Thundarr is set on post-apocalyptic Earth still suffering the ravages wrought by a “runaway planet” in the distant time of 1994. Two thousand years later, wizards employ sorcery and “super science” to terrorize the descendants of the catastrophe. Fortunately Thundarr the Barbarian and his friends Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel (who looks pretty hot in her swimsuit) enjoy nothing more than helping strangers and fighting those awful wizards. So they ride horses across the burned and desolate world, having adventures and seeing the sights.
The show was a fairly blatant rip-off hybrid of Star Wars and a host of sword-and-sorcery stories like Conan the Barbarian, but I didn’t mind. Thundarr made up for that sacrilege through its clever conceit of showing bits and pieces of the old world as appearing strange and mystical to our heroes. Thus Manhattan is called “Manhat,” a poster for Jaws is confused for navigational marker, and even the name “Ookla” comes from an ancient citadel of learning: UCLA. As Thundarr, Ariel, and Ookla journey from place to place, viewers are rewarded with tantalizing hints to their locations: Isn’t that Mount Rushmore? Doesn’t that resemble LA? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being introduced to a kind of historical perspective later named by William Gibson as the search for “semiotic ghosts.”
The interpersonal dynamic between Princess Ariel and Thundarr the Barbarian always intrigued me too. Even though Ariel seemed so much smarter than Thundarr, she still always followed his headlong charges into battle:
Thundarr: What’s wrong Ariel?Sounds like sarcasm, right? But you wouldn't have thought that by listening to the show. 80s-era gender roles were rarely challenged by this cartoon. Thundarr, dumb as a rock, always had to save Ariel. And both she and Ookla had no problem heading the commands of the muscled man and his “fabulous sunsword.” Watching the show at such a young age, I must admit their relationship made perfect sense to me.
Ariel: You mean you’re not wondering about . . . what kind of danger we may be riding into?
Thundarr: Why wonder? When the danger comes, we will face it!
Ariel: Can’t argue with that. My mind is now at ease.
I suppose my favorite part of Thundarr was its introduction that depicted volcanoes and tidal waves wrecking the cities of earth. To a twelve-year old boy, those scenes were pretty cool. I remember thinking they were a little scary too: “Can they show that on children’s television?” I wondered. Check it out for yourself. Oh, and if you happen to be chatting with someone in their late thirties, try out one of these phrases -- “Lords of light!,” “Demon Dogs!,” or “Ariel, Ookla, Ride!” If you then see a broad dopey smile, you’ve just met another fan of Thundarr the Barbarian.
Under the Broken Moon role-playing game: a frighteningly detailed overview of Thundarr's world.