Thundarr the Barbarian was an animated show by Hanna-Barbera that aired on television from 1980 to 1981. I watched it as a youngster but only vaguely remembered it. When I heard the OSR community was using it as a roleplaying setting at several conventions I picked up the DVD collection to jog my memory.
The opening credits were etched deep in my memory and were immediately familiar. I rediscovered a great action / adventure show that didn’t deserve to be forgotten. Thundarr, a barbarian warrior armed with a unique energy sword, rides with a mutant brute and a sorceress through what remains of the United States hundreds of years after a global disaster. Civilization is in ruins, remnants of advanced technology are found scattered about and magical arts have somehow returned. Thundarr and his friends travel about looking for people in need of help. They fight off mutants, monsters and sorcerers as they struggle to protect the isolated and dwindling villages that are all that remain of society.
Thundarr is clearly modeled after Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Thundarr’s title gives it away but he also mimics Conan’s colorful epithets when surprised and shares the famous hero’s dislike of sorcerers. Unlike Conan, Thundarr sticks to one favored weapon, his “fabulous Sun Sword”, and remains in his tribe’s furs. Conan changed his clothes to match the regions he visited and liked a good set of armor when he could get it. The principal characters of Thundarr the Barbarian always wear the same clothes but this is common in cartoons. It makes the characters easier to recognize for younger viewers.
Each episode is its own adventure and those adventures are good ones. The writers never forget their focus on action and don’t waste time with distractions. Although there’s comic relief peppered though each episode the story quickly gets under way and moves through a tightly-written story that doesn’t let up until the very end. The episodes seem longer than 25 minutes because so much is happening.
I appreciated the early 80’s approach to action shows. They emphasize the story and pack in plenty of action. Character development is kept to a minimum so we don’t get long scenes revealing anyone’s feelings. Comic relief is woven deftly into other scenes so we avoid long, drawn out bits that only offer dopey humor. There is no irony or sarcasm. The events and setting are played straight so the audience can take things seriously and immerse themselves in the action.
Thundarr the Barbarian is not without its faults. Hanna-Barbera was so worried about possible complaints from parents that they were afraid to depict violence. In a post apocalypse setting where a barbarian often fights for survival it’s appropriate to have some halfway realistic violence. Guns are replaced by awkward-looking laser wands, combatants kick each other instead of using the weapons in their hands and no one dies in a fight. The post apocalypse setting is quite interesting but suffers from a lack of world building. There is no explanation of how magic returned to the world or how some can use it and some can’t. We see numerous hints about a society of sorcerers but get no information about how it formed, how it operates or how it recruits. Even the genesis of Thundarr’s team is never mentioned. There is an over emphasis these days on prequels and origin stories but it would be nice to hear even a passing line about how Thundarr met his companions Ookla and Ariel.
Because of the shortcomings mentioned above, I feel Thundarr the Barbarian is ripe for a remake. Even if that remake never comes the show is more than worthy of a few hours of your time. I got my DVD collection on Amazon.com.