15 Amazing Facts About Thunder ... Thunder ... ThunderCats!

Warner Bros. Entertainment
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Thirty years ago, millions of children (and more than a few adults) became obsessed with ThunderCats, that quintessential ‘80s cartoon about a race of sword-wielding cat people who arrive on Third Earth to protect its inhabitants from the evil Mumm-Ra. Created by Tobin Wolf—a World War II veteran who also invented the first portable record player for teens—and produced by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer masterminds Rankin/Bass, the series ran for 130 episodes, long enough for its theme song to take up permanent residence in brains across the globe.

Want to know how a staff psychologist, Lionel Trains, Gumby, and Superman factor in to the show’s history, all while being spared any mention of terminally cute sidekick Snarf? Read on!

1. Producers targeted their advertising to parents.

Skittish over criticism that cartoons of the era were violent and existed solely to sell toys, Telepictures (which owned Rankin/Bass) took out print ads in advance of the show’s 1985 debut that extolled the virtuous nature of the series. “ThunderCats has all the action and adventure your children love,” the copy read. “But it also has something else … lessons about respect, friendship, truth, honesty, and justice.” Another ad acknowledged that, while parents try to raise their kids correctly, “sometimes you need help.” From a cartoon, apparently.

2. A staff psychologist reviewed every script.

To make good on their promise to adults, ThunderCats producers employed a psychologist, Robert Kuisis, Ph.D., who evaluated every script to make sure a strong moral lesson was being imparted in each episode. Kuisis even wrote brief reports on the first 65 installments for station affiliates to read.

3. Lion-O was originally Lion-L.

Head writer Leonard Starr, who was brought in to flesh out Wolf’s concept, remembered that the flame-haired leader of the group was dubbed Lion-L in an early outline for the show—until some forward-thinking producers pointed out they could have a head-on collision with Lionel Trains in both toy aisles and a courtroom.

4. There was a live arena show co-starring Gumby.

With ThunderCats quickly rising to the top of the syndicated ratings, Telepictures decided to mount a traveling stage production top-lined by Lion-O and company that blended several Rankin/Bass properties in one show.

Since they had possession of Gumby, that meant the green glob and Pokey were on hand to act as the audience’s hosts, moving from one “world” to the next. On roller skates.

5. The show became actual homework.

In an effort to drum up positive publicity for its debut, Telepictures produced 40,000 study guides for grade-schoolers that effectively assigned ThunderCats as homework. “For three days during the ThunderCats debut next month,” the information sheet read, “teachers will ask their students to watch ThunderCats when they get home and be ready to discuss the lessons learned in the program the following day.” Participating students received a certificate; parents were likely dragged into the toy store.

6. Jules Bass didn’t mince words.

Bass, one-half of the Rankin/Bass animated think-tank, was the boss in the ThunderCats production offices in New York City. According to Peter Lawrence, showrunner for the series, Bass’s management style was about as gentle as a scouring pad. “He really pushed us,” Lawrence tells mental_floss. “Someone was behind on approving storyboards. Jules walked in, looked at them, and threw them in the trash. ‘Done. Next.’” Bass also wrote several episodes under his pseudonym, Julian P. Gardner.

7. It was surprisingly hard to find writers to work on the show.

Not too many animated series were based on the East Coast in the mid ’80s, leaving Lawrence hard up for script writers. “It was quite amazing,” he says. “We had a ton of work and no agencies were responding.” Once the show debuted, things changed. Until then, Lawrence recalls dragging in audio engineers and other peripheral staff to try their hand at writing.

8. The Japanese animators said “yes,” but usually meant “no.”

Lawrence recalls Pacific Animation, the umbrella label given to the Japanese studios that drew the series, had a cultural aversion to saying no. “We’d ask if something was possible and they’d say yes,” Lawrence says. “Then we’d get it back and it would be completely different.” They also disliked when writers would indicate a “horde” appear in a script, dreading having to animate a crowd of people.

9. Writers sometimes had to write toys into scripts.

During its pre-production phase, a licensing company, Leisure Concepts, sat in on development meetings to assess the marketing potential of the show’s characters. Once the show went into production, Lawrence remembers getting a visit from someone who dropped a moat monster on his desk with a request to write it in. He tossed it in the trash.

Later, the show would utilize characters requested by toymaker LJN, but writers were generally excited by the new faces. “Some show elements were, I think, driven by the desire to extend the merchandise line,” says Kimberly Morris, who wrote several episodes. “But for me, things like that represented more of a creative opportunity than a problem. Being asked to introduce a new character is a fantastic story opportunity. It’s not like anybody was asking me to write about ThunderSmokes cigarettes. Or,ThunderBeans! Great for sticking in your nose!’”

