ANIMATION SPIN
November 17, 2015 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Rankin/Bass “ThunderCats” on Records

Find out how Toy Story connects to ThunderCats as we feel the magic and hear the roar of the 30th anniversary of those denizens of Third Earth… even Snarf!

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THUNDERCATS: Exodus
A Peter Pan Book and Recording
Peter Pan Records C-265-35 (Cassette / Mono)

THUNDERCATS: The Mutants’ Alliance
A Peter Pan Book and Recording
Peter Pan Records C-266-46 (Cassette / Mono)

Released in 1985. Producer for Peter Pan Records: Donald Kasen. Characters Created by: Ted Wolf. TV Executive Producers: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass. Associate Producer: Lee Dannacher. Writer: Leonard Starr. Music: Bernard Hoffer. Theme Music: Jules Bass, Bernard Hoffer. Head Writer: Leonard Starr. Script Consultant: Peter Lawrence. Engineers: John Curcio, Michael Farrow.

Voices: Larry Kenney (Lion-O, Jackalman); Bob McFadden (Snarf, Slithe); Lynne Lipton (Cheetara, Wilykit); Earle Hyman (Panthro); Peter Newman (Tygra, Wilykat, Monkian); Earl Hammond (Mumm-Ra, Jaga).

ThunderCatsCassPkgAfter Filmation broke new ground in syndicated animation with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the floodgates were wide open for five-day-a-week “strips” of original animated programming, usually produced in unprecedented quantities of 65 episodes a season.

For fans of Rankin/Bass, the arrival of ThunderCats in this hot new marketplace was cause for celebration. The small New York independent had given monoliths Hanna-Barbera and Filmation a bit of a competitive jolt with several years’ worth of Saturday morning animation, but despite such hits as The Jackson 5ive, The Osmonds and King Kong, Rankin/Bass became more successful as TV’s preeminent creators of animated holiday shows.

ThunderCats was the icing on the R/B cake, combining the serpentine storytelling and absorbing personalities of their specials with the sword-and-sorcery fantasy look and feel of their award-winning version of The Hobbit (c’mon—Slithe might as well be Gollum). The series also brought the great Bob McFadden back to a regular animated TV series for the first time since shows like Cool McCool and Milton the Monster.

Because the show was based in Manhattan, such fine actors as Larry Kenney, Lynne Lipton, Peter Newman, Earl Hyman and Earl Hammond were given well-deserved exposure (and eternal fan affection). You can also hear this cast in the last Rankin/Bass network holiday special, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

ThunderCatsRadAlongBackHe-Man is a rousing old-school comic book adventure, histrionic melodrama and a campy gigglefest (we kid because we love, remember). ThunderCats dialed it up to eleven. The dialogue was so staccato; it was as if everyone in the cast was channeling Gary Owens. The whole production glowed with élan; it was irresistible to anyone remotely partial to such art. It was fun to make connections between characters even if the scripts barely suggested any truth to the assumptions. Were Cheetara and Tygra an item? What were they doing in that cave—just inspecting it? And were Wilykit and Wilykat their love kittens? It was a blast to come up with origins, suppositions and stretchy facts no matter how silly they were.

One message comes through loud and clear, though. The ThunderCats win because of their respect for each other, their brave willingness to self-sacrifice and their combined talents. Each of them are very skilled in their own way, but alone, they’re not much of a match for the mutants, who on the surface have knowledge, resources and Mumm-Ra’s magic on their side. The mutants fail because they never trust or support each other. While the ThunderCats make the “lion’s share” of dumb mistakes, their unity and support make all the difference. This is a powerful message for any age group.

He-Man ended each episode with a social lesson (“Orko should have faced his responsibilities…”, etc.”) This had become a Filmation tradition (especially weird and wonderful when it happened on the Gilligan cartoon: “Well little buddy, we sure learned about suspicion and distrust today”). ThunderCats also had such messages inherent in its stories (Tygra’s addiction to the evil fruit comes to mind), but the strength of character and positive support messages were constant, even if not always stated.

