In October some of us will quietly celebrate a pretty cool anniversary. You may hear distant cries of Lords of Light!, Ride!, Demon Dogs! and the ever popular Aiiiii-ee! don’t be alarmed we’re merely paying homage to one of the many Saturday morning cartoons that swept us away in our childhood. Thundarr the Barbarian premiered on television October 4th 1980 and ran for two seasons. I was 10 at the time and this series was the perfect embodiment of all the sci-fi and fantasy I’d been reading up until then. First the intro…
The year is 1994,
From out of space comes a run away planet,
Hurtling between the Earth and the Moon,
Unleashing cosmic destruction,
Man’s civilization is cast in ruins,
2000 years later Earth is reborn,
A strange new world rises from the old,
A world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery,
But one man burst his bonds to fight for justice,
With his companions Ookla the Mock and Princess Ariel,
He pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous sun-sword against the forces of evil,
He is THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN!
For those of you who, due to the unfortunate circumstances of either being born too late or having parents who mistakenly kept you from such shows, haven’t experienced Thundarr allow me to give you the plot in brief. After the fall of Earth the world has become a place of left over science and magic, a world where warlords rule and oppress and people live in the 2000 year old ruins of a society that is all but unrecognizable. Our heroes are a trio who have escaped the clutches of a powerful wizard (who also happens to be one of our bands father) and are on the run, meeting mutants, humans, and whatnot, and solving problems head on along the way.
This kind of post-apocalyptic world was a relatively new thing, sure we had already had Planet of The Apes for years and Mad Max and Alien had premiered just a year before but none of those coupled the horrific future we might experience with science and magic. This can be best described as “Sword and Sorcery Science Fiction”, a very narrow genre indeed, one that is rarely attempted and even more rarely results in anything really watchable (a notable failure that comes to mind? Zardoz kind of fits the bill.)
Thundarr was created by comic writer Steve Gerber, creator of Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck, with art by some of the greatest comic book artists of the time (none other than Jack “the King” Kirby and Alex Toth were responsible for the character designs) and produced by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears. Ruby and Spears had been sound engineers for Hanna-Barbera, these two would not only be known for writing episodes of Space Ghost and the Herculoids they were also the team that developed a little known show called Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and under the Ruby-Spears umbrella they would give us not only Thundarr but The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Superman, and many others. Their attention to detail and ability to stretch the budget resulted in some of the higher quality cartoons of the 80’s.
The cast is perfectly representative of the necessary archetypes. Thundarr though a “barbarian” is a simple, fair, and just man, Ookla his beastly companion is strong, loyal, and sometimes a little fearful (very Chewbacca-esq), and Ariel is a powerful sorceress and the more intelligent member of the group (though true to the formula gets captured fairly often). The stories aren’t too simple and the pace is exciting. Thundarr’s world is full of amazing mutant creatures; man-sized rodents, crocodile men, shark-creatures, more wizards than you can shake a wand at, and locations ranging from the ruins of Manhat (not a typo) to Cape Canaveral and Hollywood.
Though canceled in only two season (due to claims of too much violence) Thundarr should definitely be remembered as one of the greats. This was what Saturday morning cartoons were supposed to be, and Thundarr will for ever be one of my favorites.
Were you a fan?
Check out this cool documentary about Ruby-Spears and the creation of Thundarr from producer/director Richard Gray entitled “Lords of Light”
And if that isn’t enough Thundarr you can pick up the entire series from the Warner Archive for around $30: Thundarr The Barbarian: The Complete Series (1980-82)
Also be sure to check out the imdb page so you can learn all about the voice actors who brought the series to life. Did you know one of the cast was voiced by Fred Flintstone great Henry Cordon? Another was non other than veteran voice and film actor Robert Ridgley whose role as Boris the hangman in Blazing Saddles was actually reprised later in Robin Hood: Men in Tights.