Monday, September 29, 2014

Future of ThunderCats Toys And A Look Back

Note: For most active ThunderCats fans the various merchandise info mentioned in the post below is common knowledge, so my apologies to them if my long-winded post all sounds redundant until the latter half.

Lion-O: Oh what's this Snarf, a toy? Good grief I am too big for toys, can't you see that?

Before I dwell into its future, I wanted to share my little history with ThunderCats toys or rather the lack of it in my life. I shared this photo on Facebook few weeks ago, thought I'll share it again for this post.

Me, holding a make-believe Power Sword / Sword of Omens. Circa late 1980s.

I think I was about 8 years old. My mother is talking on the phone in the background. My uncle took this photo when he visited us from out of town. I was in a grumpy mood for some reason. And prior to this there was power outage for few hours and I ended up not wearing any shirt due to the heat.

This was closest to the power sword for me. I actually bought this cause I wanted Lion-O's Sword of Omens from ThunderCats, but it was never sold here nor were the figures This sword's hilt somewhat resembled the cartoon version, so I got it.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon aired in India during the mid 80s on the national channel Doordarshan and was immensely popular, which resulted in the on-going line of MOTU toys being sold here. And my whole childhood obsession of collection toys was jump started by MOTU toys. Back then thanks to my persistence with my Dad I managed to buy some of those figures, including some of the vehicles, as well as the mighty Castle Grayskull. I still have most of those toys now.

Of course I was a bigger fan of ThunderCats, but the show never aired in India in the 80s, hence no LJN toys were ever sold here as there wasn't any real market for it. I and many people I know watched the cartoon through the VHS tapes which were available at the video store during the late 80s. ThunderCats did eventually air on Cartoon Network in India during the late 90s and early 2000s. Growing up I always wanted toys from ThunderCats but didn't even get to see them until the late 90s when I got access to internet.

One time when we were kids my friend Krishna told me about a guy in his school who sometime back had mentioned about owning TCats figures, which he had gotten from abroad. I remember gleaming with excitement at the thought of TCats figures. I think the kid wasn't in the same school anymore nor did we know where he lived exactly. My friend had a rough idea about the kid's house location, so few of us went riding on our bicycles towards the other part of the city. After an exhausting few hours, we never found the house nor I got to see any ThunderCats toys. And I pretty much forgot about them after that.

Few years back I contemplated on getting into collecting the 6" LJN vintage line of ThunderCats, but buying things on MOC is nearly impossible for me and lot of the loose figures I came across weren't in good condition either. Though I guess by next year I will slowly get into collecting them.

Besides Back to the Future action figures, new ThunderCats 6" figures is something I wanted from a very long time. Coincidentally both of these franchises celebrate their 30 anniversary next year, though not 6" figures BTTF is thankfully getting the Hot Toys 12" figure treatment and Marty McFly will be the released in early 2015. Future of ThunderCats toys remains bleak, for now.

A Look Back

Click on the hyperlinks and photos below to see more detailed photos and info on the various products at

Lot of franchise based toys geared towards kids are pretty much using their respective cartoons or its other media presence as a way to boost their products. For many toy companies and studios, the show sometimes merely serves as an 30 minute commercial to sell more toys. Unlike MOTU which had more than one form of TV revival during the 90s and 2000s, ThunderCats didn't have any new revival for nearly 20 years until 2011.

But even before the 2011 show began, new ThunderCats merchandise began in 2009 with Hard Hero releasing a line of 1:7 scale (10 inches +) statues. Sadly the company closed down in 2012 and the line of statues got canceled after releasing only 4 characters.

From 2010 onwards Pop Culture Shock released statues in large 1:4 scale (30 inches +) and they were little more stylized than the classic look of the characters. After releasing Lion-O and Mumm-Ra, the line was canceled in 2012 due to lack of pre-orders for Tygra.

In 2010 Icon Heroes released 6" mini statues along with sculptures of ThunderTank and the Cat's Lair, but sadly even this line didn't move forward beyond couple of characters and the company chose not to renew their license.

Icon Heroes (in conjunction with Diamond Select Toys) also released various sets of minimates (mini block figures). This line is the closest to having the complete range of major characters including the main villains.

Bandai which made various toys for the new ThunderCats show in 2011, made couple of figures from the classic series before the line was canceled. And though they were available in my local mall stores, I realized the likeness and its too much plastic looking quality didn't appeal to me. Also they first made the figures in 6" scale and then went on to do the next figures in another scale of 8".

