Created by Steve Gerber
Produced by Ruby-Spears Productions
ABC: October 4, 1980 to October 31, 1981
Reruns: NBC in 1983
This was an amazing entry into early 80s Saturday morning cartoons. The show tells the story of Thundarr the Barbarian (voiced by Robert Ridgely) and his friends Ookla the Mok (voiced by Henry Corden) and Princess Ariel (voiced by Nellie Bellflower) as they travel the Earth 2000 years into the future.
Thundarr is a barbarian who was once a slave to an individual name Sabian until he was freed by the evil wizard’s stepdaughter Ariel and given the Sunsword with which to fight.
Ookla is a member of the Mok species who are a group of catlike humanoids with fangs and yellow eyes. He was imprisoned with Thundarr and freed at the same time by Ariel.
Princess Ariel is a powerful sorceress who freed our heroes from her evil stepfather. How she came to this decision is never quite revealed but whatever the reason was Thundarr shows no distrust of her. She’s more knowledgeable of the world and its past so she tends to act as a guide.
Prior to the events of the series a runaway planet had passed between the earth and the moon and apparently this not only lead to geological upheavals but replacement of science with sorcery. And in 2000 years a whole bunch of weird and fanciful creatures popped up as well. There are reptilian creatures and the weird horse variation that Ookla rides and in one of my favorite episodes “Valley of the Man Apes” there are even a group of ape creatures that worship a giant ape god which is actually a robotic gorilla. Think King Kong.
Each episode was a new and unconnected adventure. They went to places that were all over the map. They were in London and Los Angeles and even the village of Beverly Hills.
Our three heroes are the only regular cast members. There’s an evil wizard named Gemini that makes two appearances and a young girl named Tye who drives a train who also makes two appearances as well but other than that nobody appears for more than an episode. This was normal for the time. Saturday morning cartoons were still very much exclusively aimed at children. An adult watching them was just not thought about and so call backs to previous episodes were rare.
The show had three main influences: Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, and Planet of the Apes. Ookla was Chewbacca to Thundarr’s Han Solo. Calling Thundarr “Han Solo” might be a little bit of a stretch but for a Saturday morning children’s cartoon he was probably as close as you could get to the character. At any rate, Ookla was definitely Chewie as his inclusion was mandated by a network executive that wanted a Chewbacca-like character in the show.
Conan the Barbarian had yet to hit cinemas and make Schwarzenegger a star but at the time he was a well-known literary character. Conan and Thundarr were both noble barbarian adventures. Thundarr was less about bringing order to the world and more about defeating the bad guy. He didn’t roam the desolate earth looking for rights to wrong. He was just roaming and stumbled upon them. Similar to how I understand the Conan character to be. I admit to reading only a few stories decades ago.
Planet of the Apes comes into the fold by both being set in the distant future on a devastated earth and how the past has been then re-interpreted by the people of that time. It’s a familiar though distorted place. You know what you’re looking at but it’s not quite what it should be.
There was a period in popular culture when material that was clearly aimed at an adult audience got borrowed from. The film Alien was no exception. “Stalker From The Stars” was an episode where Thundarr and the gang were fighting a creature from outer space that clearly looked like the xenomorph from Alien and it captured people to feed on them by cocooning them. If you have ever seen the movie you know knew what they were referencing. Even if you did not see the movie and only knew about it from your cool friends who got to see it you knew what they were referencing. I have never forgotten that episode and it has been over 30 years since I’ve seen it.
At times it’s implied there is a romantic interest between Thundarr and Ariel but that is very rare and very brief. This was early 80s animated television and romance mostly verboten More often than not Thundarr seeks to protect her as his custom but also views her as an equal. The character is confronted with someone that’s just as good as he is. His upbringing clashes with that reality. A very timid way of addressing sexism but very enlightened for the time.
If you’re familiar with who were big names in the comic book industry at the time (and now they’re pretty much legendary) you will see that they were behind the character designs of the series. You can see Jack Kirby’s influence in the designs especially.
The series was two seasons with a grand total of 21 episodes. That is a little unusual from what I understand. As I recall most Saturday morning cartoons were 13 or so episodes per season. Violence was a much bigger concern in cartoons at the time than it is these days and some speculated that the reason for the shortened season as well as the cancellation of the show was because of the shows violence. Honestly though even when I was little the violence seemed rather tame.
This is a great television series from a simpler time in television. It is a great piece of action/adventure animation which if you haven’t seen it you should. You may pick up touches of camp and a little bit of silliness, but you’ll definitely enjoy yourself here.