So, like with every major complaint of how the entertainment industry is mishandling itself, lots of right-winger trolls and sociopaths have taken advantage of the complaints against the new Thundercats reboot, Thundercats Roar. Apparently making fools of themselves with the recent ComicsGate scandal wasn’t enough, because they’re still at the same petty, parroted insults like “soyboy” and “numale” well after these have been pulverised. This nonetheless makes otherwise good people feel pressured to be in favour of this show out of strawmanning.
Instead, I’m going to focus on actual legitimate reasons to consider Thundercats Roar a massive misstep to take. It is an affront to both artistic integrity and humanitarian values, aspects that are rarely addressed by both sides of the issue, yet bear the most weight on the legacy this show provides. As someone who holds human rights and universal economical and social equality to be of the utmost importance, I present several reasons as to why Thundercats Roar is a work that should be universally condemned by left-wing activists.
You don’t have to sell your soul in order to be a good person, and here’s why:
1- It is a soulless celebration of capitalism
Laika is a perfect illustration why pure capital should not be the driving force in animation. Sure, it is supported by a car company and one of the wealthiest men on the planet at that, but it exists outside of the pressures to be a product in and of itself, which is why its movies have artistic integrity while Thundercats Roar doesn’t.
This one is rather obvious, so lets get it out of the way quickly.
Obviously the western animation industry is, well, an industry, it exists within the samsaric cycle of suffering because it cannot fully escape this. However, capitalism has been shown again and again to lead to stagnation when left unchecked, due to the obvious need for a product, and the greatest animated classics are nearly all incidents of when external support is provided.
This is why, say, Studio Saloon or Laika productions are on average considered better movies than Sony or Disney movies. The former’s movies are nearly always endorsed by or even outright commissioned by pan-european cultural and artistic organisations and the latter is supported by an entirely different industry; they are not forced to fit a square peg into the round hole, so the only real limits both have are the whims of the creators and media laws within their home countries. The former relies heavily on 2D animation and the latter on stop-motion, both artistic mediums considered dead in the desert of the western film industry, and yet both still stand tall.
Cartoon Network, naturally, does not have nearly as many luxuries, but it has a practical demonstration as to why pure capital is not the answer. Case in point, their own previous reboot of Thundercats: it was a show that did in fact have a large audience, but CN shot itself on the foot by destroying its advertising and time slots because it didn’t sell toys. Greed, and short-sighted, virulent, idiotic greed at that, killed a show that would have worked even within the landscape of consumerism.
Thundercats Roar is the living embodiment of a need for a product at the expense of artistic integrity, and it shows why capitalism is a force for stagnation and stupidity.
2- It offers an easy strawman
I think that, in isolation, Cheetara’s redesign actually works extremely well, cow ears aside. In context, however…
I don’t really want to harp on the artstyle, since the “CalArts” complaints are borderline idiotic since many cited works like Steven Universe and The Amazing World Of Gumball are actually not CalArts productions, the actual term was coined in an entirely different context and there are many CalArts shorts that you have to be legitimately insane to not like.
However, the decision for the individual character designs are extremely short-sighted and help to legitimise toxic right-wingers. There really was no need for a supposed action show to reject things like skeletal structure, weight and, you know, actual animation other than to make it clear that this is Teen Titans Go 0.2. Most characters with the exception of Cheetara are stylised as to appear literally edgeless and thus “non-threatening”, and the very idea that a show with a grim atmosphere has to be repainted in bright colours is pretty much the ideal that accusations of infantilization are justified.
In essence, its like taking Alien and turning Ripley into The Looney Tunes Show version of Lola Bunny. The idea is already repulsive in and of itself to any self-respecting human being, but Ripley was a defiant example of female agency, so mutating her into a non-threatening, child-like form would be making a pro-sexist statement. Thundercats Roar does that to male characters, inversely solidifying sexist viewpoints.
