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Thundercats

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Thundercats debuted in 1985, produced by LJN to accompany the popular TV cartoon of the same name, by Rankin-Bass. While the toyline would last three years, it was rather small, and distribution was not as broad as some of the other action figure toylines of the time. Despite this, the toys remain popular in the adult collector market.

The Thundercats figures are roughly six inches tall, and made of plastic and hard rubber. Most have articulation at the hips, shoulders, and neck, as well as an action feature that makes the character attack with its weapon. LJN branded this as “Battle-Matic Action”, a term they used with some of their other toylines such as AD&D. Two of the figures had light-up eyes triggered by pressing a battery-containing finger ring into their backs, while some others included PVC figurines of smaller companions from the show.

The line also expanded to include smaller articulated figures of allies and companions, as well as vehicles, monsters, and weaponry add-ons. The series' capstone was the Cat's Lair Playset, a massive playset that used electronic lights and sounds with special receptors to simulate a laser battle with an attacking enemy vehicle. Individual figures could also be armed with battery-operated backpacks for a similar play pattern.

The vehicles were similarly replete with action features. A common design trait was that the vehicles' back ends can function as convenient hand-grips during play, placing triggers and buttons for action features at the user's fingertips while they “fly” or roll the vehicle along. This rather inventive feature did not disrupt the aesthetic of the toys, since the science-fiction look simply incorporated the long-boom tails.

By 1987 the line had lost its steam, and was unsupported by an ongoing TV cartoon. The third series only saw a smattering of new characters, many of whom became quite scarce due to lack of retailer interest in carrying the dying toyline. Thundercats would disappear from pop culture radar for decades, until a resurgence in popularity in the early 2000s would trigger a great deal of spinoff “retro” merchandise, culminating in the cartoon and toyline being resurrected in 2011 by Bandai.

 

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