Toy STory That Time ForgotSo, what does Toy Story have to do with ThunderCats? A new Blu-ray of the 2014 ABC holiday special, Toy Story That Time Forgot was just released. It’s an entertaining special, if a slight departure, because this one stresses adventure over comedy (though there is plenty). The story focuses on Trixie, who develops a crush on a polyvinyl-testosteronic dino hero called Reptilius Maximus.

The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes and an audio commentary (thank you), but what stands out as mind-blowingly funny is the theme song to the fictional Battlesaurs animated series. Yes, Battlesaurs spoofs the ’80s toy line/cartoon phenomenon as a whole, but the animation, music and freneticism of this little mock TV theme is a direct, spot-on tribute to ThunderCats–right down to the Eye of Thundera, the transformations, you name it. It’s just as fantastic as was the original ThunderCats theme sequence.

ThunderCats opening:

Battlesaurs opening:

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
ThunderCats “Exodus” Read and Listen Book & Cassette
Peter Pan Records was very generous in their content with their ThunderCats book and cassette packages. The soundtracks were kept nearly intact, with the narrator filling in the visuals. Most read-alongs are about twelve minutes long and these each run slightly over 24 minutes. Nice!

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
ThunderCats “The Mutants Alliance” Read and Listen Book & Cassette
This is the other Peter Pan read-along, based on episode 2, “The Unholy Alliance.” Now if only there were a soundtrack album of Bernard Hoffer’s original ThunderCats soundtrack music! La-La Land recently released a two-disc set with music from Filmation’s He-Man series, and there is a soundtrack album of Warner’s ThunderCats reboot series, but no album of the Rankin/Bass series music. Maybe someday…snarf, snarf…

14 Comments

  • I didn’t know “Franken Berry” voice Snaf.

    By the way, why did Warners cancel the new “Thundercats” series? I found it unfair that they ended it with a loose cliff-hanger. And I don’t want DC Comics to revised it with the idiot editors they have right now. Look at what they done with “Masters of the Universe”(DreamWorks could do a better job with that)!

    • Warners making a Thundercats series is a bit coincidental: the 1985 original had the Warner Brothers-popularized voice byline:Voice characterizations, as much associated with WB as “With the talents of..” used to be with old-school Disney! Personally I think that this was Rankin/Bass’s deresting (with all due respect, natch) their great quality work and just trying to be like everyone else at the time doing such shows….:) Love the Gary Owens channelling crack, by the way!

    • What’s weird is that second run of He Man (Parafrance’s The New Adventures of He Man) was a crazo fun fest with He Man alter ego as a sheperd (dressed in the vintage Hungarian shepherds of the 1400’s-1500’s)to a Jean Claude Van Dam lookalike and Orko being replaced by “The Seven Silly Scientists ” and the revamp version of He Man showing a younger Prince Adam (not like the “over buffed” version with the Buster Brown hair do) Cringer (Battlecat) in a non speaking role, & the origin of Skeledor. My favorite part was the comeuppance to Orko (Orko wasn’t exactly a fan favorite to everyone because to my opinion he was annoying as a fly in a humid summer night) where in one scene where Duncan (Man of Arms) was training the young He Man in a VR Battlefield located in a REAL lava pit and Orko (not realizing that the lava was the real deal) laid in the bed of lava and in the next scene went flying in the air screaming in agony after literally roasting his rear end! And I seen Marvei Comics/Star Comics version of Thundercats in the 1980’s and gawd what a Schlepfest that was including what they did to poor Cheetara ( she looked like a train wreck in the comic book adaptation of Thundercats)!