10. Those toys can sometimes sell for $25,000.

The holy grail of ThunderCats plastic history is the Mad Bubbler, a putrid little creature that burped bubbles and never made it past the prototype stage. Toy dealer (and star of the Travel Channel’s Toy Hunter) Jordan Hembrough tells mental_floss that a painted version he obtained from a toy designer was later sold to a collector for $25,000.

11. Parents began naming their daughters Cheetara.

You might call it correlation without causation, but we’d beg to differ: According to the Social Security Administration, no babies were named Cheetara in 1984. In 1985, the year the ThunderCats female lead debuted, seven girls had it on their birth certificate. By 1987, 29 kids were named after her. A total of 81 offspring in the ‘80s had very some very easily-influenced parents.

12. Lobbyists tried to force them off the air.

Despite their best efforts to convince viewers otherwise, 1980s television animation was often characterized as being a half-hour toy commercial. An advocacy group, Action for Children’s Television, lobbied to ban shows like ThunderCats and He-Man from the airwaves entirely. In 1990, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that the shows were okay—provided they didn’t advertise their own toy lines during commercial breaks.  

13. The ThunderCats met Superman.

Comic book companies with multiple licenses often enjoy mashing up properties. In 2004, DC/Wildstorm produced a one-off special where the team is transported to Metropolis. Lion-O tests his Sword of Omens against Superman before the heroes team up to stop Mumm-Ra. (Judd Winick, a cast member on the 1994 season of MTV's Real World and later a well-regarded comics writer, had scripting duties.)

14. The 2011 reboot lasted only one season.

With nostalgia a powerful economic motivator, Warner Bros. and the Cartoon Network decided to reboot ThunderCats for a contemporary audience. Despite a marketing push and strong ratings, the series only lasted a season—because it didn’t move toys. Creator Shannon Eric Denton told MTV in 2013 that a primetime Friday time slot didn’t help matters. It was a personal disappointment to Denton, who had worked on the updated version for over a decade.

15. James McAvoy would really, really like to see a live-action movie.

Warner Bros. has toyed with a ThunderCats feature for years, having first announced an all-CGI film back in 2007. While nothing has materialized, actor James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) has made his interest known. “I would love to see a ThunderCats movie, but it’s never gonna happen,” he enthusiastically told Total Film in 2013. “But not Snarf. He was just this really annoying thing we need to get rid of.”

Images courtesy ThunderCatsFans.org. ThunderCats are trademark and copyright Warner Bros Entertainment, Inc.

The New Apple Watch SE Is Now Available on Amazon

Apple/Amazon
Apple/Amazon

Apple products are notorious for their high price tags. From AirPods to iPads to MacBooks, it can be difficult to find the perfect piece of tech on sale when you are ready to buy. Luckily, for those who have had their eye on a new Apple Watch, the Apple Watch SE is designed with all the features users want but at a lower starting price of $279— and they're available on Amazon right now.

The SE exists as a more affordable option when compared to Apple's new Series 6 line of watches. This less expensive version has many of the same functions of its pricier brethren, except for certain features like the blood oxygen sensor and electrical heart sensor. To make up for the truncated bells and whistles, the SE comes in at least $120 cheaper than the Series 6, which starts at $400 and goes up to $800. The SE comes with technical improvements on previous models as well, such as the fall detection, a faster processor, a larger screen, water resistance, and more.

Now available in 40mm ($279) and 44mm ($309), both SE models offer a variety of colors to choose from, such as sliver, space gray, and pink. If you want cellular connection, you’ll have to pay a bit more for the 40mm ($329) and the 44mm ($359).

For more, head to Amazon to see the full list of offerings from Apple.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Awesome Things Bill Murray Has Done

What unpredictable but awesome thing will Bill Murray do next?
What unpredictable but awesome thing will Bill Murray do next?
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for RFF

Bill Murray—who was born on September 21, 1950—is known for popping up and doing something awesome every once in a while. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Karaoked With Total Strangers

When a group of karaokers saw Murray enter NYC's Karaoke One 7 one night in January 2011, one of them worked up the courage to invite the movie star into their private karaoke room. Fifteen minutes later, Murray knocked on their door. "He was super nice and they all fit right in," one of the karaoke crew, Mike, told The Chive. "He bought us all a round of some weird green drink and wouldn't tell us what it was. ... The high point was when Bill and I sang a duet of an Elvis song called, 'Marie's the Name.'" Murray and his friends stuck around for the next four hours.

