come alive in live action, only to destroy all that coolness by throwing in a CGI comic relief red and yellow cat who is Lion-O’s nanny. Be gone Snarf; I didn’t actually hate you on the cartoon but there is no place for you here.
Then there is Panthro, the mechanic, the gadget man, the Lucius Fox with nunchuks, the cat version of Mr. T, the coolest Thundercat of them all. Panthro should be a closed up character, using words sparingly so you never really know what he thinks about the situation. He’s just waiting to see how it turns out and in the meantime sticking to what he knows best; building awesome stuff to fight the mutants with……..like the Thundertank. You might debate certain areas where other cartoons had the edge over Thundercats but I don’t think any child of that time can deny that the Thundertank was the coolest vehicle of any 80’s kids show and the film version has to be the coolest film vehicle since the Batman 89 batmobile. And it has to have the same power when it appears on screen. There would be several scenes in the film where we see Panthro working on some kind of machinery but keeping it to himself, building up the suspense. Then in one scene where the rest of the team are trapped against overwhelming odds, the Thundertank suddenly smashes into view, blowing our minds. You could even be cheeky and have Panthro say “get in the car” in a gruff Michael Keaton voice.
But what about our villains? I always found the mutants rather boring characters on the show. I never actually understood why they were after the Thundercats. I think it was to get their hands on the sword of omens but they learned pretty quickly that they couldn’t wield it so after that, they just wanted to kill the heroes for no particular reason at all. I think it would be worth taking a little licence with these guys. Why not make then actual Thunderians themselves, descendants of a long line of dissenters and rebels who have tried to take over the planet for centuries. Finally, the current regime sees fit to do the one thing the Thundercats could never have predicted and obliterate Thundera so no-one may rule over it. While the Thundercats have kept restrictions on technological advancement, the mutants have no such qualms. They have bombs and guns while our heroes only have hand to hand weapons (which is why it would be such an awesome pay-off when the Thundertank appears for the first time showing that the Thundercats are ready to shake up their traditions a little). The only weapon the mutants don’t have in their arsenal is sorcery. That is, until they meet Mumm-Ra.
It goes without saying that a live action Mumm-Ra should thoroughly creep out adults and genuinely frighten children. If Mumm-Ra isn’t scary, he doesn’t work. In fact, for once, I don’t think it is too much of a problem to have a main villain who is a little one dimensional. I mean, he is supposed to be the personification of evil. All he has to do is look like something out of our nightmares. Again, in the cartoon I could never understand why Mumm-Ra wanted to destroy the Thundercats so that would need to be expanded upon. The character didn’t really rule Third Earth on the show but I think to really emphasise the odds against our heroes, Mumm-Ra has to be the tyrant dictator of the planet. He actually has no army at his command to keep the population enslaved. His rule is based entirely on the fear of his supposed powers which, of course, would be fully unleashed at the end of the film as the character transforms from his shrivelled, emaciated form into a muscular ten foot hell spawned freak. It may seem like a silly comparison but you do need to treat this character in the same way they did the Hulk on the 70’s TV show; have two different actors play the part for each of Mumm-Ra’s two forms.
While in possession of unbelievable strength and power, Mumm-Ra knows that the people of Third Earth could band together and overthrow him and this becomes a definite possibility with the arrival of the Thundercats. Mumm-Ra strikes an alliance with the mutants because he needs their numbers to build an actual army that didn’t exist before then. Since their alliance is based on a foundation of utter lies and mistrust, it is eventually doomed to failure. Even though our heroes rally the peoples of Third Earth to fight back against the mutant army and converge on Mumm-Ra’s pyramid, it will be Lion-O alone who will have to face the horrors inside and become the true lord of the Thundercats by sending the ever living monster back to the pharaohs.
Ok, I think I’ve talked enough about Thundercats to seriously consider going into therapy. Hopefully, you agree that all the elements are there to make an extremely well crafted blockbuster with a proper story, rather than just a tiresome special effects parade enjoyed only by those with nostalgic blinders on.
Till next time…….thunder, thunder, thunder, THUNDERCATS HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!