From 2011 Mezco released large scale 14" figures (about 1:5 scale) of ThunderCats. And despite Lion-O's likeness being little off, they are still the best modern ThunderCats toys which resemble the classic look of the characters. Mezco so far has released 4 figures along with couple of con exclusive sets. The line is not canceled but currently in limbo. Fans are hoping the line will eventually continue with atleast Tygra if not for the rest of the other characters.

In 2013 Funko released 5 Pop vinyl figures of ThunderCats followed by two exclusive variants which were sold during SDCC 2014.

The Future

Prototypez Studios: In 2015 Erick Sosa will be launching the line of ThunderCats resin model kits starting with Lion-O and Panthro. Erick's wonderful works are well known among statue collectors specially his statues from Kotobukiya. These kits will need to be assembled and painted. I just wish like some of the prior Koto model kits, these kits were pre-painted which would only require assembly. Hopefully they will consider offering some quantity of painted versions as well. Either ways, I'm looking forward to see some full preview images by the end of 2014.

Other Toy Companies

As much as I would love to see a company acquire the ThunderCats master toy license and have them do a wide range of 6" figures based on various characters, I need to keep my expectations lower but I am not totally giving up on them either.

Since most of the previous statue lines got canceled mid way, there is the possibility that many toy companies would consider ThunderCats not to be a profitable franchise. Most just need to realize that majority of the fans wanted to have classic 6" action figures more than statues. Give them those quality toys and the company can expect repeat business and loyalty from those fans.

Compared to the modern line of MOTUC toys which largely share similar body molds, ThunderCats toys will require whole new molds for most of the characters as they are vastly different from each other in terms of design. There is room for reissue of some figures with variants along with combo packs, but mainly it is going to be pricey and risky for a company to invest due to the tooling process for a large number of characters, as some of the secondary characters won't have the sales potential as the rest of the main characters. Hence it is imporant that the line is released in series with a mix of main characters and secondary characters if the toy line has to continue for a long time.

Mezco: If at some point the company decides to abandon their 14" figure line in exchange for rolling out a new line of 6" figures, then I would be all for it. Maybe they could still release Tygra in 14" and then start out with the 6" line. Based on their faithful recreation of the characters, Mezco is still my preferred choice if they decide to commit to a long running line of  ThunderCats toys.

NECA: It's one of my favorite toy companies who not only make good quality action figures from various genres and franchises, but they are also one of the best when it comes to constantly interacting with their fan base on social media. Yet we can't be expecting ThunderCats from NECA, as back in May 2013 when somebody on Twitter asked them if there is any chance of NECA creating classic TCats or MOTU figures, Randy Falk confirmed that there is no chance.

UPDATE (Sept 30): My friend Shantanu checked with NECA yesterday and sadly the answer is again no.

Mattel: Considering the range of characters they offered in the MOTUC line, they would seem like a good fit for ThunderCats. But then when you think about the awful customer service issues MOTU fans have faced with Mattel in the last few years, one would start to reconsider. And let's not forget they backed out from doing BTTF figures despite having actor likeness rights, again apparently that was mainly due to the potential high cost of tooling for the various character designs. And then there is the whole Hoverboard fiasco. If the MOTUC line does come to a close in couple of years, Mattel could in fact look into the ThunderCats license even though they decided not to pursue it couple of years ago.

Diamond Select Toys: They did after all make the ThunderCats minimates and they have a pretty good line up of comic figures with their Marvel Select line. But they are more fixated with novelty items and churning more minimate lines than anything else, which I guess is understandable due to the comparatively lower production cost, no likeness issues, more focus needed on the paint work and accessories. And though I have all their BTTF minimates, when it comes to BTTF prop replicas they have continued to make inaccurate products. But as far as some of the figures goes, there have done a decent job with the Marvel, Star Trek and Universal Monsters line for sometime. Still I am not sure they will go to the lengths of doing the ThunderCats line justice.

UPDATE (Oct 27): I got a response from DST to my query in regards to making new figures.

So there we go, they are not considering it right now. But they pitched the idea about 10 years ago and no surprise..WB passed on it .

Mondo: They are a company mostly known for their line of impressive movie poster screen prints designed by some of the most talented artists in the industry. Mondo posters due to its limited edition quantity get sold out within mere minutes and the posters usually end up at ridiculous high prices on ebay, making it hard for many collectors to acquire them at their original price. But now that Mondo is venturing into making toys, they have assured that the ordering process will be different due to the higher volume while allowing customers to pre-order the toys much in advance.

