Thundercats (2011) Retrospective.
People who have been not been living under a rock and have been watching Toonbarn’s incoming coverage of Power Con would know that there were comments made by the writers of the new Thundercats series regarding the recent remake of the iconic franchise.
Nevertheless, we never really knew how “ambitious” it was. Now we do. In a recent article on MTV Geek, Dan Norton stated things he wanted to do on the franchise. Regardless of what Warner Brothers TV and Warner Brothers Animation thought critically of the show, and also given the fact that Bandai and Cartoon Network had a good working relationship with the success of Ben 10 and the like – it didn’t matter in the end, as certain executives who hold the reigns of the network felt much, much differently.
This is the standard sadly, that has held the industry back for years and now – has broken the business model apart. The next few long form articles (one dealing with Toonami, another dealing with the Vortexx and one dealing with E/I) will talk about where we are as an animation fanbase and where things are headed next.
On this retrospective however, we will take a look at the problems that plagued the series, what were the warning signs – why Johnny Quest (1998) is part and parcel of the reasons why Thundercats (2011) was destined to fail., and why despite the major ratings disparities between SpongeBob and the rest of the Nicktoons shows and outside series – That Nick somehow and in some way are able to produce series like Korra and somehow make them successful, whereas Tron/MotorCity from Disney, and Thundercats (2011) Young Justice (2011) and Green Lantern (2011) all died out.
The Warning Signs – Animation and writing
As mentioned in the article:
“They were working with a skeleton crew and had to be agile, communicating with a team in Japan at Studio 4C.”
For any series of the magnitude that they were planning for – they needed a much larger team. This was the first sign that there were going to be problems. Many of the fans complained that the series lead was moving between learning his lesson and not learning anything. They felt that the whole love angle (which was brought in as an Idea from the President of Warner Brothers TV, Tim Roth) was at best, shoddy.
That may have not been the worst of it – it could have been mostly the American side who at fault here. The Japanese team that worked on the show- is some of the best animation had to offer, some who worked in the Original Thundercats series many years ago (and are connected to the legendary Studio Ghibli). The thing was that the American has stated it themselves; they were working with a skeleton crew. That will lead into failure. Every time.
Let us look at a battle, the one between Panthro and Grune. These are two of the biggest rivals; the new series were going to focus on. However, the fights left much to be desired. Another studio, called Bones in Japan, did the series Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which aired on the same channel space as Cartoon Network. The two rivals – Bradley, and Scar had a fight that was some of the best animated I have seen in years. A disconnect started to set in – and the question was raised, why were the best animators Japan had are being restricted in a show that has 10 times the budget of the FMA: B series?
I was not the only one who asked that question. Many anime fans and intellectuals stated the same thing. Studio 4C is a major player, and yet something from the mid 2000’s (Tweeny Witches) is outpacing the show. What was going on?
This lead into episode 7, and while people thought that it was one of their better episodes – I believed it showed the massive problems with the writing and the scope of what they were trying to accomplish. It was a mishmash of ideas thrown like crazy. That could have worked on Ben 10, but not with the Thundercats, not with its history in both in the American and Japanese animation worldviews.
Moreover, Dan Norton’s biggest problem was his non-human stance. This killed any sort of chance of the real “Space Opera” the Thundercats could have been. How come an animated show written by a 5 year old (with the help of his 28 year old cousins, and also airing not on Saturday Morning, but after Saturday night – rated TV MA, and I will talk about that in the future) have more guts than what a nearly 40 year old man would or could achieve? Is this a JOKE folks? It’s not. He wasn’t that good, a majority of the writers weren’t good, one of the main writers left the show, and we got a massive mess on our hands.
Forget about the music, NOBODY asked them to take the music out from the old series, but REMAKE them. Wait, they should have a music studio and some of the best composers to work with Kevin Kletch? On the other hand, they were busy? I doubt it that they were that busy.
The Warning Signs: Promotion and Audience.
