Thundarr the Barbarian [1980-1982] 2 Seasons. 21 Episodes

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Thundar the Barbarian (TtB) was a welcome breath of fresh air – read action packed – in an era of tamed – read beaten down by the PC police – Saturday morning fare.  The lack of action forced on kids of that era by shows like The Smurfs repressed their verve. It may not have had its welcome release until the soon-to-follow animation boom of the 1980′s with shows like G.I.Joe and Transformers.

Ariel may also have been a source of verve.

Ariel may also have been a source of verve for some.

Even looked at through today’s eyes, we are amazed at the grim world depicted in TtB and the dire straights in which humanity found itself.  Here is the Fortress one sentence synopsis:  A runaway planet’s near miss devastates Earth’s civilization and over the course of the next two thousand years gives rise to wizards and warlords who enslave the now primitive populace hoping for freedom to come in the form of the wizard fighting barbarian Thundarr and his two companions.

Count the Star Wars "homages" in this picture:  A smart mouthed princess?  Check.  A "wookie"?  Check.  A "lightsaber"?  Check.

Count the Star Wars "homages" in this picture: A smart mouthed princess? Check. A "wookie"? Check. A "lightsaber"? Check.

Each week Thundarr would find himself in different devastated, ruins-filled cities in which the watching kids may actually have lived (Atlanta, San Francisco, etc.). There he would battle mutants and wizards preying on the still surprisingly defenseless and hapless locals.

The devastation was especially hard on Carnival Cruise Lines.

The devastation was especially hard on Carnival Cruise Lines.

The legendary comic artist Jack Kirby contributed greatly to the character designs.  It is most evident in the wizards, especially our favorite Gemini – the only recurring wizard and arguably Thundarr’s arch enemy.  Gemini was a lot of fun.  He had two polar opposite faces on his head which would unmask and rotate to the front depending on Gemini’s mood.

gemini_6

Thundarr’s female companion was Princess Ariel (not the mermaid).  She was an educated sorceress and often provided context to Thundarr (and the viewers) about locations and what a “train” or “movie” was (since these things were now mostly destroyed).  She was also sarcastic and provided the high-brow one liners.

Ariel was sweet on Thundarr but he was too busy stomping wizards and crushing mutants to notice.  Even 2000 years in the future some things never change.

Ariel was sweet on Thundarr but he was too busy stomping wizards and crushing mutants to notice. Even 2000 years in the future some things never change.

thundarr032The other companion was Ookla the “mok”.  He was an acknowledged wookie wanna-be playing off the popularity of Star Wars.  He provided the slapstick humor.  Alas he was not the only element inspired by Star Wars.  Thundarr wielded a “sunsword”.  It was a one-handed hilt he wore strapped to his forearm until needed, then it would extend a flaming energy blade.  Where have I seen that before?

Still there was not a kid who watched that show that did not love the sunsword along with its distinctive swinging sound.  Even though the kids waited every week for Thundarr to slice up a bad guy he usually ended up halving robot henchmen, vehicles, and the environment.  It WAS Saturday morning.

I was always convenient (and fun) when Thundarr found out the henchmen were "machines".

It was always convenient (and fun) when Thundarr found out the henchmen were "machines".

The voice work was well done.  It was not of the coming 1980′s voice talent stable, and provided a unique sound never duplicated.  Some of the unusual contributors were Key Luke, Joan Van Ark and Stacy Keach Sr.  If you ever hear Henry Corden’s voicing of Gemini -both his condescending evil side and his angry evil side – you will remember it.

He sounded grat AND knew how to make an entrance; gliding in on a lightnig spewing thundercloud with energy blazing fromhis eyes.  The forecast for tonight is stormy.

Gemini sounded great AND knew how to make an entrance; gliding in on a lightning spewing thundercloud with energy blazing from his eyes. The forecast for tonight is stormy.

