It’s been just shy of a year since we had news regarding the oft-delayed ThunderCats feature film. Warner Bros was, rightfully, quick to abandon the idea of utilizing flesh and blood (and fur) actors to portray the iconic humanoid-feline heroes – setting animators to work on a TMNT-esque ThunderCats CGI film.

Now, nearly three years later, test footage from the now defunct CGI project has made its way online – raising the question will we ever see a modern ThunderCats film on the big screen?

Last February we reported on the possibility that the ThunderCats film was still alive but after almost a year of silence regarding the project, not to mention the positive buzz for Cartoon Network’s upcoming animated TV series reboot, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the CGI project was killed-off when Warner Bros. lost interest.

It makes sense that the ThunderCats CGI footage leak would be the final nail in the project’s proverbial coffin – with a source releasing the work to Flixist for online posting (since the fruits of the animation team’s labor would otherwise rot in a WB storeroom). That said, if the project is still alive, most ThunderCats faithful will probably wish it was dead after seeing the test video.

Check out the footage below:

Jerry O’Flaherty, the art director for Gears of War, was brought on to direct the CGI project and early concept artwork seemed encouraging – showcasing a dark and edgy take on the iconic 80s cartoon.

Though, judging by the footage, it seems the designers had a difficult time balancing the campy cartoon with the necessary elements of a modern CGI picture. In general, the designs are bland (even for test footage) and there’s an odd balance between some aggressive edgy action and an over-abundance of cheesy (and un-funny dialogue). The only truly recognizable feature of the video is the iconic ThunderCall with the Sword of Omens but, as a proof of concept, the footage falls short of generating the kind of excitement that would have been necessary to get a project like this off the ground.

Lion-O from Jerry O’Flaherty's ThunderCats

At this point, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a ThunderCats movie with O’Flaherty’s pre-production design intact.

The ThunderCats franchise in an unfortunate grey area when it comes to making a feature film. It’d definitely be hard to take any live-action project seriously – unless the Cats were recreated in Avatar-like CGI detail (which would be extremely expensive for an untested IP from the 1980s). Similarly, CGI animation has made incredible gains through Pixar and DreamWorks Animation but the success of both studios has been the result of creating their own original IPs – not recreating an existing set of characters in a modern CGI reboot.

Mirage Studios’ 2007 TMNT film, which intended to solve the problem of bringing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back to the modern megaplex, without requiring expensive and potentially goofy-looking practical effects, did more damage to the Turtles franchise than good (despite being a commercial success).

However, expect Hollywood to be keeping a close eye on the animated ThunderCats reboot at Cartoon Network. Should the series catch fire with young audiences, more than a few studios will likely take another look at the Paul Sopocy script treatment – with the intention of starting development from scratch. The combined interests of passionate young consumers coupled with nostalgia-fueled twenty somethings is an irresistible set of demographics in Hollywood.

Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you think of the footage.

The new ThunderCats animated series will debut in 2011 on Cartoon Network.

Source: Flixist (via ComingSoon)