One of the toys Mondo will be releasing later this year is the 16" Iron Giant figure (another WB property). Justin Ishmael, who is the creative director of Mondo is passionate about toys just as he is passionate about quality art for movie posters. And though he is a bigger fan of TMNT and MOTU, he did give ThunderCats a shout out in one of his recent interviews. I don't think Mondo will consider doing a large line of figures from the ThunderCats. But even if they stick to doing just the main heroes and villains in the 6" format, I would be a happy collector as I will be assured of getting a quality product from them. After Mezco, my preferred choice would be Mondo for ThunderCats toys. Though Justin is also a businessman and Mondo like every other company is built on profits, his genuine love and appreciation for toys is something that will likely set Mondo apart from other companies when he makes the creative choices based on his fondness for these properties.
I have posted an excerpt from the Mondo interview below, the whole interview is worth the read on the above linked page. Last question: what were your favorite toys growing up?

Mondo: Oh man... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was actually really into Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos, that was really solid. Wow.

Mondo: Yeah, they were legit, man. Masters of the Universe, that was something I got back into hard... I was on that subscription for a while but then I had three towers of white boxes and I was like "dude, this is sad." I never took them out, I have too much stuff. I took out Scare Glow, I took out Battle Cat, Battle Armor He-Man. But I'm going back and buying broken Masters of the Universe (vintage) because everyone thinks they're crap when the legs go out, but I can fix them. So I buy them really cheap and I clean them. I think it's one of the best figure lines ever. Of course Thundercats were legit too. But yeah, I had all the Turtles stuff. I had the blimp, I had the sewer, I had all the... Pizza Thrower?

Mondo: Oh Pizza Thrower. I think you might be right, that might be my favorite toy when I was little.

Here are some photos from Justin's Instagram account.
"Unpacking mail and got my Infinity Gauntlet 9.8! Was also lucky enough to snag the Hasbro Gauntlet at SDCC. #bestfoamhandever"
"Went to Colorado with @sirmitchell to visit @ironjaiden and I'm coming back with this massive #MOTU haul. Complete Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain and Eternia with box. He threw in a ton of figures, too. Now to figure out how to get it back."
"Got a crazy Shogun Warrior/ Jumbo Machinder collection last week. Cleaning and organizing, but I'm very psyched. These are some of the best, if not the best display toys ever."

During my US trip in July 2014 I did the Warner Bros studio tour in LA. And I was little disappointed to know that ThunderCats didn't have any presence whatsoever for the public (unless somehow I missed it), not even any TCats merchandise in the WB physical shop. Considering how WB is apparently very protective about the ThunderCats license, I was expecting at least some sort of branding display which indicated that ThunderCats was one of their properties.

ThunderCats was popular in the 80s and even today it resonates with lot of adult fans, but despite that the community isn't very vocal and active as compared to say the MOTU fans. We have seen a surge in membership on the ThunderCatsLair forum when the 2011 show started airing. Still the member count is comparatively less. There are about 2000+ members on TCL, where as has about 11,000+ members. I know it isn't really a fair comparison as MOTU had more TV shows, currently has an active toy line with number of other product releases in the works, along with a feature film in development.

Still I hope we can improve those numbers and participation. Be sure to follow ThunderCatsLair on Facebook and Twitter. Like, Share and Re-tweet their postings and help spread the word about the site and forum.

And somehow we need to get that official ThunderCats Facebook page (with 2 Million+ Likes) to start sharing TCL postings. That page didn't post anything for a year since July 2013 but recently in July 2014 started posting again.

I am sure there are many fans who chat about ThunderCats on social media in general, but perhaps aren't aware of the TCL forum. And obviously there are many who aren't members but still visit the forum as Guests. Though most may not actively participate on the various forum discussions, perhaps some will at least share anecdotes from their childhood. Be it fond memories of watching the cartoon, pretending to be the ThunderCats team with your friends, collecting the toys. Share stories and perhaps even post photos of cosplay, past collections or current collection of toys and merchandise.

A ThunderCats movie be it live action or CGI is very unlikely for now, but I am hoping despite the absence of large media presence that the ThunderCats fandom will continue to thrive further and it will lead to a new toy line being made.

In the coming months I plan to come up with ways to promote TCL on social media and in turn promote the site and forum. If you have any suggestions to do the same, please share them.

Also which company do you want to see tackle the ThunderCats toy line? And though the outcome and decision will largely depend on the toy company and WB, what do you think fans could do to make the toy line possible?

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