The backlash against ThunderCats Roar is almost refreshing.
Unlike the sexist Ghostbusters backlash, and the sexist and racist Star Wars boycotts, this is a (mostly) apolitical story about grown adults being painfully resistant to change. People are mad because the new ThunderCats reboot looks new, instead of resembling the cartoon they watched in the 1980s.
The original ThunderCats began in 1985; a children’s adventure series about a team of alien cat people with names like Lion-O and Cheetara. Visually, it looked like the cast of the musical Cats reimagined as professional wrestlers. Alongside animated shows like Transformers and Masters of the Universe, it’s a nostalgic favorite.
ThunderCats inspired an anime-influenced relaunch in 2011, and now, it’s getting another reboot. Titled ThunderCats Roar, the revival will air on Cartoon Network in 2019. Entertainment Weekly unveiled the first teaser last week, showing a more contemporary aesthetic in line with shows like Steven Universe. It leans into the goofier side of ThunderCats, contrasting with the original, which used a more realistic style to depict its cast of muscular cats in one-piece bathing suits.
The trailer and poster led to a roar of disapproval from certain corners of animation fandom. The main complaints focused on its visual style, which people compared to a parody of contemporary animation trends and described as “too childish.” In turn, this all ties into an ongoing criticism of something called CalArts Style.
What is CalArts Style?
CalArts is the California Institute of the Arts, the alma mater of many children’s animators in the U.S. In recent years, some animation fans have accused the school of popularizing a homogeneous style of simple line-drawn cartoons. You may recognize it from shows like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and the 2016 Powerpuff Girls reboot. It’s basically just an aesthetic trend, in the same way that ThunderCats, Gargoyles, and Masters of the Universe shared some visual similarities.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with so-called CalArts Style. In fact, plenty of defining examples are critically acclaimed and enjoyed by both children and adults. The response ThunderCats Roar is just a matter of taste, although we may have slightly exaggerated its apolitical nature. A hatred of CalArts Style often goes hand-in-hand with a hatred of “Tumblr culture,” which overlaps with progressive politics. Hence why CalArts haters are more likely to call out Steven Universe (a show with several queer characters and a majority-female cast) than the edgy Rick and Morty. However, ThunderCats Roar hasn’t actually done anything to embroil itself in the culture wars. It just looks similar to some other popular cartoons.
As you might expect, the backlash soon resulted in other people defending the new show. First of all, it’s obviously aimed at kids. Eight-year-olds don’t have the same taste as animation fans in their thirties, and Cartoon Network knows its target audience. Secondly… maybe the original ThunderCats wasn’t as good as you remember?
As game developer Cohen Edenfield pointed out in this Twitter thread, classic ’80s cartoons were full of janky animation. You may have a nostalgic affection for them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were good.
reality pic.twitter.com/dpUFn1iFWa— Cohen is a ghost (@skullmandible) May 18, 2018
In some instances, we sympathize when fans get frustrated about a reboot or remake that doesn’t respect the legacy of the original. But if you’re getting mad online about the artistic integrity of ThunderCats—a straightforwardly silly cartoon about cats fighting a mummy—then it’s probably time to chill.