My daughter and I watch a lot of movies and shows that I loved when I was a kid. She’s become a fan of Scooby-Doo cartoons, Flash Gordon, Star Wars… Some things hold up as well for a 42-year-old as they do for a 2-year-old. Of course, some don’t… But back in the muy early ‘80s, my main Saturday morning jam was Thundarr the Barbarian.
In what many have considered to be the greatest opening sequence in all of cartoon-dom (and I don’t feel like I’m making that up), a “runaway planet” passes too close to the Earth causing the moon to fragment and initiate Revelation-style chaos in the futuristic year of 1994 (at least it seemed really futuristic in 1983). The ensuing “cosmic” destruction wiped out civilization– but 2,000 years later a new Earth was “reborn”… And that’s when things started to rock n’ roll!
Thundarr the Barbarian followed the titular hero and his companions, Princess Ariel and Ookla The Mok, as they traversed the ruined land, battling wizards and robots and saving humans from mutants. The backdrop of a post-apocalyptic America populated by monsters and sparse bands of survivors was as ‘80s as it got. Thundarr wielded the “fabulous Sunsword”, a magic weapon that shamelessly embraced the post-lightsaber landscape, and which clanked metallically and satisfyingly to his arm bracer when not in use. From sorcery to high technology, the whole show was a ridiculous mash-up of fantasy and science fiction tropes– and I loved it.
The great Jack Kirby contributed to the overall design and production but the characters received the treatment from fellow comic book-er and Hanna-Barbera animator Alex Toth. The art and animation of Thundarr still look great today, and while the plot shouldn’t be considered Shakespeare, the basic premise of good vs evil and themes of might for right still resonate. Back in the early ‘90s, I used to rent and dub a sub-quality VHS of Thundarr selections until it became nothing but static and lines. Cartoon Network would show those same episodes from time to time– but usually late at night when I was still at… Er… The bar. Working.
I signed an online petition a few years back to get Thundarr the Barbarian released on DVD, and eventually, it happened. I’d actually forgotten about it until someone gave me an Amazon gift card. While looking for something frivolous to buy, I discovered the complete collection and clicked it into my cart. The set includes 21 episodes on four discs for $21.34 (that’s the current price as of this writing, but I have seen it for as low as $15), and you can also purchase the two seasons or individual episodes through Prime Video.
Right now, Thundarr the Barbarian is my daughter’s favorite– and she always wants to be Thundarr! Mommy gets to be Princess Ariel and Papa gets to be Ookla– and I’m so good with that. Watching that kid run around yelling, “Ariel, Ookla, RIDE!” makes every day feel like Saturday morning.