I hope no one thought I forgot my promise to revisit the Thundercats universe! Since the series was the subject of my final post in 2019, this blogger wanted to put some new material between that article and this one. Hopefully, you will find it was worth the wait, readers.
As JorgePR correctly guessed last year, the focus of today’s post is none other than Snarf. His full name is Snarf Osbert, but because he despises that name he usually goes by his species’ moniker. If the naming convention seems odd, that is because it is. Snarfs are known as such because of the sound/word they always say (which is, of course, “snarf”). Their species name precedes their given name.
The system is reminiscent to how the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans address one another. In the Orient, a person’s last name always comes before the one they were given at birth. Only family members or close friends may use someone’s first name in a familiar manner. Strangers, or those who know each other only casually, must always speak to one another using their last names. To do otherwise is considered quite rude.
Going back to the series, Snarfs are a lizard/cat species somehow related to the humanoid Thunderians. We are never told how, and we do not really need to know. After all, if your protagonists are humanoid cats, then why wouldn’t most of the friendly animals and/or sapient species from their homeworld be cat-themed as well?
Snarfs typically act in the capacity of servants to Thunderians. The only known species to be inherently incapable of committing evil (they only perform wicked acts when under mind control), Snarfs are quite happy to serve. Even if they work for a bad master, once he is removed they will search for a new Thunderian whom they can happily wait on, cook for, or for whom they may babysit. Though they eventually become an independent race, this comes about as a matter of circumstance and is not due to a revolt against their Thunderian rulers.
From this overview you might have an idea of how our Snarf fits into the series. Hired on as Lion-O’s nanny, the young prince’s growth spurt in the stasis pod does nothing to dampen Snarf’s affection for him. Acting as a sort of surrogate mother figure, he is hardly ever away from the new Lord’s side for most of the series’ run. Generally, if you see Lion-O, Snarf is somewhere nearby.
The first to awaken from his stasis pod, Snarf immediately goes in search of Lion-O. On finding him, he opens his stasis pod, and the two reunite – though the young man’s pride makes him a bit brusque with his former nurse. It is through his efforts that Lion-O is able to wake the other Thundercats and save them from an attack by the Mutants. Of course, this little fact seems to go unnoticed by the rest of the gang, leading Snarf to mutter some complaints about how he “did nothing at all. Just found the sword. *snarf, snarf*”
As you may have guessed, this is a running theme in the narrative. Plus, due to his small size and lack of fighting ability, Snarf tends to retreat from violent situations. In fact, some would say that the yellow streak down his back is appropriate because it hints at his cowardly nature. Overlooked by the enemy and taken for granted by the Thundercats from time to time, Snarf didn’t seem to serve much of a function beyond comic relief.
These may be some of the reasons why fans came to hate him so much. (His repetitive “*snarf, snarf*!” didn’t help, either, I think.) In a series full of warrior cat people, Snarf seemed to be storytelling dead weight. He whined and complained, ran from most fights, and had a rather prissy way of talking to the heroes, as though he was older and more mature than the rest of them…..
….Which he may actually have been. If you study Snarf’s face, general design, and listen to him speak, Snarf does appear to be the oldest member of the cast. Only Jaga may have surpassed him in age. Add to this his skill at housekeeping and knowledge of people – specifically Lion-O, his charge – and this reading gives meaning to a lot of Snarf’s behavior. He is not a warrior or even a housekeeper. He is everyone’s mom, uncle, and aunt all rolled into one.
An equivalent character would be Po’s dad, Mr. Ping, the goose from the Kung Fu Panda series. Mr. Ping is not a warrior. He whines and complains about everything, guilt-tripping Po into doing whatever he wants him to do (e.g. spend the Winter Festival with him at the restaurant). Since the entire franchise is comedic, Mr. Ping’s attitude isn’t as annoying to most as it would be if the story were played straight. The reverse applies to Snarf, as his behavior is not meant for comedic effect (most of the time).
One has to look no further than his relationship with Lion-O to see the proof of this. Although he could misread him from time to time, the one member of the group who knew the young Lord best was Snarf. He could usually tell when something was bothering the Prince, why the latter was upset, or when he was worried about something/someone. This was an invaluable skill that came in handy on several occasions. Not being as close to the other Cats, Snarf had to rely on Lion-O to explain why they did certain things or why he was worried about them.
Though he tried his best to help take care of the Thunderkittens as he had Lion-O, the brother-sister act’s notorious nose for mischief usually thwarted him in this area. He never became as close to the twins as he could have, probably because he hadn’t known them long enough. It appears that Snarf knew the future Lord of the Thundercats from the time he could toddle, if not from the time he was born. He only met the twins after or around the time Thundera died, making it harder for him to develop a similarly respectful rapport with them.
While he was not a fighter, Snarf did prove to have mettle. In one episode, he had to face Mumm-Ra alone after the ancient monster had captured the other six Thundercats. Snarf, despite his terror, used his small size and wits to sneak into the Living Mummy’s temple. Once there, he freed his friends to do the fighting he couldn’t.
He also utilized an ability which he apparently developed while living on Third Earth. By whistling various notes, Snarf could communicate with almost any animal on the planet, ranging from unicorns and deer to giant bees and bats. Through these twittering notes he was able to ask these animals for help and secure their strengths to aid him or his friends. Although not a flashy power like Cheetara’s speed or Tygra’s invisibility, it was a skill that came in very handy on more than one occasion.
Additionally, he once used his skill at a game called “kick the bucket” to very good effect. How he and Lion-O developed the game is a mystery, but it proves Snarf’s courage. Though he was not and never would be a warrior, Snarf would stand up for his friends and his young charge when they needed him most. He had to be clever and quick, since his size and physical weakness made it easy for bigger opponents to overpower him. But this ability to distract or surprise the bad guys at the right moment often gave the Cats enough time to get back on their feet and finish the battle.
It also demonstrated that his tendency to be overlooked could be more of a blessing than a curse. Since Mumm-Ra and other antagonists wrote him off as insignificant, they barely paid attention to Snarf. This gave him opportunities to act that none of the other Cats would have gotten. In the end, I think Snarf was more valuable to the team than most fans would believe.
Of course, this brings us to the 2011 version of Snarf. As in the original series, Snarf began the story as Lion-O’s nursemaid. Unlike his ‘80s counterpart, however, this new Snarf did not talk. At least, he did not speak in a manner that the audience understood. Lion-O seemed to know what he was saying – or trying to say. Once again, we hardly ever saw the two of them apart. Wherever Lion-O went, Snarf was usually at his heels.
To the best of my hearing, Snarf only said one intelligible word in the entire 2011 reboot. In “The Duelist and the Drifter” he leaned on Lion-O’s leg, shook his head emphatically, and said, “No, no, no, no!” When his king agreed to the Duelist’s terms anyway, Snarf let his ears droop and murmured another, forlorn “No.” And he did so without moving his mouth.
Clearly, this blogger considered the 2011 Snarf to be a disappointment. I understand I am in the minority that actually likes the character, but reducing him to the cute animal sidekick just took something away from the franchise. That is my opinion, anyway.
This concludes the series of Spotlight! posts centering on the main cast of Thundercats. From now on, we will be discussing the secondary or side characters. Until then, readers, I leave you with a hearty “Thunder…Thunder….
The Mithril Guardian