Saturday morning, we’ll remind you of the time when it was still cool
to wake up early on weekends. So whenever the hell you wake up these
days, there will be a nostalgic treat waiting for you, reminding you of
those old jammies you used to wear and that old television set. They
make even less sense now, but that’s half the fun. We hope you enjoy.

The Cartoon:
Thundarr The Barbarian
Animation Studio: Ruby-Spears Productions
Original Run: October 4, 1980 – September 18, 1982
Episodes: 21
Seasons: 2

The Characters:

  • Thundarr
  • Princess Ariel
  • Ookla the Mok
  • Various wizards
  • Various mutated beasties
  • Helpless humans garbed in 2,000-year-old rags

The Setting:

The year: 1994.  From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling
between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man’s civilization is cast in ruin!  Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn…  A
strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super
science, and sorcery.  But one man bursts his bonds to fight for
justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits
his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces
of evil.  He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

The Gist:

There were few cartoons in the last few decades on Saturday mornings that had the ambition, the high adventure and outright cool factor of Thundarr the Barbarian.  Admittedly, it’s a thinly veiled amalgam of such properties as Conan The Barbarian, Flash Gordon, Kamandi and Star Wars among others.  Nevertheless, it’s still one of my all time favorite toons.  Thundarr was fairly heady stuff for its time, taking place in a post apocalyptic Earth, and incorporating some pretty adult themes, most notably slavery.  In one episode, “Fortress of Fear,” even sexual slavery for Ariel is implied.  Then there’s also the near extinction of mankind and continued endangerment of humans in a very dystopian future.

The opening credits show the Earth of 1994 being utterly decimated by proximity to a rogue planet (more like a comet actually) that splits the moon in two and wipes out the worldwide civilization with earthquakes, tidal waves and volcanoes.  Although you don’t see people running for their lives or being consumed by the elements run amok or anything of the like, it isn’t a very big leap that billions of people were wiped out in one fell swoop…on a kid’s show.  Subsequently, the world still has yet to fully recover from this global cataclysm, 2,000 years later.  The landscape features the ruins of many notable cities and landmarks, including Hollywood, Las Vegas, New York, London and others. 

Humans are scattered, tattered refugees, frequent prey of the various
mutated lifeforms, such as Man Apes, Carocs (Croc Men), werewolves, Hawk
people, and others.  Moreover, they’re at the whim of powerful wizards,
the show’s primary antagonists, who frequently use the humans as slave
labor and playthings.  Thundarr has appointed himself their protector,
and he uses the Sunsword, a magical, lightsaber-meets-torch weapon that
evens the odds for him against any evil sorcerer.  Ariel, the beautiful
and powerful young sorceress, and Ookla, essentially Thundarr’s Wookiee,
are his allies. 

Thundarr was eminently fun because he just
didn’t give a shit about any challenge or threat.  Giant crab, giant
snake, dragon, gigantic reanimated mechanical King Kong relic, army of
mutants, deadly wizard?  Fuck it.  Peel off the Sunsword and get in its
ass, whatever it is.  The fact that he didn’t have much book learning
(“moo-vie?”) only added to his appeal.  This guy was no thinking man’s
hero.  He fucked shit up and there was no arguing with him about it, as
Ariel frequently found out. 

Ariel herself was a worthy equal to
Thundarr.  She was probably a bit overly sexy as well (her weakness was bondage after all), but I wasn’t complaining.  I love the fact that she was an exotic beauty, possibly descended from Chinese, as she states in one episode.  That just wasn’t
seen a lot in cartoons of the time.  And whereas Thundarr only had one
speed, full-tilt-boogie-on-overdrive, Ariel was more cerebral and had a
sense of humor.  Her knowledge of old Earth civilization and customs
often put the show in context.  Her magic was varied and interesting,
usually forming shapes of solid light. 

Ookla was very much
Thundarr’s Chewbacca…as if he had spent his entire life bench pressing
Buicks or something.  He didn’t have a weapon as badass as the
Sunsword (he had an energy bow and arrow he used sometimes).  Whenever
he needed something more than his fists, he’d just rip up a tree or a
boulder or honkin’ piece of metal or a derelict vehicle or something to
club somebody with.  The hairball was crazy strong and a loyal and fun

The variety of the storytelling was also good.  One
episode, “Challenge of the Wizards,” featured a Death Race 2000-style
race between Thundarr and the minions of other wizards for the lives of
some humans.  “Stalker From the Stars” featured the trio going up
against a space vampire alien, “Fortress of Fear” was about Thundarr,
Ariel and Ookla escaping the citadel of an evil wizard, Lord Argoth, and
“Island of the Body Snatchers” was a body swapping adventure with Ariel
and an evil old witch in London.  There were also two good adventures,
“Secret of the Black Pearl” and “Last Train To Doomsday,” where they
combated Gemini, a Darkseid-type of wizard with two faces, one benign
and one evil. 

Jack Kirby even worked on this toon.  While
fellow artist Alex Toth designed most of the primary characters, Kirby
did work on a lot of the design for the reast of the show, including
most of the wizards.  Thundarr and his friends went up against
everything from wizards to mutants to robots.  The show was pure
adventure for every one of the 21 installments.  I only wish, back then
and to this day, that there were more episodes produced. 

The Short History:

Ruby-Spears Productions was an offshoot of Hanna-Barbera, headed up by former HB writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears.  Ruby and Spears had previously co-created Scooby Doo and worked for DePatie-Freleng.  They were very big in the ’70s and ’80s and on their own, created such shows as Fangface, Fangface and Fangpuss, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Dink, the Little Dinosaur, Goldie Gold and Action Jack, Mr. T, Rubik the Amazing Cube, Turbo Teen, the 1983 version of Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Centurions, the 1988 Superman series, and the American Mega Man.  (via Wikipedia)  I grew up on many of their shows in the ’80s.  Thundarr was created by Steve Gerber, who also co-created Howard the Duck.

The Merchandise:

There were a line of action figures released by Toynami in 2004.  There’s some pretty good info on them here.

The debut episode was released as part of Warner Bros’ Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s Compilation (Buy it via CHUD!) back on 5/4/04.  The entire series was finally released this past September 28th (Buy it via CHUD!).  It used to (and maybe still does) air regularly on Boomerang. 

You might have seen this commercial:

No commercial to speak of, but there is this:

Tune in next Saturday morning for another installment.

Previously on Saturday mornings:

Shirts Tails
Duck Tales