It’s a hard balance to strike in action-adventure animation between being wholesome enough to not alienate kids but exciting enough to keep adults engaged. Rare are the shows that do, and even rarer are the shows that don’t try to talk down to either audience. Amazon’s new acquisition of ITV’s Thunderbirds Are Go rides this line with the skill of an International Rescuer. It’s full of harrowing situations and imagination-sparking heroism but always with a distinct air of positivity and sense of team work. In an age where even the purest of super folks turn dark and murdery, it’s nice to have good people who just save everybody.
And what an opening credit sequence!
Thunderbirds Are Go is an update of the 1964-’66 British series Thunderbirds by Gerry Anderson, which was made using his famous Supermarionation process… which is basically just marionette puppets as stars and awesome scale models as sets and ships. The new series foregoes the marionette heroes in favor of more articulate, more expressive CGI characters. This gave me pause at first, being a big fan of the original, but it actually works amazingly well. This is enhanced by the ships and backgrounds still being comprised largely of models and miniatures, onto which the CG characters are placed. It gives the show a texture, a realness, and keeps the original’s general aesthetic.
The show’s plot follows the members of International Rescue, a private and very well-funded organization that endeavors to find people across the globe in need of help when regular government rescue agencies can’t do it. This usually has to do with big giant machines breaking down, or skyscrapers collapsing, or any number of things like that. The founder of IR is former astronaut Jeff Tracy who at the beginning of the series is missing, presumed dead. His sons—Scott, Virgil, Gordon, John, and Alan—form the main members of IR, each assigned to a separate vehicle, including rockets, air tankers, submarines, and space stations. They’re joined by new recruit Kayo, whose specialty is covert ops; Brains, the science officer; and Lady Penelope (voiced by Rosamund Pike), is the London agent who investigates criminal activities. Her personal chauffeur Parker is one of the best characters on the show.
Each episode dedicates a great deal of time to rescuing people from extreme situations, but unlike the original, it also focuses a lot on developing the characters. The young astronaut Alan Tracy, for example, feels very much the kid brother and doesn’t get to do as much as he thinks he ought. He’s often paired with Kayo, who has her own insecurities and foibles. These two are standouts of the first few episodes. The series also tries to make sure each of the characters is included in each of the missions, unlike a lot of the classic show when Gordon, the submarine pilot, often sat out for many episodes at a time. Because, like, not so much happens underwater.
Thunderbirds is a British institution, and one that made a splash overseas as well, so the idea of updating it using computer graphics probably struck a lot of fans in a weird way… but it’s really, really good. It keeps everything that made the original great and even attempts to recapture the visual style. But more than that, it succeeds in being a show that any age of person can watch and find exciting. It’s wears its heart on its sleeve, but it never feels naive about the way it depicts the world. It’s not a show where characters are going to die wantonly, or where good won’t always ultimately triumph over evil, but the danger of the villains—especially the main villain the Hood—feels genuine to the show at hand.
The first season of Thunderbirds Are Go will have a sneak preview Friday, April 15, exclusively on Amazon Prime in the United States. The rest of the season will drop the following Friday, April 22. It looks great and is great, definitely give it a watch.
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He loves the crap out of animation. Feel free to follow him on Twitter and talk to him all about it!