Some say that streaming services have led to a golden age of television. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ are the stars. In fact, the number of platforms has become so ubiquitous that people joke how anyone with an idea can create content for air (Rick and Morty Season 4, Episode 3!). So why is it then, that one of the greatest Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s is never mentioned for a remake? Why is it that the great Thundarr the Barbarian has seemingly been forgotten about by every Hollywood creator?
Thundarr the Barbarian was one of the better-written shows in an era when cartoons were produced to sell toys. Its premise was much darker than other network shows as you followed the titular Thundarr, Princess Ariel, and Ookla the Mok in a post-apocalyptic Earth that is now filled with “savagery, super-science, and sorcery.” The world-building done in only two seasons is some of the most elaborate of that era of television and resonates even today. It was produced by the world-renown animation company Ruby-Spears who said that Thundarr the Barbarian was their favorite show to watch.
It is no surprise that Thundarr was as excellent as it was in retrospect since its creator was Steve Gerber and the production designer was the legend, Jack Kirby, both considered greats in the comics industry. Gerber’s career-defining works were with Marvel’s monster Man-Thing, and the great satirical Howard The Duck. Kirby is beyond famous in the industry, but one can catch glimpses of his New Gods from DC and Marvel’s Eternals in Thundarr. A further influence was undoubtedly Star Wars which was released only two years before Thundarr’s production began and was at the height of popularity. It is no coincidence that Thundarr uses a hilt that has a laser sword extend called the Sunsword, has a large bipedal, grunting sidekick in Ookla the Mok who is a knock-off of Chewbacca, and has an intelligent, strong-willed female princess as a lead. Thundarr himself, however, seemed to be influenced more by Conan The Barbarian’s mannerisms and various catchphrases found scattered throughout this article.
The basic plot of Thundarr has the Earth being destroyed by a runaway planet that went speeding between the Earth and Moon unleashing cataclysms on Earth and breaking the moon in half. Two-thousand years pass, and the Earth is now ruled by wizards and mutant races in various feudal kingdoms. The heroes travel and encounter ruins of the past 20th Century civilization aptly named “Old Earth” and it is not unlike watching a destroyed Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. Each week is a stand-alone story in which the three adventurers must overcome obstacles and ‘save the day.’ Examples include freeing slaves, preventing technology of the past from falling into the wrong hands, or just saving villagers from evil monsters.
Thundarr was taken off the air after only two seasons despite solid ratings. The ABC Network had a deal with the late, great Garry Marshall to produce cartoon versions of his hit television properties — Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. ABC’s choice was to keep Marshall happy and were thus willing to forgo a good thing in Thundarr for lesser quality properties and the greater Primetime money.
Thundarr slowly faded as there was no toy line, TV show, or movie to help it remain in the public consciousness. The program’s main audience was elementary school boys and they quickly moved on to the next hot properties such as Transformers, He-Man, and GI-Joe that were all in syndication and had popular toy lines to boot. The only item produced for Thundarr was a board game. Thus, Thundarr slipped into obscurity with some of the other great Saturday morning animations of the 1980s like Blackstar and Dungeons and Dragons.
For the past 40-years, Thundarr seemed to be a lost remnant of cartoon history. Sure, there were the Toynami collector figures in 2003 and there is a filk band from New York called Ookla the Mok but such references were very obscure even to the Comic-Con population, less the general public. However, the need for streaming content has revived hope for fans. Fantasy and science-fiction are both hot and, even Dungeons and Dragons has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity recently. An operator with deep pockets and imagination could create a mammoth franchise out of such an imaginative world and a rich, tapestry of characters. Honestly, I do believe that a remake is coming eventually as it would make little sense not to revive such an outstanding property, just the sooner the better. Update it with modern, adult storylines, add some character diversity (minorities could easily fill all the lead roles), and “Aaaa-Heee,” a hit show. It just takes the right producer and the right connections to spend some time on Youtube watching this 1980’s cartoon to realize that they are sitting on a goldmine of potential.
I truly hope at least one of those people is reading this article now and is rushing to make it happen. Think of it, in addition to a television series, there is an untapped market for live-action remakes, movies, toys, clothes, comics, and collectibles. Your foresight will eventually land you entire panels at the various Comic-Cons where you can talk about your great vision for the next 20+ years. If the “Lords of Light” wish it, please bring back Thundarr, Princess Ariel, and Ookla for a new generation and get rich in the process.