Sure, there is such a thing as a false-equivalency in cases like this, as some adaptational changes are powerful statements that should be made (i.e. Bobby Drake coming out in All New X-Men). However, they should always be done in considering with the context of presentation, lest they produce a frankly unnecessary backlash. In the current politically volatile climate this is more true than ever: always pick the battles you can easily win first, because otherwise you will either lose or see yourself locked into a miserable stalemate.
There is no real reason for the creative changes in Thundercats Roar other than for marketability. There is no statement on body types since everyone’s stylised and there is no statement on gender roles since everyone’s still strongly gender coded; even Cheetara’s supposed “feminist pandering” is still a traditionally feminine design, that doesn’t look out of place in both the 80’s and 2011 series (cow ears aside; serious, what the hell?). The only accomplishment here is making plush-toys, and saving money.
On the plus side, it makes action shows with representation like The Legend Of Korra and Young Justice all the better in comparison, which is all I truly need.
3- It is homophobic
Wolf Pack, an actual CalArts short you should watch.
It’s no secret that sexual minorities are extremely underrepresented in western animation. We’re in an extremely sad situation in that side-characters that barely display affection towards one another are considered victories, as if we’re seagulls satisfied with fat in a whale’s carcass. Still, progress has been made, with The Legend of Korra having an outright bisexual main character and Steven Universe featuring allegorical LGBT issues as extremely relevant plot points.
Reboots reset this progress.
As demonstrated by shows like Voltron: Legendary Defender, creators are looking to play safe by not making any main characters LGBT (which, in the interest of fairness, can hardly be blamed given how the shipping community is only slightly less toxic than a pitohui’s feather), rendering the already dim possibilities for representation that actually matters all the smaller. After all, now you have a proper “excuse” for homophobia: exploring a character’s sexuality and making them officially end up with another main character of the same sex would be “pandering to Tumblr” and “disrespecting the original show”.
As shown in the previous section of this article bringing up Bobby Drake, this is a false-equivalency towards actual irreverent adaptations, as representation is not only important but actually a vehicle for deeper characterisation. This is one of the battles you should pick as it is one you can actually win for a variety of reasons ranging from the fact that you’re in the underdog position to the fact that the opposition comes across as inherently hypocritical (i.e. homophobic animation fans consistently being fine with sexualised little girls but sending death threats to producers over adult, consensual male/male relationships).
Based on already established reboot standards and tendencies, it’s extremely unlikely that Thundercats Roar will have LGBT main characters. At most, Cheetara will probably be bisexual, and male characters will have semi-homophobic homoerotic gags. In and of itself this isn’t bad, but it will give both content creators as well as executives the impression of “yup, that’s as far as we need to go”. In the outright worst case scenario, you have instances like Powerpuff Girls‘ “Horn, Sweet Horn” where a narrative that wasn’t originally meant to be LGBT thematic was hastily done so to fill the show’s quota, ending up as one of the most vile transphobic messages imaginable.
Mind you, the prospect of not seeing myself in a show where the protagonists don’t even have any sort of humanity isn’t something I will shed tears about. But it should be a massive redflag to all LGBT fans of animation, since Cartoon Network aims to bury your dreams in Teen Titans Go clones.
4- It promotes oligarchy
“Yeah, all that passion and work you put into your dreams? Screw you, you didn’t like a show where Beast Boy cums on Wonder Woman!”
Many recent “gate” movements like ComicsGate and GamerGate are ultimately nothing more than neo-nazis and sexists respectively being upset at people calling them out on their bullshit, with even the supposedly non-bigoted justifications being exceptionally flimsy and always drowned by the very instigators of both movements. The same cannot be said about the animation industry’s reaction to criticism of Cartoon Network shows, who have openly admitted to nepotism and favouritism on the basis of reactions to their shows.
