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Netflix rebuilds ‘Voltron’ as a better robot giant

The central giant robot of "Voltron: Legendary Defender" is not too far off from the one in the original 1980s cartoons. | Netflix

The mechanized lions of Voltron are roaring back to life.

The popular 1980s cartoon fantasy franchise with one really cool giant robot is being introduced to a new generation with the Netflix’s animated series “Voltron: Legendary Defender.” Produced byDreamWorks Animation, the first 13 episodes will drop later this year.

The original 1984-85 series, adapted from Japanese anime, focused on five men and the princess of the planet Arus who piloted lions and, to take down monster villains, would form Voltron and use his signature blazing sword. While the new show will have some modern tweaks, including more serialized storytelling, much will be the same to older fans.

“We’re trying to keep as much of that classic feel to it as we can, because ultimately we have huge amounts of nostalgia for [the original] show,” says co-executive producerLauren Montgomery.

The show works for executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos because it marries “a true sense of epic adventure” with “the campy nature of five lions that become a giant robot.”

“Legendary Defender” centers on five Earth teenagers — Keith, Lance, Hunk, Pidge and Shiro — who are thrown into the middle of an intergalactic battle and become the last line of defense for Arus and other planets against an evil alien force led by King Zarkon.

Whereas most of the original characters were nondescript space explorers, the main players in the new series will have backstories, and “a real purpose for being on this mission and getting involved with Voltron in the first place,” says Dos Santos.

“ ‘Voltron’ is nowhere near the scale of a ‘Star Wars’ in terms of mythology, but it has managed to stick around in pop culture and became this representation of teamwork.”

Princess Allura, a main hero, will be more realistic, Montgomery promises:  “She doesn’t have to be the [greatest] fighter right off the bat. She’s still a princess from a peaceful kingdom. But she’s certainly not fainting at every little thing that overwhelms her.”

DreamWorks gave the creative team carte blanche to make changes in the “Voltron” franchise, and Dos Santos admits that while they considered a version that was “really military and really serious, everything had chainsaws on it and was really bro’d out, and we just didn’t want that.”

Instead, they opted to play to a wide age group by giving “Voltron” an epic “Game of Thrones” feel with some humor, and upping the danger level. So when the good guys encounter a vicious Robeast, “you actually feel like, ‘Oh man, is Voltron going to get out of this one?’ ” Dos Santos says. “There are some of those encounters they just manage to survive.”

Adds Montgomery: “Not everything is solved by Voltron alone. Sometimes they need to beat something just as the lions. Sometimes they just do it as themselves fighting as men.”