I was two years old when my Cuban immigrant parents uprooted our family from the life we’d built in Florida over the course of three years and moved to Puerto Rico to get their college degrees. Neither of them had an education past the sixth grade, and I don’t think they fully understood how much work and sacrifice it would take to put themselves through college with a teenager and a toddler to look after. But they were determined to make a better life for us, and Puerto Rico was the place to start.
For those few years, we didn’t have a lot of food most days—all the money was funneled towards tuition and the leaky roof over our heads. Our house was small and shabby, embedded in the side of a rainy mountain. As I look back at that era of my childhood, though, those aren’t memories that stand out the most.
Many afternoons, I was in the care of my older brother who was seventeen when we first moved. The clearest memories I have are of him picking me up from preschool, buying me a popsicle at a neighboring woman’s house, and then walking home together to snack on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watch after school cartoons in Spanish.
We’d watch shows like Ulysses 31 and and Dragon Ball Z, but of all the cartoons we watched together, the one I have the fondest memories of is the old 80s classic ThunderCats. The show follows the adventures of a group of cat-like humanoid aliens as they attempt to defeat the villainous mummy sorcerer, Mumm-Ra, who would later become the namesake of an English indie rock band. On the rare occasions that there was a ThunderCats marathon on, we’d watch through the afternoon until our parents came home, eat dinner, and then flop back down in front of the TV until bedtime.
At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening in the show at all. I couldn’t follow Lion-O’s character arc or the plot of each season. I just knew that I liked the cat people and that the mummy villain was nightmare-inducing in the best possible way.
And now, I still think about the original ThunderCats show and feel the same sense of comfort and safety I felt as a child, sprawled on the floor in the living room with my older brother looking after me. I’ve only re-watched a handful of episodes since then, but the show carries a perfect memory for me, with all the good of those times encapsulated in the first notes of the iconic theme song.
I haven’t done a full rewatch of the show because nostalgia can be a tricky thing. The reality is almost never as good as our childhood memories and revisiting the things you loved back then has a way of revealing the glaring faults you missed when you were too young to notice them. The warm feelings may not be lost entirely, but the sense of disillusionment can be hard to ignore.
My last experience with the original ThunderCats show left me realizing that it’s outdated, the voice acting is cheesy, and the narrative is shoddy in a lot of places due to it being, essentially, a twenty minute toy commercial—as many cartoons at the time were. I still remember loving the characters and the world, and how good it felt to discover them during a time in my life when everything felt uncertain. I could be sure that Lion-O and Cheetara would be okay at the end of the day, and that the evil would be defeated once more. But the original show doesn’t connect with my life now the way that it did when I was a kid.
That’s why I welcomed the ThunderCats reboot in 2011. As reboots of old properties have become popular in recent years as audiences that grew up with them are now having children of their own, I’ve noticed that they’re often met with disdain from older fans. Reboots are treated as an attack on the memories of the adults who enjoyed the original properties, with accusations of corporations looking to make a quick buck by pandering to nostalgia rather than investing in new concepts. But to me, reboots are a chance to re-experience old worlds and characters I love, without disappointment tainting my memories of the original show.
The ThunderCats 2011 show has a clean, updated design that echoes its Japanese roots but with an Americanized style reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Dreamworks’ Voltron: Legendary Defenders. The story begins similarly to the original series, with the Thundercats fleeing the wreckage of their kingdom after an attack. But the narrative unfolds in a more complex manner, dealing not only with lessons like the importance of friendship and justice, but also tackling themes of xenophobia, fear of technology, and classism.
These newer versions of the characters are moving through a different story, with different goals, and new personality traits in some cases. Lion-O is no longer emotionally twelve years old in the body of a grown adult, but a teenager in mind and body, learning what it means to be king. Tygra is flirtatious and xenophobic, with a superiority complex that causes clashes with his adoptive brother, Lion-O.
But even with these differences, I connect with Cheetara’s need to learn patience to achieve her dreams in life, and with Tygra’s resentment over being passed up for an opportunity that he feels he has earned due to discrimination. These are things I’ve experienced in my own life as an adult that I didn’t understand as a kid.
Whether or not the new show is better than the old one is irrelevant to me. The point is that I don’t have to rewatch a thirty-year-old series full of 1980s sensibilities to explore the world and characters I enjoyed growing up. How faithful the show is to the original matters less to me than how relevant the stories are to my life, or how connected I feel to these new versions of my old favorite characters. This show is not the same show from my childhood, and that’s okay because I am not that same person I was as a child.
The reboot doesn’t erase or rewrite those memories of spending the afternoons with my brother. I still feel the same sense of safety and comfort that I felt then when I think of the original show. But the reboot has allowed me to experience the characters again, now made relevant in an era filled with uncertainty and danger for people like me. It’s let me lose myself in the world I loved as a child to discover a new version of the escapism I experienced then.
A good reboot is a new doorway into an old beloved world, a story updated to what the world is now rather than emulating the often simple plotlines of the original. And it’s reassuring to know that no matter how far removed I become from my childhood and the sparkling memories I treasure, someone is building a door I can step through to visit those worlds one more time.