    • I think it had more to do with Cartoon Network than Warners……

  • It was always amusing to see that Rankin/Bass used the “With the talents of” line THREE times on the Mad Monster Party poster:
    http://miserbros.com/shop/posters/mad-monster-party-one-sheet-mini-poster/

  • Bernard Hoffer (or someone) leaked about twenty cues from Thundercats a few years ago. I read that there are still twenty or more variations for each cue still in the vault. Incidentally, many of the Shuki Levy cues for He-Man were recycled from The Mysterious Cities of Gold.

    In addition to looking like Gollum, Slyythe also resembles the Goblins/Orcs from the Tolkien cartoons. The Tigersharks villian Wall-Eye looks even more like Gollum. http://www.behindthevoiceactors.com/tv-shows/TigerSharks/Wall-Eye/

    The strength of Thundercats’ characterization is that Lion-O is a child in an adult’s body, and the writers never lost sight of that as the series progressed. He-Man in contrast is a squandered opportunity for original storytelling. By falling back on the cliche of a secret identity in Prince Adam, the creators reduced what could have been a sword and sorcery story ala Burroughs or Howard (in the original storybooks He-Man was just a barbarian who lived in a rock hut) to yet another one dimensional comic book hero in a market already saturated with more interesting variations.

    • God I wish that intrada or la la land records Warner Bros or some other record company can secure the rights and release the original Thundercats score on cd or cds at last even if it’s only the material that has leaked online as long as it does exist and can get remastered as made available as there is a high demand for it!!!

  • This is fascinating. As someone who was never a fan of this series, I listened intently to the terrific voice work going on here; and why wasn’t this ever reissued in the age of CD’s and blu-rays and DVD’s? Isn’t the original THUNDERCATS series actually out in its own DVD set?

    I know that some express distaste for the MARVEL SUPER HEROES series of the 1960’s, possibly because the animation is almost non-existent, but I’ve always kinda liked the voice work throughout those cartoons and, having no sight now, can actually appreciate those, and stuff like this, now. So I’m in full agreement with anyone who says that the original, with full music soundtracks, would be welcome now in a lavish set with read-along book or comic panels…ah me, in a perfect world, that box set of classic cartoon soundtracks, in all their diversity, will and should be released to all those eager fans who would welcome it! And I’m talkin’ everything, from the earliest Max Fleischer talking musical cartoons to the material like this which can be as exciting as classic radio drama!

  • I wonder if Marvel ever met with Rankin/Bass about buying the fellow New York company before DePatie-Freleng Enterprises? Rankin/Bass, with their Japanese connections (comedy/action cel animation, stop motion and live-action), would have been a better fit for Marvel. Toei was working with the comic book company at that point on live-action Spider-Man and Battle Fever J (meant initally to be a Japanese Captain America), while Marvel was publishing Shogun Warriors based off the production company’s anime/toy robots. Marvel/Rankin/Bass could have then pulled a Ruby-Spears by training comic book artists/writers on how to work in animation. M/R/B would have then been ready with obscure Marvel titles to choose from to compete with He-Man and the rest in syndication. Plus, they might have seen the potential in Ninja Turtles and combined the concept with the Street Frogs concept for a fun, but more gritty New York.

  • Where’d they ever find the music from He-Man? Not long ago I read an interview with Ray Ellis, who wrote music for Filmation using his wife’s name (Yvette Blais) as a pseudonym, that all of Filmation’s music tracks (along with most of their other negatives and masters) were destroyed by Hallmark Cards.

    • Oh, is that who Yvette is? I knew that “Jeff Michael” was a pseudonym for Norm Prescott (using the names of his sons, I believe).

  • It is still a major flaw and a sad state of affairs that the Thundercats still do not have an official soundtrack release after all these years!!! I don’t want to download the music or hear it on YouTube I want an official cd or cds pressed with all of Barnard Hoffers classic Thundercats original soundtrack score re mastered from the original master tapes!!! Limited to 5000 copies!!! Deluxe booklet track by track comantary photos stories and fun facts about the Thundercats!!!

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