“The Power is Yours!”
If you remember the nineties, you remember that a lot of the decade was based around causes that are brushed aside or ignored today. Literacy, eating healthy, and avoiding drugs were consistent themes on children’s television. Then there was Captain Planet and the Planeteers, a rally cry for the environmental (and later social) causes, and while it has shown its wrinkles it remains a rather beloved relic of that time period.
Engineered by a team of producers including Ted Turner and DiC, Captain Planet and the Planeteers was intended to be the beginning of a major global phenomenon that taught kids about the dangers of global warming and pollution, while giving them a diverse team of young avengers and a superhero to root for. In these politically divisive times, the series would be considered a “liberal” series today, but back then it was widely accepted by children… even those who didn’t enjoy it much.
The show was the classic hero’s journey about a world on the brink of destruction. Gaia, the mother of Earth assembles five kids to don the magic rings that contain elements of the planet. The series was so well crafted that you didn’t really need to follow it religiously. The opening intro famously spelled out the basic premise for the audience, and gave you an idea of the five heroes that would be fighting to protect Earth every week. Everyone chose who they were rooting for the minute they were introduced.
There was Kwame who controlled the Earth, Wheeler who controlled Fire, Linka who controlled wind, Gi who could control water, and Ma-Ti who was the heart of the group. The rings could also be united in a cross stream of powers along with chanting each element to form the blue avenger: Captain Planet! A very noble superhero who sported a kickin’ green mullet, and a killer red suit, Captain Planet was cool enough to stand on his own as a unique superhero but generic enough to where he could basically be a mascot for any environmental cause from water conservation, to brushing your teeth properly.
Wheeler was the only American in the group, and was oddly enough the fan favorite among the boys in the audience. Wheeler was kind of a bad ass, but all things considered I would’ve liked Linka’s power more. Kwame was also much more interesting than Wheeler, but in either case, the series always allowed the spotlight to be shared for every character – all of whom were from vastly different parts of the world. This allowed for a lot of discussion and conflict among the group, all of whom had different ideas about the world. In one instance, Wheeler ponders on why two poor people would even think about having children if they couldn’t feed them, while Linka angrily argues that it’s unfair only wealthy people should have the privilege to birth children.
Likewise, what worked in Africa for Kwame didn’t always work for Ma-Ti in Brazil, and so on. Much of this conflict kept the group on the brink of splitting most of the time, and Gaia would often struggle to keep the team focused on their mission. The episodes rarely dealt with severe issues, and mostly stuck to themes about pollution, poaching, animal abuse, war, and toxic dumping. Later on in the series, the show decided to get very serious, and tried its best to confront very intense and somewhat controversial themes. This didn’t sit well with a lot of critics, though others accepted it.
In one episode, the group has to help a town learn to accept a basketball player named Todd who is infected with AIDS. The villain, Skumm, brainwashes the town and causes them to hate Todd which ultimately forces the team to help him and bring some clarity to the people who shunned him. There was also “Teers in the ‘Hood” story where Gi is forced to go back to the inner city with her group to figure out who shot and almost killed a beloved teacher during a gang war.
Filled with themes about hate, racial discord, and violence, “Teers in the ‘Hood” is very dramatic and really explored gang culture and the bleak mindset of life in the ghettos. When the group has to go undercover to figure out who is dealing arms in the streets and fired the bullet, Wheeler forms an understanding for the gang life, as he was an inner city youth who lived on the streets. This, once again, creates conflict within the group, including Wheeler and Gi who are at odds throughout the episode.
The series not only featured interesting scripts, but a high pedigree voice cast to boot. Among the huge roster, respectively, there was LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Martin Sheen, Meg Ryan, Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Taylor, Danny Glover, Helen Hunt, and Robert Patrick, just to name a few. Many of the stars were supporters of the environmental causes the series touted and stayed on the series for a few years.
Ultimately, the series was cancelled in 1992 after only two seasons, and then quickly brought back again as The New Adventures of Captain Planet in 1993, airing new episodes until it ended in 1996. Though occasionally cheesy, and somewhat heavy handed, Captain Planet and the Planeteers was a well-crafted bit of animated fantasy that helped draw attention to several important causes. It’s a surefire favorite to this day for the entertainment value, action and, of course, the closing credits theme song that every single kid sang along to. I still remember the lyrics. I bet you do, too.