Suffice to say, this is a borderline criminal activity and I can’t imagine them not suffering severe legal repercussions down the road. In the meantime, this is a gross display of oligarchical behaviour, building walls around an already vertical mountain as means to weed out people in what should be a communal form of self-expression. Worse, it has visibly intimidated various figures within the animation community, making it open oppression.
There are some admittedly reasonable reasons to be anxious around critics. As stressed before, a sizeable amount of right-winger sociopaths have rallied behind the backlash against Thundercats Roar to harass people. However, the fact that already established persons within the community are afraid for their jobs out of what amounts to nothing more than artistic integrity should never be tolerated, let alone deciding on whereas anyone is “in” or “out” based on their opinion of a show.
Probably the most severe reason why this is a particularly heinous offense is that the american animation industry has been progressively more egalitarian and inclusive for the past two decades, to the point where the previous accusations of CalArts favouritism became meaningless as creators of all sorts made an impact on Cartoon Network, including the recent releases of Steven Universe (whose creator, an LGBT woman, has made a point of hiring people outside of CalArts), The Amazing World of Gumball (a primarily British-French production), Villainous (a show by a Mexican animator with a production team centered in Mexico) and The Heroic Quest Of Prince Ivandoe (a British-Danish show with an emphasis on scandinavian cultures). This is clicking the reset button to the point that the index bleeds.
5- It induces the Streisand Effect
Now every kid in the world knows about how raunchy the original Thundercats were.
There is an on-going war about how children should be exposed to mature contents in media. Many right-winger trolls throw accusations of “shielding the children” and how previous decades were a lot more mature and entertaining because of that. Ignoring the frequent hypocrisy of those claims (they are made by conservatives after all, whining about topics handled in modern cartoons), I think a middle-ground is ideal: handling mature subjects as early as possible, but with taste and dignity. Kind of like what Steven Universe does, actually.
Regardless, my opinions on that are irrelevant because in the age of information even supposed “child friendly” settings skip content like Elsa and Spiderman videos. There simply is no way of truly shielding anyone from anything, so the best outcome is simply to not incite curiosity. A parent that’s concerned that the grotesque body horror, hell imagery and fanservice in some Teen Titans episodes is beyond what their child can handle would simply make sure that their child isn’t aware of that, but now a massive amount of children are because they research Teen Titans due to being fascinated with Teen Titans Go.
The more you censor something, the more people will want to check for themselves. Is what’s called the Streisand Effect after the infamous incident with Barbra Streisand’s Malibu House, and no doubt the consequence of my very exploration of Thundercats Roar. Children will stumble across previous iterations of Thundercats because Thundercats Roar is bringing attention to them; in fact, I would be surprised if a sizeable population of the target audience for this reboot hasn’t already.
Now neither the original Thundercats nor the 2011 series contain things I would consider outright child-unfriendly per se, but many people would probably be upset at the levels of violence and sexual content both have, particularly the latter. The same people who argue that Thundercats Roar is a better alternative because of its disregard for these things are unwittingly opening the gates and throwing neon lights on these scenes, which is mildly hilarious.
This is why most reboots are geared at attracting older audiences rather than focusing exclusively on sanitising the work for children. That’s what edited reruns are for, after all. If you’re making something that appeals to the past, you should be aware of who actually should wield that knowledge.
This is an issue that affects all sides of the political spectrum, as everyone has different ideas about how children should learn about things. Still, it is an apolitical point few people seem to understand, so here it is.
6- It praises toxic masculinity
“Durr I like killing tv’s with my stick durr!”
Ironically, for all the talks about “soyboys”, right-wingers do get a perfect representation of their ideal of masculinity. Lion-O in the previews is consistently depicted as a moron who uses violence as a first response and constantly abuses Tygra. All the male characters are stylised as to emphasise their muscular mass, implying that if not for the simplistic art style they would be similarly built to the original counterparts. If the Teen Titans Go inspiration is an indication all the male characters will be borderline sociopaths, something that’s not been disproven thus far.