The biggest problem with the statement Mr. Norton’s comments here:
“Why the show didn’t continue, there were many layers,” Dan says. He no longer works at WB, but points to LEGO “Chima” as looking a lot like “ThunderCats” and that licensing is expensive. He suggests that it might have been cheaper to create their own thing. And it was on at half an hour at week at a weird time slot and kids wouldn’t buy toys for a show that they never saw (thanks to the 8:30 Friday time slot). “Critically, everyone was really happy with the show,” and they were number one in their time slot for the 18-34 slot, but like “Young Justice,” it didn’t move toys. Denton says that he’s worked on #1-rated shows that didn’t move toys and were subsequently cancelled. It happens a lot.”
Folks, this is a democratic answer, but a bold face lie. The issue was not Chima persay. It was the way the series was promoted and the way the business was changing. Cartoon Network’s highest rated franchise is the aforementioned Adventure Time. The series itself takes many Ideas from the Elder Thundercats series. From the day, the Thundercat’s were to comeback, would it have been advantageous to air the series right next to Adventure Time for a few weeks or at least a season…JUST LIKE EVERY NETWORK DOES WITH ITS NEW SERIES? They were getting the same “audience”.
That isn’t all folks; let us talk about what they did during the time the show aired. They promoted a show “Game Over” nearly 5X more than they did with the Thundercats (or Young Justice). They went to Comic Con as the most talked about series not LIVE action. IGN had five part articles based on the show. Channel 4 in the UK brought out Peaches Geldof to “cosplay” as Chetarra. Yet, Cartoon Network was determined to weaken the franchise. It was simple. It wasn’t toys. It wasn’t the audience. It wasn’t even Chima (per-se). – It was a war between Atlanta and New York of the whole Warner Brothers/Turner thing.
You have to start with what happened in 1998. Johnny Quest was a similar series that was animated in japan/Korea, and with Toonami’s rise (they started as well to look into trying to get a TV series for Thundercats started not in 2000, but 1999, a year earlier) Warner Brothers wanted more episodes from the series. The disagreement was because should the series be more “intense” or more “comedic”. It came to blows at times, and the series didn’t get new episodes because of it.
With the Thundercats I believe with this new information, that a series of events took place, that does involve Chima but not as the actual “destroyer” of the new series but as one of the catalysts. I also believe, that part of the reason why the series ended, was the return of Haim Saban to the Power Rangers franchise – which forced the hand of Bandai to lessen work on the Thundercats, and work more with producing more PR trinkets and other stuff for the 20th anniversary season. Another being of pure envy between certain members of Cartoon Network and some members of Warner Brother’s animation concerning the franchise. It’s one of the reasons that Warner Brothers have seen the Hub Networks as a new home for their DC series outside of the Teen Titans franchise. (However, none of these foresaw the return of Toonami and its future effect on business models, which I will explain in another article)
Nevertheless, one has to look at the way the marketplace looks. The Thundercats came in to a business that had 4kids on the ropes (and pretty much ended by the time the Thundercats franchise returned), and that My Little Pony – and the equestrian movement (Brony/Equesisters) that followed, was a response to post 2008 economic situations. Couple this and the move to a harder comedic overtones not just in Animation (Adventure Time and perceived Lesbian subtext, JJ Quenzells Regular Show, and its subtext) but in Live Action as well as they try to compete with Cable’s success in the drama world (Mad Men, Breaking Bad), reality TV (Duck Dynasty, which has interesting story about its audience).
The fact that The Thundercats had a “Thunderdads” fanbase of those fathers who watch with their kids, in a time here, you can’t get anybody to sit down with each other, and the reluctance of the advertisers to promote that the same way they did with Duck Dynasty, speaks volumes.
Lessons Learned: Why Warner Brothers is in bigger trouble, and the future of this and other franchises.
