?With the three-part episode premiere of the new ThunderCats cartoon hitting Cartoon Network this July, fans everywhere wait with bated breath to see if the beloved series will come roaring back into the public imagination… or get put down prematurely and quickly replaced by reruns of Johnny Test. Until that day finally arrives, though, we’re all going to have to keep ourselves occupied, and when it comes to a reboot of a classic ’80s cartoon there’s no better way to do so than by watching a back-to-back marathon of the original, as-God-intended series thanks to DVD box sets.
But maybe after the fourth or fifth episode of your favorite ’80s cartoon, you may notice that the plot lines of some episodes in particular are a bit… lacking where creativity and overall quality are concerned. While some episodes are veritable poetry in motion, a few are indicative of the possibility that one writer jotted down some half-assed ideas on a Panda Express napkin right before a post-lunch creative meeting. But remember: with any daily ’80s cartoon weighing in at a whopping 65 episodes or more per season, you’re bound to run across a stinker or two that leave you scratching your head in confusion well after the credits roll, or cause you to snap your plastic Sword of Omens in half in a fit of blind geek rage.
So (with Panthro’s permission) fire up the ThunderTank and run down 10 ThunderCats episodes so bad it proves the Ancient Spirits of Evil exist.
When it comes to crappy/weird episodes rearing their ugly heads, it usually doesn’t happen until mid-season, with early episodes being hailed as instant classics. But ThunderCats wasn’t like other cartoons at the time and the show’s writers just couldn’t get that crazy train rolling down the tracks fast enough. Case in point: the episode entitled “Berbils.”
By the third episode, audiences were introduced to Third Earth’s strangest denizens called, well, Berbils: a race of robotic teddy bears that appear to be Care Bears that have gone through the Cybermen conversion process and sound like Stephen Hawking after he inhaled some helium.
But things only manage to get weirder (and a tad confusing) when the Berbils are constantly harassed by savage bulldog people called Trollogs trying — and failing — to steal their candy fruit. However, we soon learn that the Trollogs live under the abusive thumb of the Gigantors who offer them access to their slaves’ sole food source only if they deliver the candy fruit goods. Sure, Lion-O and the ThunderCats stop the Gigantors from raiding the Berbils’ village, but the emancipation of the Trollogs was never mentioned and we can only assume that the Gigantors beat the living shit out them upon their return to their lair. Hooray…? (Season 1, Episode 3)
9) The Micrits
Would you believe that a race of tiny people, less than a foot tall, living within the grass outside Cats’ Lair nearly brought the ThunderCats to their knees? Sounds like a terrible premise, yes, but that’s exactly what happened in the episode “The Micrits.”
The Micrits are a lot like the Smurfs save for their fervent resolve against those that seek to ravage their fragile existence — intentional or otherwise. Tired of the ThunderCats running over their village with the ThunderTank and crushing their families underfoot, the Micrits successfully steal the entire team’s weaponry, sabotage their security systems, and tie down Lion-O with deadly Thundrainium fibers (think Kryptonite for ThunderCats) that nearly kills the ThunderCat’s resident man-child. Not to mention that the Mutants had a field day taking potshots at the lair!
In the end, the Micrits and ThunderCats each extend the olive branch and come up with a solution that will prevent disaster befalling their tiny friends. A force field? No. Relocating the entire village to a safer location? Nope. Signs. Wooden signs that tell people to be careful where they walk. Last time I checked, a wooden sign does squat against undead sorcerers, or speeding ThunderTanks for that matter… (Season 1, Episode 41)
8) The Crystal Queen
What happens when a ThunderCats writer falls asleep while reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during a documentary on the Bloody Sunday massacre in Russia? You get a real clusterfuck of an episode, that’s what!
In the episode, Lion-O and the Berbils are enjoying the melodious song of the rare Arrietta Bird, only for it to be whisked away by the evil Queen Tartara — a blatant rip-off of the White Witch that, according to Ro-Bear-Bill, can’t grasp the simple concept of sharing with others; the understatement of the year thanks to some Care Bears-style sentimentality.
And what kind of evil henchmen does Queen Tartara have in her thrall? Schlubby orangutan men decked out in traditional Russian Imperial Guard uniforms. And where does she reside? The Crystal Kingdom — an obvious parallel to the Winter Palace in both name and design. The episode ended in typical fashion with the ThunderCats saving the day, but we, thankfully, did not bear witness to the queen’s monkey guards firing into a crowd of Berbils marching on to her palace in peaceful protest. (Season 1, Episode 23)
You can’t go a season without Wilykit and Wilykat doing something stupid to give the older ThunderCats a stress-induced ulcer, and in this episode the two take it upon themselves to runaway after feeling ignored and unwanted.
After eating some poisonous berries — a typical folly of neophyte runaways — the ThunderKittens are saved by one of the most annoying, and most visually disturbing, characters to ever appear on ThunderCats: Cudi, a freakish cat/dinosaur hybrid that the twins immediately plead to come stay with them. But in the end, Wilykit and Wilykat heed the timeless adage “if you love something set it free” and send the monstrous Cudi on her way… because her little hovel in the rocks is hundreds of times safer than a fortress that can fall like a house of cards to a bunch of vengeful Micrits. (Season 2, Episode 88)
6) The Mad Bubbler
There really isn’t much I can say about this episode save for the giant, morbidly obese frog… dinosaur… thing in the room. For a malevolent monster that delights in seeing his victims suffer, the fact that he uses bubbles (of evil) to capture them in the first place just ruins his credibility; his jowly voice doesn’t help the matter much either. But there is one thing that’s cool about the Mad Bubbler: he has an uncanny resemblance to the little dragons from Bubble Bobble and Bust-A-Move, which is always a good thing in my book. (Season 2, Episode 79)
5) Tumagar the Tuska
To be honest, this episode is more weird than it is terrible, but it certainly isn’t one that a ThunderCats fan would fondly remember.