2. Walked Down a Hallway in Slow Motion

Why ask for Bill Murray's autograph when you can ask him to stroll down a hallway with you in slow motion? David Walton Smith told Reelz that he was making a commercial for a school in South Carolina that one of Murray's children attends; Murray was appearing in the spot. Smith didn't want to give Murray a bunch of things to autograph at the end of the shoot, and instead proposed asking the actor to walk with him and his friends down the hallway (they slowed it to slow motion in post). Murray, of course, obliged.

3. Got Invited to a Party, Did the Host's Dishes

Even when he's crashing parties, Bill Murray is polite. During a 2006 trip to St. Andrews, Scotland, for a celebrity golf tournament, Murray accompanied 22-year-old anthropology student Lykke Stavnef—whom he and his friends had met in a bar—to a house party. "Nobody could believe it when I arrived at the party with Bill Murray," she told The Telegraph. Murray then washed all the dishes in the students' sink. "It was really funny because he was pretty old compared with all the other people there, but he was so relaxed and it was really amusing when he started to wash up," Stavnef said.

4. Looked Great in a Christmas Card

“How and why I got this from Bill Murray, I have no idea!” wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper once tweeted. (The Frisky also published this card in 2012.)

5. Used an ice Luge at his Christmas Party

It should come as no surprise that, in addition to looking great on holiday cards, the actor throws epic Christmas parties, which he told Esquire include an ice luge for booze:

"It's a big magilla to get an ice luge, but if you do, you can pour vodka into it and it chills it on the way down. It looks like an Olympic ski jump. It's more for visual effect. You can put your head underneath it, like you're guzzling gasoline, but we just fill shot glasses. Hundreds of little shot glasses. So, we drank this stuff, and it took the party to a completely other level. The party lasted much longer. No one left. The year before, people would leave at, like, two or three in the morning. With the vodka luge, they didn't leave until five. The last two years I've had this luge. That's how I like to drink. Out of a large ice structure."

Murray Christmas, indeed.

6. Played Kickball with Random People

Kickballers enjoying a game on Roosevelt Island in October 2012 when Murray "popped out of nowhere," team member Chris DiLella told Entertainment Weekly. "He was bouncing the ball… ran over to second base. Played for a bit… Gave us all high-fives and let us pose with him in the picture."

7. Bartended at SXSW

During a visit to Austin's Shangri-La during SXSW 2010, Murray hopped behind the bar to serve drinks (apparently, even if a patron asked for whiskey, he'd give them tequila). Someone caught it on video, which you can see above.

8. Gave an Excellent Speech at a Bachelor Party

In 2014, Murray crashed a bachelor party in Charleston, South Carolina, and gave an excellent, impromptu speech:

"You know how they say funerals aren't for the dead but for the living? Bachelor parties are not for the groom, they are for [the other guys]. So, I'm going to give you all advice, because it's too late for this one. If you have someone you think is the one, don't just sort of think in your ordinary mind, think 'Okay, let's make a date, let's plan this and make a party and get married.' Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. If when you come back to JFK [airport], when you land in JFK and you are still in love with that person, get married at the airport!"

Wise words.

9. Crashed a Couple's Engagement Photoshoot

Not long after he crashed that bachelor party, Murray happened upon Ashley Donald and Erik Rogers taking engagement photos in downtown Charlestown and decided to get in on the action. "When I set up Ashley and Erik, I saw this look of surprise on their faces as they looked over my shoulder. I asked them to look at the camera, but they just looked stunned and with his eyes, Erik motioned that I better look behind me," Raheel Gauba of Fia Forever Photography told the Huffington Post. "As I turned around to potentially ask the person distracting them to give us a moment, I see Bill Murray with his shirt up, belly out and patting it—his attempt to make the couple laugh. I joined the couple in the shock and surprise of the moment. At that point, I invited him to join the couple for a quick shot and he did. So genuine and nice of him to make the couple's day!"

10. Read Poetry to Construction Workers

When New York City's Poets House was being built in 2009, Murray showed up to read poetry to the construction workers. He began with Billy Collins's "Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House," joking afterwards, "They get worse, OK, so if you want to lie down or get sick, take a sick day, do it now." He followed it with a poem for "the shorter attention span crowd," Lorine Niedecker’s "Poets Work" and finished with Emily Dickinson's "I Dwell in Possibility." Murray could not, unfortunately, get any of the workers to volunteer to read their own poetry.