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.