Captain Planet And The Planeteers: The Reboot The World Needs Right Now
When most people hear the words Captain Planet, their first instinct is to set off singing its famous theme tune. But did you know that the legacy of this groundbreaking cartoon is much more than its title music?
In fact, before discussions on single-use plastics and carbon footprints had even begun, this show was taking steps to eradicate them. Captain Planet and the Planeteers was so much more than a cartoon. Read on as we recount the history of this awe-inspiring show.
Captain Planet In The Early Days
Most nineties schoolkids knew Ted Turner from his acquisition of WCW and his part in the Monday Night Wrestling Wars. However, Turner was a billionaire philanthropist who had several accolades under his belt. He helped set up the United Nations Foundation, started the CNN cable network, and was the genesis for Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
Produced in conjunction with DIC entertainment and Turner Program Services, it was the second longest-running cartoon of the nineties in the US. It spawned a video game and even a charitable organization that still continues.
While Turner did come up with the concept for an eco-focused show, it was Barbara Pyle who fleshed out the premise and characters. Turner had presented her with the Global 2000 report, a document on the future of the planets ecology. Up until that point, Pyle had been a photojournalist, but Turner tasked her with something totally different.
Much of the inspiration for plotlines came from her previous environmental assignments and documentaries. In an interview with the Guardian, Pyle described how they never imagined these over the top storylines would come true. They involved mass flooding, food shortages, and irreparable damage to the oceans.
The idea was to have a hero who did not conform to the macho stereotypes of mainstream animation tropes. In fact, Captain Planet was a metaphor for human co-operation. To appear, he had to be called by five children, each of whom possessed an elemental ring gifted by Gaia.
When problems proved too much for them to face alone, they would combine their powers. This would summon Captain Planet who would use their combined powers to solve bigger problems. Once complete he would then vanish, leaving the message “The power is yours!”
The Planeteers included Kwame from Ghana, Ma-Ti from Brazil, Gi from Asia, Linka from Russia and Wheeler from New York. They would travel to environmental disasters that Gaia would ask them to resolve. All of this was done in a solar-powered craft.
Of course, no show can operate without its villains, and Captain Planet had its fair share. The Eco-Villains were a loose group of antagonists who sought wealth and land. They comprised poachers, consumers, monsters that thrived on urban decay, and megalomaniac scientists.
All Star Cast
Captain Planet attracted an all-star cast. Many of them supposedly worked for minimum or a reduced wage. The first five episodes had seen Captain Planet voiced by Tom Cruise, who would later be replaced by David Coburn.
Gaia was voice by Whoopi Goldberg until 1993. Jeff Goldblum did the original voice for the villain Verminous Skumm. Meg Ryan played Doctor Barbara Blight.
Martin Sheen played Sly Sludge. Classic Hollywood royalty star James Coburn featured in the series as the villainous Looten Plunder.
Tackling Tough Topics
Part of Captain Planets’ appeal was that it did not shy away from heavy topics. The episode Mind Pollution was one of note. It put aside the environmental problems the group normally faced and looked at drug addiction.
The episode centers on a vacation taken by one of the Planeteers, Linka. She soon finds out that her cousin has become addicted to a drug named Bliss.
When he spikes Linka’s food, she soon becomes an addict herself. It is up to the Planeteers to put a stop to the trade, while also saving their friend from addiction.
In addition, the Captain Planet toy line itself did practice what it preached. Merchandising on single-use items was prohibited, way before the campaigning of the last few years took place. All card used on the action figures was recycled, as was the plastic for the toys themselves.
The Toy Line
The action figures from the series were released in four waves, one every year until 1994. The last line tied in with a rebranding for the shows. They were created by Tiger Toys.
The first wave featured all the Planeteers and of course, Captain Planet himself. Planet came in both his normal red outfit and was later created in several variations. Arctic manoeuvres Captain Planet was one oddity, along with a very strange stars and stripes Captain Planet.
The playsets for the line were a little underwhelming. The standard slime pit, adapted for many lines at the time, was available. However, it made more sense in this context as a toxic sludge dump.
Apart from this, only an exploding nuclear reactor was available. For vehicles, an Eco-Sub and Eco-Cycle in yellow colour schemes were available for the heroes, with a toxic cannon for the villains.
Captain Planets Legacy
Despite its last episode going out over 20 years ago, Captain Planet still has a thriving legacy. The Captain Planet Foundation is an organization that works to empower young people to solve the planet’s problems.
They do this through three programs. One works with garden-based learning in schools. Another addresses the problems of endangered species, and a final one is based on saving the ocean.
The Captain Planet Foundation does take donations. Click here to see the excellent work they do and donate to their exceptional cause. And always remember, “The power is yours!”