In case you weren’t paying attention, Earth Day was this past week. The annual observation is used to raise awareness about our environment and demonstrate preservation of our planet. On that day, we’re more eco-conscious and try our best to not pollute our home turf. What I remember most about the holiday though growing up are the all-day marathons of one of the greatest cartoons of my childhood, Captain Planet & the Planeteers!
After my last article on cartoons, I vowed never to write about animated presentations ever again. Captain Planet though is a piece of my childhood that has never been shared before and I’ve been waiting to talk about it in a standalone article for quite some time. Originally produced by Ted Turner, this children’s series aired on TBS beginning in 1990 before it was revamped and ran on Cartoon Network until 1996. Both shows would run concurrently with one another and offered little change between them so I would watch this every day after I got home from school on Cartoon Network and every Saturday morning after Garfield & Friends on TBS. It had an addictive theme song (containing the positive lyrics “He’s our powers; magnified/And he’s fighting on the planet’s side”) and a positive message that captivated young viewers everywhere.
The backstory of our heroic friends starts with Gaia (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), a woman who dubs herself the spirit of the Earth, re-emerging from a slumber. Sensing that Earth is headed towards extinction with the increase in carelessness and pollution, she grants five magic rings, each with a different element, to five different youngsters around the globe. Together, these kids take flight in their solar powered Geo-Cruiser (because who needs the turtle van?) educating the general public about caring for the environment while preventing several baddies from taking advantage of it. Let’s meet these young warriors known as the Planeteers:
Hailing from Ghana, Kwame is the leader and father figure of the Planeteers, often settling dissension within the group. After fleeing his tribe in Africa, he maintained an interest in plants. His elemental power is Earth meaning he can manipulate the world’s surface to overcome problems or even help those in need.
As a fellow loud mouthed New Yorker, I instantly took a liking to Wheeler when I started watching this show. His humor and persistence is what made me admire him. Plus, his element was fire which is pretty much the coolest one out there. Admittedly, his mouth would get him in trouble from time to time but his street smarts coupled with the support of his comrades helped him rise above peril. Useless note: Wheeler is the only member of the gang to sport pants. His comrades all wear shorts.
A fiery Russian who possesses the power of wind. Her accent got on my nerves at times but her general tough attitude made her a formidable member of the team. Throughout the series, a romance between Linka and Wheeler was constantly teased and we were all waiting for the spark to ignite. They eventually did get together in one episode but their relationship didn’t follow throughout the rest of the series.
Gi is a kind-hearted young woman from Asia though her exact country of origin is never specified. With an appreciation for marine life, Gi maintains the power of water, frequently causing tsunamis and floods to drown out our enemies.
The youngest member of the Planeteers was Ma-Ti, a meek South American kid with a pet monkey named Suchi. He was raised in a Native American village in Brazil and displays his heritage by wearing feathers on his arm. Even though the power of heart is not a traditional element, it proved crucial in many climaxes throughout the show’s adventures. For example, Ma-Ti would help bad guys see the era of their ways by feeding them positive feelings through telepathy.
In true superhero cartoon fashion, once the going got tough, the team combined their powers, summoning a mega hero by the name of Captain Planet. Sporting green hair, silver skin, and red boots and gloves, Planet would usually deal the deathblow to the bad guys at the end of every installment and remind the public to take care of their community. He also had a catchphrase: “The power is yours”.
In addition to Goldberg, there were numerous other celebrities lending their voices to the series such as Levar Burton, John Ratzenberger, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Ryan, and even Sting, who provided the voice of the evil Zarm.
Speaking of evil, there were numerous villains over the course of the show who all attempted to deal out harmful plans of decimating the earth either for fortune or pleasure. They all had marvelous names for instance, the pigman, Hoggish Greedly, purple jumpsuited rat dubbed Verminous Skumm, a mutant named Duke Nukem (so this is was the inspiration for the video game character?), overweight Sly Sludge, and shady businessman, Looten Plunder (fantastic). The only female in this wolfpack was a scar-faced psychopath named Dr. Blight who would usually be accompanied by her computer counterpart, MAL.
One of my favorite episodes of the series was the two-parter “Mission to Save Earth” where the antagonists robbed the Planeteers of their rings and crafted their own jewels each representing a deadly condition. So instead of earth, wind, fire, water, and heart, it was radiation, deforestation, smog, toxic, and hate. Here’s the real kicker, when they combined the rings, they summoned Captain Pollution, Planet’s evil counterpart with a real California surfer attitude. It was all great.
There were also some very special episodes such as “Formula for Hate” where a high school basketball star contracts HIV and Scumm tries to spread rumors around the school that he has AIDS and convince other kids they could catch it by simply touching him. After being burned by several of his classmates, the poor kid decides to give everything up until Captain Planet stopped in and taught everyone the truth about the still young disease. There was also “Talkin’ Trash” where Wheeler goes back to his home in Brooklyn to see his estranged father, who wants no part of him. Along the way, he reunites with a woman from his past who has turned to a life of crime. Oh and he also attends a rave. Pretty powerful stuff here.
At the conclusion of every program, a fun message was shown on how children can make the world a better place, such as conserving energy and other lessons. I specifically remember one that showed us that cleaning a mess with a sponge is more economical than using loads of paper towels, a tip that I still use to this day. I also remember one where they taught us how polite it was to offer assistance to the elderly in need, which I’ve also demonstrated on numerous occasions.
In 2011, Don Cheadle played the titular hero in a series of shorts for the comedy website, Funny or Die. These videos parodied the show and were pretty freakin’ hilarious. It was announced in 2013 that a live action Captain Planet film was in the works. Let’s wait and see if it becomes a reality. If not, then I’m sure we’re all satisfied with Cheadle’s take.
Start making more eco-friendly decisions, people!