(Re)Animations: Thundarr the Barbarian
Who says you can’t go home again? Put on your PJs and break open a box of crackerjacks– it’s Thundarr!
The saying goes “you can never go home again.” If you’re a kid that grew up on cartoons, you know this can be especially true when you try to revisit the things you loved as a kid when you’re older. Going back and watching childhood cartoons can sometimes make you question your sanity as a child and shatter precious childhood memories.
For me, this is not the case with Thundarr the Barbarian… how can you go wrong with this intro? It tells you everything you need to know right up front. Which is good, because like most 80s cartoons there is no origin episode. How could you not want to watch it after seeing a barbarian with a laser sword, a sexy, spell casting Princess and a Wookiee-like lion-man battling evil wizards and mutants on a post apocalyptic Earth?!
This show has got one of the most impressive pedigrees ever seen on Saturday morning. It was executive produced by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, known for their work at Hanna-Barbera and co-creating Scooby-Doo, the trio of main characters was designed by Alex Toth, who also designed Space Ghost AND once the series was sold Jack Kirby stepped in to handle design of most everything else. Speaking of Marvel Comics legends, the head writer/story editor was Steve Gerber, who created Howard the Duck! No, not that crazy movie… the comic. Although Lea Thompson was pretty hot in that movie. Also on the writing staff was Mark Evainer, who wrote for Scooby-Doo and Dungeons & Dragons.
The theme all but demands your attention with its thumping. I’m not usually one to notice the music in cartoons but I really enjoy the show’s score. Like the setting, it combines fantasy fanfare and sci-fi B movie with great results. Ruby & Spears said they wanted to develop a cartoon for the audience that grew up with cartoons, something for a young teen audience, and I really think this is why it holds up so well for me some 30 years later. It’s not dumbed down or overly cutesy. I’m looking at you, Trobbits from Blackstar.
When you look at it, the world of Thundarr (Earth 3994 AD) is a not a fun place. This is a fantasy world without many heroes. Most people live in tribal villages or in ruins. Power hungry evil wizards are oppressing, when not enslaving or trying to kill, the population while hunting for ancient technology. The land is populated with all kinds of dangerous mutants, beast men, and amalgamated creatures. But it’s the genre mash-up that makes Thundarr so much fun. It’s just not something you see done well very often.
Ultimately, Thundarr’s heroism would only last on ABC for 21 episodes over two seasons. Ruby & Spears have been quoted as saying the ratings were very good and the show was probably only cancelled because it was too violent for Saturday morning. NBC picked up Thundarr for an additional season without commissioning new episodes, figuring if it was liked well enough the first time, that reruns would do just as well.
During its run, Thundarr didn’t have much merchandising: a lunchbox/thermos combo, a coloring book and a board game, which is now hard to find and I must have it! The characters wouldn’t get the plastic treatment until 2003 when Toynami released their 2” I-men sets and 7” action figures. Both types of figures currently go for a considerable amount more than their retail price now. In September 2010, WB released a bare bones Thundarr the Barbarian DVD set with all 21 episodes through their DVD on demand service. While there’s no bonus features and no clean up done, this fan is happy to finally have the show on DVD.