In one surprisingly gruesome episode, “Stalker from the Stars” Thundarr battles an Alien [1979] inspired creature who cocoons his prey and stores them for later feeding!  How did that one fly under the era’s radar? In another episode Ariel gets the life sucked out of her and she is pruned to the point of death before restoration.  That was shocking.

In one early scene the alien wraps up an old man and Thundarr is powerless to dave him.  His yells are still wrenching to this day, "Your sword.  Freeee meeee!"

In one early scene the alien wraps up and takes a village elder while Thundarr is powerless to stop him. The old man's yells are still haunting to this day, "Your sword... freeee meeee!"

Thundarr had a memorable albeit somewhat limited soundtrack.  It is a world of “savagery, super-science and sorcery” that is still quite watchable.  The episodes misery to comeuppance ratio is pretty good.  You will leave each episode believing that Thundarr is changing the Earth for the better, one city at a time.

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13 thoughts on “Thundarr the Barbarian [1980-1982] 2 Seasons. 21 Episodes

  1. Loved Thundarr as a kid, and love catching it late nights when I’m channel surfing at 1 a.m. You’re right — this was a perfect counter-point to the Smurfs/Muppet Babies-era cartoons, as opposed to G.I. Joe and the Transformers, which I seem to remember as weekday cartoons, anyway (rather than Saturday mornings). Whatever happened to Saturday morning cartoons with a big bowl of sugar cereal? Other than the SpongeBob, Saturday morning is a bit of a wasteland, at least among my channel selection. Or is every other network (cable or otherwise) afraid to challenge the SpongeBob ratings juggernaut?

    • There are so many more ways if distributing cartoons these days than there was in 1980. No cartoon networks, not much in the way of VCR penetration, no internet.

      Saturday mornings are no longer the fortress of fun for kids that they had to be back then. But on the bright side it is because today’s kids have more options.

  2. I have to agree with the tragic loss of The Saturday Morning. I want to get up early (when I’m not working) and watch a few witty, action packed shows…I just can’t find any. Instead I hop on my computer. Thankfully there is the internet, my haven for finding old cartoons.

    Now back to the review: I never got a chance to find reruns of Thundadrr when I was younger, but if I had I probably would have watched it through. G.I. Joe and Transformers were the main 80s action series I watched…and Inhumanoids I remember, but didn’t like. There’s a lot I missed unfortunately =(. After reading your review I’ll say I laughed a good seven times at least, the photo captions were great ^^. I love it when you can point out the “flaws” in a show, laugh a little, and still appreciate how cool it was anyway. Perhaps when my life is stable I can one day watch this show all the way through.

    • 7 laughs? Excellent. My laughs-to-words ratio is getting better. ;)

      I could not get into Inhumanoids either. Or “Centurions”. (Huh? No one even mentioned them.)

      You will enjoy this show I bet when you get to it. Thanks for the great feedback.

  3. This is great. Somehow, even knowing the Kirby connection, I never noticed the similarities between Gemini and Darkseid.

    Thundarr could stand for a reboot, frankly (assuming it was well done, of course). There’s a tremendously rich post-apocalyptic milieu to be explored and exploited there — there’s gotta be, for example, a cool way to explain how the destruction of civilization resulted in the rise of wizardry.

    • With today’s CGI, Thundarr could be a lot of fun and affordable animated or even as a live action movie. I like you idea about the wizards. Even if they did not cause the initial destruction by the planetary near miss, their domination has contributed to mankind’s submissive ruin for 2000 years!

  4. Loved Thundarr. It surprised me to find out, years later, about Kirby’s involvement, but considering how much I loved his work, too, I suppose it was built into the DNA of the show.

    Also, “verve.” Nice.

  5. I hate to admit it but I didn’t know about the Kirby connection until you pointed it out to me but now that I know about it it’s blatantly obvious!

    I’d love to see a Thundarr movie, animated or live action! I mean heck with some of the other movies they’re making these days Thundarr would be Oscar worthy!

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