TV Shows »Thundarr the Barbarian

thundarr the barbarianSince our good friend Mike introduced us to early 80's oddity Thundarr the Barbarian, Jim and I have been bingeing on the show like a couple of college freshman. With its wildly inconsistently scaled animation and far out and often non sensical concepts, it's easy to assume that Thundarr were a cheapy Japanese show, but it in fact it comes from Ruby-Spears, the American production team behind some Space Ghost writing and Scooby Doo Where Are You?, as well as the Q*Bert cartoon that I vaguely remember.

When I try to imagine the creative duo I see a pair of men reclining in the Hollywood hills, drinking scotch in the afternoon (pretty much exactly like Dudley Moore would have, if he had had a song-writing partner in 10 — which is exactly how I envision every creative duo from the 70's and 80's) but, according to their official site, they more closely resemble twelve-year-olds with balls for chins and giant brains.

But to continue to indulge my own imagination, I see Ruby and Spears hanging out on shag carpets in front of a yarn-art strewn wood paneled wall punctuated by a huge picture window that affords a splendid view of the naked women sunbathing next door as they hash out crazy ideas like: an evil wizard finds a experimental miniaturized city that was shrunken in 1994 by Harvard scientists, a city called the City of Thieves, which the evil wizard will only agree to enlarge if the residents will help him enslave all mankind which, of course, being a city of thieves, they agree to (City of Evil).

Or how about Mindok, a floating green brain that unfreezes a group of ancient scientists in order to create a robot body to house his brain. “If you refuse”, he screeches, “I won't protect you, not even from me!” (Mindok the Mind Menace)

Or how about a post apocalyptic Atlanta run by corrupt lawmen, actual pig-men, who are secretly servicing a tiny blue wizard with a Prince Valiant haircut and a very odd pelvic strut. (Trial by Terror)

Or a bunch of cultists who kidnap the residents of an ancient landlocked cruise ship (the community's elder sports and admiral's hat) in order to make sacrifices to longevity-bestowing vapors (Raiders of the Abyss).

Even the show's premise seems wildly absurd, despite the fact that's it's just a mash up the most popular concepts the producers swiped from Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. This is a transcription of the introductory narration:

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 Sun Sword against the forces of evil.
He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

The idea of super science alone is flabbergasting, but Thundarr's companions are equally stunning. Ookla is a Mok – and as we find out in one episode, the tribe of the Moks (who are a blatant rip off-off Wookies) are hairy beast-men who horde gold for no purpose (except to bait pirates into attempts at stealing it) and live in Carribean-like shacks cobbled together with millennia old relics like Jaws and Oreo cookies advertisements.

Princess Ariel is a sometimes vulnerable woman whose feelings gets hurt when Thundarr refuses to admit she's pretty (he's kind of a jerk, but we'll tackle that next) but she is far, far more powerful than the titular character — when she can be bothered. She's a really skilled wizard who can create and control tornadoes, turn objects to dust and reflect magic spells, but most of the time she waits around for Thundarr to hack at things with his fabulous Sun Sword for a while before she even lifts a finger.

She's also way more educated than he is, and she's constantly explaining what a train, car, or animal is (functioning cars and trains have miraculously lasted two thousand years) and sometimes, much to her frustration, she has to explain even more complex concepts. “Baa-ter-eee, what is “bat-er-eee?””, “Spaaace?? What is spaace?” are typical of the questions Thundarr will frequently pose.

Aside from being a moron, Thundarr also follows in the great 1980s children's entertainment tradition of kind of jerky heroes. In Thundercats, this snippy attitude is explained away by the fact that Lion-O is a child in a man's body. Here, Thundarr is short with people just because. I mean hey, he is a barbarian.

You can enjoy this forgotten bit of fun on Boomerang, which has no commercials and some great interstitials showcasing vintage toys. Soon, you too will be using Thundarr's go-to expletive, Demon Dogs!

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Posted on March 16, 2009

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