The realization that it took ten years to bring the show off the ground, with only 24 episodes to show for it, it’s not only a shame, it’s a sham of what we used to call the animation industry. You have to realize that investment needs to be made regardless how long it will take. You also have to understand that animation is not some sort of lazy enterprise that one can plop in and make a laugh track the biggest lesson may be the saddest one of all. How can a company that couldn’t pay its workers (This would be 4Kids Entertainment), somehow come up with more than 48 episodes (non-flash mind you) of Chaotic, two Video Games from the franchise, get another 130 episodes from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on time and on the air, yet Warner Brothers, with a 10 billion dollar war chest can’t get this series more than a skeleton crew (Norton’s words, not mine)?
The answer isn’t surprising but sobering. It’s the fact that North American animation doesn’t know what it’s doing or where it’s going anymore in an age where the majority of tumblr, instagram and other such work dealing in the culture of animation have become more eastern than western. What the events of what happened with One Piece (the issue with its editing and whatnot) has done, is expose the dark and rotten root of what the “Kids Industry”/Animation/Cartooning stands on in the United States. It lives on utter hypocrisy of the nth degree, and shackled to a mandate to educate the inner city youth, which isn’t working, hurts the rest of the TV industry, and sadly makes a mockery of what animation, heck even hard work stands for.
What happened to the Thundercats, building it up to break it down when it doesn’t fit –was the same type of mistake that destroyed smaller companies like DiC (Sailor Moon) Saban (Dragon Ball Z and the like – along with the sale of Fox Kids worldwide) and 4Kids (One Piece). The major difference is that Warner Brothers have second, third and fourth string franchises and financing to stand on. They have Superman and Batman – who cares of the stories didn’t work out for the Thundercats? It is a check we can cover – accounting takes care of that.
This is how Pirating starts. Crunchyroll (the streamer, not unlike Hulu) started out as a criminal organization, with a little help from Megaupload (who you know had MegaVideo which a majority of their ill-gotten gains aired on). It’s now the “legit” home of the genre. My Little Pony survived and thrived on the same model, but because Hasbro didn’t really care – the audience grew in that sense.
It has become apparent that the series was a mess, and needed the strong man (sadly) to get the ship in order. That’s the problem; Hollywood is getting rid of the “Super Producers” when there needs to be more of them. The audience is losing any sort of connection with the many shows that being aired now. SpongeBob continues to succeed because the leadership doesn’t know what it can promote. There is no mega fad anymore outside of angry birds or minecraft (which both cannot be called mega fads).
The Thundercats’s impact on animation cannot be overstated. It’s important – it’s the first modern day franchise, and one of the greatest of its day. Both the western and the eastern brain trust (Bob Camp, former friend of John K, still works in Nick, Topcraft who became a part of Studio Ghilbi, and Pacific Animation Corp, which worked on Tenchi, Slayers, etc.) owes their own very Existence to, Tobin “Ted” Wolf, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin’s greatest franchise.
Knowing how big it was, why did Warner Brother’s and Cartoon Network committed great evils towards this franchise?
The intellectual will and might to carry out a project such as this, is lacking. There is distraction, the quick buck. That’s where we are now.
The animation business – now a market place owned by the advertisers, do not deserve a franchise such as this.
The biggest lesson as fans we need to learn, is that we are better, and can be better. I am not asking for a boycott. Nevertheless, what I do ask, is that we need a super producer who if the estate of Mr. Wolf is asked to do a new series of the Thundercats, to have full rains of the ship – his ideas are final; his marketing choices are final. I don’t trust fully what these executive’s and some artists say anymore on how this business works. Crunchyroll creators should be rotting in a prison. However, they out getting all the babes. So what does that tell me?
If you believe that DC is going to save your butts against what Marvel wants to do – I got a bridge to sell you people.
It’s simple and plain as day. The Thundercats should have been more.
But it’s not. Moreover, in my opinion, it should be buried until a real budget, with real talented writers, translators, and Japanese TV backing and massive international deals are done and ready to go.
Let the Sword of Omens be buried under the tears of the Fatherless Homela
This is what one truly deserves, because others have decided the quick buck was better than truth, honor, justice, and loyalty.