Like any other day on Third Earth, there’s a race of what-nots, the walrus-like Tuskas, in this scenario, petitioning the ThunderCats to help them combat whatever threat is making their life a living hell. While Tumagar (the race’s representative) himself is weird enough, the things he’s riding borders on the insane and can be interpreted as mythical animal cruelty. Ladies and geeks, meet the Gomplin: a winged dragon — perfectly capable of flight — unnecessarily and most likely painfully augmented with aircraft parts at the behest of their cruel Tuskan masters! And here’s the kicker: it needs repairs — like a MACHINE!
After meeting Tumagar, and combating a vampiric mermaid en route to their destination, the ThunderCats finally meet their foe: the Technopede. Looking like a mecha straight from the Robotech series, seeing a gritty robot go to town on some cartoon-ishly goofy walrus people makes for a baffling juxtaposition that defies explanation. (Season 1, Episode 45)
4) The Secret of the Ice King
If there’s one trope that I love in action cartoons it’s those ones where the heroes run into a brutish, dimwitted monstrosity on a quest whose inadvertent property damage and inability to speak in a coherent manner are interpreted as hostile. “The Secret of the Ice King” does not disappoint in this respect.
To put this episode simply: the Ice King is finally free from his icy tomb and immediately begins to tear into Hook Mountain, causing the ThunderCats and the mountain’s guardian Snow Knight to take action. But everyone soon learns that the Ice King is desperately searching for a bejeweled egg guarded by a dragon, all of which is localized beneath Snow Knight’s home without him even knowing. In the end, the Ice King gazes into the egg, melts, and is at last reunited with the soul of his beloved trapped within.
Oh, but this episode has hardly scratched the surface of stupid! As a token of gratitude, Snow Knight gives the egg to the ThunderCats after telling them that it’s cursed… but with a good curse, silly! The kind that curses you with family, fortune, and well-being! That would’ve been nice to know before Snarf sent it flying into a gaping crevice. (Season 1, Episode 52)
3) Monkian’s Bargain
My uncle has imparted many words of wisdom upon me in regards to animals. Of them, he said, “Never give a monkey a hammer.” If only my uncle lived on Third Earth. For if he did, he would protest against the idea of Mumm-Ra granting Monkian the ability to singlehandedly destroy the ThunderCats.
If we’ve learned anything from fantasy fiction it’s this: never, no matter how desperate you are to defeat the hero(es), grant an idiot toady god-like omnipotence to do your dirty work. And shame on Mumm-Ra for giving the aptly name Spheres of Power to Monkian: the one character that makes the Brute Men look look like civilized intellectuals by comparison.
After betraying Mumm-Ra and handing his musty ass to him on a silver platter, Monkian learns that his newfound power — surprise, surprise — comes at a price: imprisonment within the Black Pyramid for all eternity! But in the end, is he getting punished or isMumm-Ra? I mean, how does one actually benefit from having an utter shithead like Monkian running around your pyramid breaking stuff? (Season 1, Episode 39)
2) The Circus Train
For over a hundred episodes we watched the ThunderCats struggle to defeat a team of four bumbling and inept mutants in their crusade to bring the fiends to justice. And as brilliant as Tygra and Panthro are you’d think they would finally devise that one strategy or weapon to reach this goal. No such luck, unless you happen to be Captain Bragg.
The circus-themed bounty hunter from beyond the stars did the one thing that the ThunderCats couldn’t do during their entire stay on Third Earth. How did he achieve this? Well, it’s common knowledge that you can lead a Mutant anywhere — even a prison cell — with the prospect of Mutant wenches. And as if Bragg couldn’t humiliate Thundera’s finest enough, he also captured ALL of the Lunataks — the same Lunataks that nearly defeated Mumm-Ra in Third Earth’s ancient past! Hell, if he had the time I’d bet money that he would’ve captured Mumm-Ra without even breaking a sweat! (Season 3, Episode 109)
1) Good and Ugly
Ah, my favorite trope from the episode “The Secret of the Ice King” strikes again, but this time it throws in a valuable lesson about tolerance in the mix!
Two alien spacecrafts are locked in a dogfight above Third Earth with one of them getting damaged and forced to make an emergency landing. Lion-O, always a great judge of character, interprets the hideous Terator’s request for assistance as hostile solely on the grounds that he sounds scary; he’s a man-child, you have to remember that. Seeing as how the Sword of Omens refuses to strike at the Terator, Lion-O finally realizes that he isn’t a threat and the real enemy is the Kymera — an elegant robot-like race that menaced the Terators in the past.
In the end, Lion-O apologizes for his earlier bigotry and learns that just because someone is as ugly as sin doesn’t mean they’re malicious (sometimes). But like any normal person would do in a situation like this, all of the ThunderCats begin to talk shit about the Terator upon his departure, knowing full well that he’s out of hearing distance. For an episode preaching tolerance and judging an individual on their character, the denouement certainly threw this lesson out the window. (Season 1, Episode 53)