The show was the creation of comic writer Steve Gerber, creator of Marvel Comics' Howard the Duck. The name Ookla actually comes from UCLA, where Gerber's friend Marty Pasko went to college; Pasko invented the name.
Twenty-one half-hour episodes were produced by Ruby-Spears Productions, an animation house formed by former Hanna-Barbera head writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, from October 1980 to September 1982, when the show went off the air.
Thundarr is voiced by Robert Ridgely. He is the main protagonist of the series. He is a barbarian that was once a slave to Sabian until he was freed by Princess Ariel and given the Sunsword which he uses as a weapon in his fight against evil wizards and other villains. Thundarr was frequently uttering such pronouncements as "Demon dogs!", "Lords of Light!", and the Thundarr war-cry "Aaaaahh-ee!". Thundarr, along with his friend Ookla, are largely unknowledgeable about the world and rely on Ariel's guidance, but Thundarr is respectful of knowledge gained. When once asked what kind of man he was, Thundarr simply replied "Free!"
Princess Ariel is voiced by Nellie Bellflower. Ariel is a beautiful and powerful sorceress. Not much was revealed about her past before she met Thundarr except that she was the stepdaughter of an evil wizard named Sabian. She learned of Earth's history from his library. In the episode "Battle of The Barbarians", Thundarr was once a slave of the evil wizard Sabian before being freed by Princess Ariel. It is also thought that she gave Thundarr his principal weapon, the Sunsword. It was never revealed exactly where she was a princess. Her most common feats of sorcery involved creating light constructs, ranging from throwing exploding spheres to levitating weights to summoning nets, shields, or bridges over chasms. She could also produce powerful energy blasts, blinding light and magically reanimate machines. At times she shows romantic feelings towards Thundarr; although he never outwardly returns them, it is clear that he does care greatly for her. Ariel's attire consists of knee-high boots and an open-backed, leg-baring cyan (with yellow trim) costume which suggests a bathing suit.
The debut episode of Thundarr the Barbarian was released on DVD as part of Warner Home Video's Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s compilation series. The DVD set, containing episodes of ten other shows, was released on May 4, 2010.
On 28 September 2010, Warner Archive released Thundarr the Barbarian: The Complete Series on DVD in region 1 as part of their Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release, available exclusively through Warner's online store and Amazon.com. The DVD packaging mistakenly implies the series was made by Hanna-Barbera rather than Ruby-Spears, even though that was not the case.
Comic book writer-artist Jack Kirby worked on the production design for the show. The main characters were designed by fellow comic book writer-artist Alex Toth. Toth, however, was unavailable to continue working on the show, so most of the wizards and other villains and secondary characters that appear on the show were designed by Kirby. He was brought onto the show at the recommendation of comic writer Steve Gerber and Mark Evanier.
The series was the creation of Steve Gerber. Gerber and friend Martin Pasko were having dinner in the Westwood area one night during the time Gerber was writing the bible for the series. Gerber commented to Pasko that he had not yet decided upon a name for the Wookiee-like character the network insisted be added to the series, over Gerber's objections. As the two walked past the gate to the UCLA campus, Pasko quipped, "Why not call him Oo-clah?" Pasko later became one of several screenwriters also known for their work in comics, such as Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, to contribute to the show. After writing several scripts, singly and in collaboration with Gerber, Pasko became a story editor on the second season. Other writers included Buzz Dixon and Mark Jones.
Thundarr's weapon of choice, the Sunsword, projects a blade-like beam of energy when activated, and can be deactivated so that it is only a hilt. The Sunsword's energy blade can deflect other energy attacks as well as magical ones, can cut through nearly anything, and can disrupt magical spells and effects. The Sunsword is magically linked to Thundarr and as such, only he can use it; however, this link can be disrupted.