Thundercats Ho! An Interview with Mike Jelenic
I had a chance to chat with Mike Jelenic, the producer behind the popular new reboot of Thundercats. He has worked on such series as Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Wonder Woman and Justice Society.
Dr. Toon: Warner has many old properties in its library that could have been suited for a possible reboot. Why Thundercats?
Mike Jelenic: I think the time was just right to bring Thundercats back. It never really went away. It was such a huge hit in the 80's, a real testament to the strength of the brand. It never left pop culture. You can see kids and adults wearing Thundercats T-shirts and symbols, and Warner Bros realized that there was still a lot of love out there for the Thundercats, and its mythology is so rich that it was easy to take that property and reinvent it for a new generation.
Dr. T: Why is a show that hasn't had a new episode made in 25 years so popular, anyway?
MJ: I think the show tapped into something that wasn't reflected in some of the other properties of the 80s'. First of all, it was an unusual mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and you don't see too many fantasy cartoons aimed at children nowadays. Even back then, the sort of action shows you got were superheroes, men-in-tights shows, but the fantasy genre was unrepresented. Mix fantasy with sci-fi and you get something that's really unique. I think that is part of the reason Thundercats still remains popular.
But then, there's just some sort of "heart" to that original show. Larry Kenney, who did the original voice (of Lion-O) always heard about the "Code of Thundera" from the fans, so that was obviously something that resonated with that generation.
MJ: I'd been working with [exec producer] Sam [Register] on Batman: The Brave and the Bold at the time. He asked me to help out on the development. It wasn't something I was even going to be working on full-time, but the more I worked on it, the more I fell in love with the characters and the property. I wanted to be a part of it moving forward, and that's how it happened. The show was in development for over a year before we got the greenlight, so a lot of creative energy has gone into this. Working with the other producer, Ethan Spaulding, and Dan Norton, we've all tried to bring our A-game out for this, so this is a really special show for us.
Dr. T: What were the challenges of maintaining continuity between this show and the 80s' version?
MJ: It's always tough to reinterpret such a beloved franchise. I worked on two different Batman series and we had that same challenge with Batman, who's been around for seventy years and has been interpreted in so many different numbers of ways. You had a little bit of leeway with characters on the first series, which was a more traditional take on the character. On Batman: The Brave and the Bold, we went Silver Age campy, but using Batman allows that. For Thundercats, we asked, "What is the most iconic part of that brand?" None of us was 100% positive, because there's only been one version, so we were a little unsure where the fans would let us take the property, because when you redo a show you want to bring your own creative stamp to it.
At the same time, you want to be respectful to the things that people loved. A lot of the development was figuring out how far to take it and "how far was too far", and that was on the writing side and the art. We went through so many incarnations of what this new version of Thundercats would look like, what kind of stories we felt would be appropriate. It was definitely a challenge, and when the first show premiered, I was overwhelmed by how positive old fans were to this new take. We changed some significant things but tried to keep the core the same. I was happy to see that most people were pleased with the direction we took.