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.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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

If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.