All the characters suffer in these types of reboots, but both Teen Titans Go and Powerpuff Girls default to gender stereotypes and characterisations. Men for the most part are still portrayed as a default of being lazy, selfish, gross sleazebags with no sense of morality, the only difference from a typical 90’s anti-hero comic being that they are drawn more childlike.
True, they don’t openly praise these behaviours and characteristics, but they do make the statement that they are the natural default of men and that they’re okay. Hell, things like homophobic jokes are still used in these shows, subtly implying that the characters have a duty to uphold social norms on a more subtle level. This makes them far more insidious than any 80’s action movie, as they impose passive sexism as something that even the most progressive societies can never step out of.
Cartoon Network shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Over The Garden Wall and even Regular Show take their time to make male characters nuanced and promote their positive qualities, and you know you’ve sunk at the bottom when dudebro the show is better than you.
7- It treats genocide as a joke
Can’t wait to pitch my Fall of Númenor wacky adaptation.
Finally, there’s the very description of the show’s plot. It’s bad enough that what was described by the original creators of Thundercats as an attempt to insert high fantasy drama is being turned into a cash-in, but the sheer amount of disrespect to the setting and the consequences of action-and-cause is something that I wasn’t quite expecting.
The reason why the 2011 reboot is so well celebrated in spite of its severe flaws is because it knew that what it was handled to it wasn’t funny. The first three episodes render what could easily be a flashback sequence into a spectacular display of an empire’s fall, the cracks that was within it before it did and the sheer grief and guilt its survivors acquired. It didn’t need to be a profound character piece, yet it was, which made the decline that would last for the remainder of the series all the more bitter.
By contrast, it appears that the idea of mass devastation and tragedy is amusing to the creators of Thundercats Roar, which I suppose it’s only fair given how inflicting suffering on other people is the modus operandi of the “heroes” in Teen Titans Go and how selfish indulgence to the point of obliviousness is the defining character trait in the new Powerpuff Girls. Really, what can I add at this point?
“It’s not a queef its just a Thundercunt! (Thundercunts!)”
Thundercats Roar is a disaster.
It’s a horrible message to not just fans of animation, but civilisation at large as it seems to revel in promoting selfishness, lack of empathy and generally the worst traits of humanity. Its defenders, already “boldly” defying conventions like appealing to children’s intellect and respecting the emotional arousal that art is meant to induce, have sided with half a century worth of dismissing animation as something that cannot possibly be serious or dramatic in any capacity. And as shown above, it goes an extra mile to promote systems of oppression in incredibly insidious manners.
Discourses on animation bear a rather important parallel to social justice movements. After all, animation as medium that can raise thought provoking questions and portray humanity in drawings always stood against a paradigm of silly cartoons for children or raunchy adult pictograms. The “safe”, “default” state of animation is to be the modern era’s bread and circus, to provide a distraction against reality and thus maintain its order. A fantastical oasis to shield against the desert of the real, so to speak.
Thus, the push for the boundaries of dramatic demonstration in animation has been strongly correlated with societal progress. It’s part of the reason why the cartoonist archetype is left wing or libertarian in nature, after all. Voices for the sanitisation of children’s entertainment have been consistently right-wing in nature, either in the form of greedy executives, “edgy” animators focused on adult cartoons or religious groups finding all forms of entertainment satanic. All seek to destroy the exact same enemy, the people oppressed by the status quo and who desire a change, even if their motivations or even the exact means of doing this are downright alien to each other.
Thundercats Roar is a celebration of the status quo, of stagnation in all forms of the word. It is a vessel through which sincerity and humanity are mocked, rendered atavisms that should be done away with. It’s the simple statements of “money is worth more than feelings” and “we are Ahriman and you are Taxmoruw” made into a show, an antithesis of everything animators have fought for decades and an affirmation that all fights are meaningless.
Don’t ever be deceived by the notion that this show and its message are worth defending. You’ll find it has more in common with the right-wingers that complain about it than your own values.