In the 1980s, several companies created an array of memorable action figure toy lines, such as LJN’s ThunderCats and Mattel’s He-Man. Unsurprisingly, the surge in action figures coincided with the deregulation of advertising via cartoons. Since cartoons could function as thirty-minute advertisements for these toys, more children wanted to play with their favorite characters than ever. So, two groups of toy lines rose to the top of the market in this decade: toys that used cartoons as advertisements and cartoons that used toys as merchandise.
The man behind the imaginative world of Thundera and Third Earth was Ted Wolf. In 1981, he began to dream up a new superhero team with the help of his daughter, Janice Wolf. After the two threw out various ideas, Ted Wolf began to sketch the new characters and flesh them out. Four years later, the ThunderCats cartoon, produced by Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment along with Leisure Concepts, made its glorious debut on network television.
The cartoon introduced audiences to the refugees from ThunderCats. As they escaped the destruction of their home planet, their original leader, Jaga, passed away. Thus, when they landed on Third Earth, they gained a new leader, Lion-O. As they settled into their new home, they found both new and old threats. While the Mutants had followed their plight through space, Mumm-Ra had made his home on Third Earth for centuries. So, it fell on the ThunderCats to protect themselves and the other peaceful inhabitants of this planet.
When it was time to find a partner to produce ThunderCats merchandise, LJN became the home for the toys. Founded in 1970, LJN focused on creating licensed products. In the early 1980s, LJN made its presence strongly known as it produced a successful line for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. They also became known for their Wrestling Superstars toys in 1984. Thus, they were raring for a new toy line to prove themselves with.
Alongside the cartoon, LJN released the ThunderCats toy line to the market in 1985. The first series of toys included action figures of Lion-O, Mumm-Ra, Panthro, S-S-Slithe, Tygra, Monkian, Cheetara, and Jackalman. They also released vehicles like the Skycutter, Thundertank, and more. These action figures stood apart from the pack thanks to their inclusion of “Battle-Matic” action.
The ThunderCats proved to be a huge success for both audiences and toy buyers. The toy line lasted for three series, finally concluding in 1987. With each new series, LJN introduced new elements like the Berserkers, the Ram-Pagers, the Transporters, and more. Buyers also had the chance to collect smaller figures, the Companions like Snarf.
The success of ThunderCats led to the toys being licensed out to various companies across the world. In Canada, Grand Toys (Jouets Grand) produced the toys. Meanwhile, several companies created toys for both Central and South America: Macplay in Mexico, Glasslite in Brazil, and Playful in Argentina. Rainbow Toys produced the ThunderCats for the UK region, managing to keep the line alive until 1992. Then, there were Otto Simon in Holland and Belgium and ChildBro in Hong Kong. These were only the tip of the iceberg of companies that were involved in the ThunderCats toy line.
Luckily, the story of the ThunderCats did not end in the 1980s. When the franchise had a chance to revive in 2011, Bandai signed on to create eight-inch action figures. Beyond the toys based on the new cartoon, Bandai also created the ThunderCats Classic series, which harkened back to the original show.
Recently a few companies have created new ThunderCats toys that target the collector’s market. For instance, Mezco produced several 14” figures in 2011. They even produced a plush version of Snarf in 2016. Around 2015, Mattel created a small line of action figures as well, featuring characters like Lion-O and Mumm-Ra. Since 2016, Super7 has taken over the production of ThunderCats toys. Their toys have been split into two different lines: Ultimates and ReAction Figures.
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How to use the Identification Tool to find your action figures and toy lines
Do you have an old-school G1 Transformers toy you are trying to identify? Don’t know the name? No problem! I’ll help you use this identification tool. For example, just type in “jet” in the figure name field and hit search. You’ll see all the Transformers G1 Toys that are jets. Maybe try “car” and select the color “blue” and a list of Transformers matching those results will appear. Maybe you don’t know what the finished vehicle will make, so try searching by “red” only. Did you forget to remove “car”? Now search just the color “red”. Perhaps you know the name, but can’t spell it try “Wheljck” instead of “Wheeljack” and all the Wheeljack characters are listed for you.
We have all the G1 Transformers list of characters in our database. You can search by Transformers name, as well as just line or subgroup. You can identify Transformers that are all red or all the figures that are orange. The Transformers toy list can even be sorted by package type. You can identify which came with a sticker sheet, or which came without instructions. Want to know all the 1984 Transformers toys and none of the others from 1985-1990? No problem, just select the release year from “1984” to “1984”. Perhaps you just want to know the list of G1 Transformers “Autobots”, or just the “Decepticons”, our ID tool can do that.
Mostly we made this so you could see if your action figures were missing some accessories or parts. So you can see that too.
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