Thundercats Ho! An Interview with Mike Jelenic
Dr. T: Yeah, I noticed that little riff between Cheetara and Lion-O – she keeps following him around and looking at him – then that disappeared for a few episodes.
MJ: That little character beat of Cheetara's, following him around, we don't give a definitive answer to that until, I think, Episode 14. If you invest in the show, with each episode you'll get more out of it.
Dr. T: I understand that Snarf was nearly left out of the reboot.
MJ: He came very close several times to getting the ax. He was a character that everybody loves to hate. Now, I had fond memories of Snarf from the original series, but I understand that a lot of people did not want him in this version. Before Ethan Spaulding, we had another producer on the show, and the only way he was going to have Snarf on the show was if he was a serious, deadly pet, like a guard dog. I didn't mind that take – it was sort of an interesting thing to flip what people's perception of Snarf was, but his role on the old show was comic relief, so I felt more comfortable being able to go in that direction. When Ethan came on, he had a great take on Snarf, that new look – which I think is adorable – and in the way Snarf would contribute to the show, which was comic relief, but not as annoying. That was our compromise: Snarf would stay in the show but he won't talk.
Dr. T: Speaking of characters that people loved to hate, one feeling I got from old fans of the show was that Wilykat and Wilykit were not well liked. In fact, a read an interview with Peter Lawrence, who was a head writer on the 80s' show, and he said he hated those characters, never liked writing for them. But in the reboot, they seem to have so much more appeal. How did you develop them?
MJ: Oh, something interesting – Peter Lawrence will actually be writing an upcoming episode. A lot of old fans will appreciate seeing his name up there on the screen. You know, Kit and Kat were challenges in a different way than Snarf was, because I never thought they had a clearly defined role on the other series, they were just a pair of teenagers. Part of our problem, if we were going to have them in this series, was that Lion-O is a teenager in this show, and if Kit and Kat were teenagers too, everyone sort of gets lost by being the same. Because of that, it allowed us to take those two characters and make them younger than they were on the original series. By making them five years younger, we gave them so much more charm.
The other choice we made, and I think it was a wise one, was casting real children. By the fourth episode, they were my favorite characters because the show has a lot of dark, epic tones to it and every time Kit and Kat are on the screen they exude an upbeat joy, so you know if you see them you're going to be smiling, and I appreciate the dimension that these characters bring to the show.
MJ: You're going to get some backstory about where that song came from. It's very effective when that theme is played, so it's something to look for in future episodes.
Dr. T: Besides Kit and Kat, I notice that you've changed the ages of some other members of the cast. Panthro seems older and more grizzled than he did in the original series. Was that intentional as well?
MJ: Yeah, again it's that sense of setting up different "silhouettes" that are identifiable. In his case, Cheetara, Lion-O, Tygra were all going to be in the 18-20 year old range, and it made sense to throw a veteran into the group, someone who has some experience. Emotionally, he works on a different level because he has maturity. That's the reason we went that way with Panthro. He's probably a lot of people's favorite character from the last series, just because he was so cool, and it's that much cooler if he's a veteran. He fights just as well as anybody half his age, but he's seen twice as much stuff.
Dr. T: Who is your favorite characters – or characters – to write for?
MJ: They all have their own challenges. Wilykit and Wilykat are usually my favorites. I always love writing comedy, I think of myself as a comedy guy, even though I've only worked on action-adventure shows. As far as Kit and Kat, they seem to sort of stand out from the plot, so when you see them it doesn't necessarily have to tie into the larger story. It's a moment to charm the audience and have fun. I think you'll see in some future episodes that we take their scenes pretty far.