Cartoon Carnage: Remembering Captain Planet and the Planeteers

“Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero.”

Every kid from the 90’s remembers that awful theme song, and every kid from the 90’s promptly wants it forgotten.  Whisper just one lyric and anyone that’s ever seen Captain Planet will be humming it for the rest of the day.  It’s like the Manchurian Candidate of children’s cartoons — every time it plays a brainwashed fan is activated and years of repressed homicidal rage is unleashed.

Created by Ted Turner and Hanna-Barbera in 1990, Captain Planet ran for two years on TBS as a form of “edutainment” for children — that’s environmentalist propaganda to you and me.  The series is notable for featuring a stellar cast of voice actors including: Jeff Goldblum, James Coburn, Whoopie Goldburg, Dean Stockwell, and Ed Asner.  Also notable, the logo of the production company that would close out every episode:
A giant dick emblazoned upon every television screen in America.  And just to make sure you didn’t miss it, the logo was accompanied by a high-pitched voice that says, “Dick.”  Subtle.  DiCheads.

For those of you that don’t remember, Captain Planet follows the adventures of five multicultural youths, each entrusted with a magic ring that activates an elemental power: wind, water, earth, fire, and heart.  Heart?  Lame.  How stupid do you think the dude with the heart ring feels?  Imagine, your four friends get bad ass powers that can conjure fire and earthquakes, and you get heart.  Is trading rings an option?  They make a point in almost every episode that heart is the most important power because it provides warmth and compassion to the world.  It’s like even the writers feel like they have to shoehorn the existence of a sh*t power.
When the powers of pollution prove to be too much, which is every episode, the five rings combine to summon Captain Planet.  However, unlike most superheroes, Captain Planet doesn’t have any clearly defined powers, other than what’s required to defeat the villain of the week.  Does the bad guy have a swarm of killer cats?  No problem, Captain Planet can shoot balls of yarn out of his ass to distract them.  He’s not a hero.  He’s a plot device.  A dues ex machina.  And a lazy one at that.

After he eliminates the bad guy with a ridiculous name — Looten Plunder! — he flies away, but not before smugly reminding everyone, “the power is yours.”  Dude doesn’t even stick around to help clean the pollution!  He’s too busy sneaking a thinly veiled political agenda into a children’s cartoon.  Superman wouldn’t do that.  He’d spin the earth backwards and reverse time to save the day.  You know, real hero stuff.
And what exactly is he a Captain of?  Industry?  Propaganda?  And why stop at Captain?  If you’re giving yourself a fake title, go big.  Make yourself an Admiral or a freaking General.  Anybody can be a Captain.

Lieutenant Captain Planet also lacks any identifiable race.  He has a green mullet and crystal skin.  Is he an alien?  A Twilight fan?  Who knows.  No doubt this was a move by producers to make Captain Planet appeal to all races.  The problem: nobody identifies with an alien.  But Superman is an alien!  Yes, but he looks Caucasian.  Kids want to emulate a hero they can become.  Superman has endured for over fifty years.  Captain Planet lasted three seasons.  Case closed.

If this all sounds a little harsh it’s because hindsight has proven Captain Planet is a horrible show.  Lazy writing, ridiculous characters, and an obvious political agenda keep it from being remotely enjoyable.  Yes, it’s a children’s cartoon, but that’s no excuse.  GI Joe: A Real American Hero is a perfect example of how to entertain, educate, and sell toys at the same time.  So if you’re thinking of taking a trip down memory lane, reprogram your GPS and skip Captain Planet.

Remember, “the power is yours.”

Little Known Fact: film producer Don Murphy obtained the rights to make a live-action Captain Planet movie in early 2011.  The project is currently stuck in development hell along with the Stretch Armstrong movie.

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Retro Gaming: Has Anyone Ever Beaten Oregon Trail?

You have died of dysentery.

You have died of typhoid.

You have died of snakebite.

If any of those phrases have a particular resonance, you either have insurmountable health problems or you played a lot of Oregon Trail.  Hopefully, it’s the latter.
Developed in 1974 by MECC, the original Oregon Trail was created to teach students about the harsh realities of frontier life.  That’s the textbook definition.  That’s what the developers want you to think.  But anyone that’s ever played Oregon Trail knows the truth: it’s an impossible video game with a simple message — life is hard, you’ll never win, and you’re going to die a horrible death if you do anything involving a Conestoga wagon.
The premise of the game is simple: your family of five travels across America in a covered wagon.  Along the way you encounter bad weather, floods, broken wagon wheels, dead oxen, etc.  You can hunt for food to improve your odds of survival, but nobody survives Oregon Trail.  It’s the Kobayashi Maru of video games.   The unwinnable scenario.

What’s devious is that the game gives you the illusion of choice.  Should you float down the river or take the toll road?  Doesn’t matter.  Either way, you’re screwed.  Even if you survive floating the river, ten seconds down the trail a wagon wheel will fall off and you’ll die of a broken leg.  And who dies of a broken leg?!?  This is the wild west.  Saw it off, replace it with a peg, and move the f*ck on.

And at that point, who even wants to finish the game?  By the time you reach the end of the trail you’ve lost half of your possessions, Jenny has contracted smallpox, Timmy lost his foot, and your wife was mauled by a bear.  The only thing left to do is pray to God that your shotgun still works before you blow your brains out.  What kind of a message is that to send kids?

But let’s be honest: any kid that played Oregon Trail wasn’t playing to win, they were playing for death.  Because every child in America was itching to see the tombstone.  See, when you die in Oregon Trail, a funeral is held for your character, and you’re able to type whatever you want on their headstone.  The possibilities are endless — and usually profane:
While your character may not survive, the legacy of Oregon Trail lives on.  A new generation of gamers has discovered the horror of life on the frontier by playing an updated version of Oregon Trail on mobile gaming devices.  Which means you can finally get rid of that Apple II collecting dust in your attic.  Goodbye, green screen!  Say hello to Steve Jobs for me!  Too soon?

You can even buy “you have died of dysentery” t-shirts.  How awesome is that?
So what say you: did any of you actually survive until the end?  Probably not.  A more appropriate question would be: how did you die?  Or better yet, what little bit of nastiness did you write on your tombstone?