In the 1980s, when spirits were almost as high as TV executives, every stupid concept got its own cartoon, from literal cowboys to eight types of Smurf. And every one of those dumb cartoons got their very own terrible, child-scarring live stage show. In 1987, ThunderCats Live! gave over a dozen drama school dropouts their very first minimum wage job. They held it for almost an entire summer.
Even ThunderCats Live! had to admit they just didn’t have that He-Man pull. They couldn’t justify the $80 a night to take over a seasonally-shuttered hockey rink with their fanbase alone, so they recruited every other show that did not yet have a foam-headed teenager gently spinning in their name. The event sprawled into an all-star spectacular… if you are very generous about the words “star” and “spectacular.” Also maybe “event.”
The ThunderCats shared a bill with most of The Comic Strip, the series remarkable only for the shamelessness of its knock-offs, and Gumby, who would, in the 1980s, guest star in literally anything because it was dead easy to knock up a slipshod Gumby suit. Plus the inventor of Gumby, Garth Gumbison, would have let you slap his IP on a Pray the Gay Away camp if it would buy him a gas station burrito.
I’m not going to tease you: No video exists for this solid hour and a half of foam-crotched crimes against theater. I promise you that no matter how heartbroken you are, you will never match my despair. But I’ll tell you what: The program alone was fucking incredible.
Right off the bat you can see that we’re dealing with a budget of ‘somebody’s mom was really good at halloween costumes,’ and an enthusiasm level somewhere between ‘new Dairy Queen employee introducing themselves to the rest of the staff,’ and ‘surly teenager posing for summer camp group photo.’
Foam rubber muscle suits just don’t hold up when they’re flesh-toned. It looks like Lion-O is mostly tumor and sass. This is what the melty guy from RoboCop would look like if, instead of being hit by a patrol car, he was hit by the theater bug.
And now for the least necessary request I’ll ever make of you: Please pay special attention to the crotch area. Notice how his foam-rubber bulge is so poorly fit that it stretches at the thigh, giving Lion-O the saggy, wrinkly, straining groin of a 90-year old man at the nudist beach who insists he’s not too old to join the volleyball game, and tries to prove it by doing a full squat.
Cheetara’s expression tells me she knows exactly how embarrassing this photo is going to be, but honestly, if you airbrushed out the spots and the ThunderCats logo this is just your 1980s mom going to the good Jazzercise class — the one where she kind of wants to fuck the instructor. Meanwhile Tygra, whom I definitely do not remember as “master architect of the ThunderCats,” is the only one in this whole cast trying to sell it. It’s too bad that nobody’s in the market for a Tiger-Man equally as proud of his new bikini wax as he is of his vintage moon boots. At least he has all that CAD experience to fall back on.
And then, oh god, then there is Snarf:
This could have been a puppet, and it would have been fine. It would’ve been a little suspicious that every time Snarf had a line, the ThunderCats had to gather around a convenient boulder, but kids are stupid — they never question a puppet, even if it’s coming from inside a van and it doesn’t know the password. Instead ThunderCats Live! figured it would be less obtrusive to enlarge Snarf eight times his normal size, then give him an inert headpiece with a frozen expression that reads ‘guy banned from FurryCon for entering the normie zones and “forgetting” to loincloth up his seventeen-inch, anatomically very incorrect cockpiece.’
Fuck. I need to fight that thing. Every glance puts me into a fresh attack mode. I think it’s… it’s the gloves, I guess? Or the knees? Look at all the other costumes: They’re cheap and laughable, sure, but there’s some basic effort to make them not look like a costume. They shouldn’t have sculpted Lion-O’s foam codpiece, but somebody did sculpt it. There was effort. Meanwhile Snarf is sharing that same stage in a pajama onesie, dishwashing gloves, and grandpa’s novelty slippers. He’s not even part of the show — he’s just an intrepid stalker who noticed a Snarf gap and is hoping Cheetara won’t question why it keeps trying to kiss her with a mouthpiece that smells like chloroform.
And now we come to Panthro.
Come to Panthro.
Panthro has cancer of the whole head. It’s the first ever recorded case of Skullphoma. Panthro’s actor has decided this embarrassment was the last straw, and he’s finally going to end it all tonight… right at the very second the photographer shouted “now everybody say RAWR!”
No seriously, why did the costume designer do this to him? Did the guy playing Panthro run over her dog in the parking lot? Panthro is just bald. That’s it. That’s his character design: “bald gray guy with Spock ears and Danzig’s bikini.”
Panthro is not, canonically, being attacked by a parasitic fungus. Were the only reference photos left at the library of a panther dying from hydrocephalus? He looks like he’s being attacked by a Metroid. We have bald caps! This was the easiest job, and you whiffed it the hardest. The group project took a vote and said you could just take notes, so you slapped the teacher’s aide and took a shit in the diorama.
As usual, the SilverHawks suck in a distant and forgettable fashion:
They’re trying for “valiant cyborg space warriors”…
But they’re landing firmly on ‘Tron porn parody.’ You look at that guy on the upper right. You tell me that’s not a costume from Hard-on Drive: The RAM Master.
Somehow the Street Frogs are actually okay:
Maybe that’s because the uncanny valley is a bit shallower if you’re not supposed to look remotely human in the first place. But fucking tell that to Karate Kat.
Who looks like the rest of the Pizza Time Players kicked him out because they couldn’t watch another friend die of an ether addiction.
God damn it, I am so mad there’s no video!
Fucking there was a motorcycle stunt number!
I would eat an entire man just for shaky bootleg cam of this wondrous atrocity. The best I can do for you, and I know it’s not much, is this modern-day Brazilian dance homage to ThunderCats.
I guess that’s pretty weird. Lion-O looks like a clown in a hurricane and Snarf looks like a clown in another clown… but it just doesn’t compare to the unhappy, bulbous drama hulks of ThunderCats Live!
Look how easily the Brazilians prance about in their little “costumes”:
If this was ThunderCats Live!, there would be three crotch splits already and only two of them would be costume-related. I mean, I guess it’s kind of funny that sexy Brazil is once again bringing an almost naive fuckability to everything they do. And yeah, it’s pretty silly when Lion-O does his sassy little kicks:
But I just can’t help imagining ThunderCats Live!, and what would happen to their Lion-O’s wrinkled groin bulge if he tried that move. It would be amazing! It would defy physics! His codpiece would explode and send bits of crotch confetti up into the lighting rig where they’d burst into flame and rain down on the audience! Costumed motorcycle stunt riders would be blinded by the dick-napalm and ride into the crowd. It would be glorious! There would be no survivors!
There’s nothing this Brazilian version can bring that the American version wouldn’t have done a thousand times bett-
Oh. Oh my. What’s-
Holy shit. Brazilian Mumm-ra can get it. I think… I think he already got it actually. I might need a doctor. This is-
God damn, hold up-
No, you can’t do this to me! Not this late in life, I can’t be discovering things about myself I’m-
Great. So now I have a mummy fetish. Thanks, Brazil. That’s a real cool and handy thing to develop in the middle of a fucking global toilet paper shortage.