Captain Planet and the Planeteers was the brainchild of Ted Turner. The story goes that he was drifting off and not paying attention during a meeting. He suddenly snapped to attention and informed the other attendees that he had a great new idea for a TV show: a children’s superhero show with an ecological message. Thus was Captain Planet born. The show premiered in 1990, and ran through 1992. It then returned late in 1993 as The New Adventures of Captain Planet.

Captain Planet is either the creation or friend (or lover? we don’t know) of Gaia, the spirit of the planet. Because of rampant ecological horrors perpetrated by big business, little business, big cities, and just plain supervillains, she sends out five rings to five teenagers from around the globe, each ring containing and each teen controlling the essence of one of five aspects of nature. They were (to quote the show’s introduction):

Each of the rings grants its wearer control over their element. The first four are self-explanatory; they can summon some of or exert control of their element. Ma-Ti, stuck with the quintessence, is given the power to sway people and animals’ thinking — a premise which the writers for the show had to work hard to use in some episodes.

Of course, five teens are often no match for big business — it’s hard to coördinate their efforts; they can be split up; Wheeler was a jackass. When the need arose, they each raised their fists towards the heavens and intoned the power of their rings. The powers combined, and Captain Planet emerged. He was a blue man with green hair in a red jumpsuit. He could fly. And he had the powers of each of the rings. The only drawbacks were:

  • While he was summoned, the Planeteers could not use their rings.

    Meaning that if they were imperiled and he was busy elsewhere saving the world, they would have to defend themselves like any good superpowerless superheroes, except without gadgets — just teenage spunk.

  • He was vulnerable to pollution, toxic waste, and other evilnesses obviously not part of Nature.

    If he were to, say, become coated in a sludge of Uranium-235, he would be weakened much like Superman in the presence of Kryptonite and could only be healed by being somehow cleaned off by one of the five ring powers in its natural state or managing to return himself to the rings.

  • He was very preachy, and sometimes grated on the nerves of the sassier Planeteers (read: Wheeler).

Note that with the exception of Linka, each of the Planeteers was from an unspecified country. In addition to promoting an eco-agenda, the show was in favor of enforced diversity and loving all peoples. It was interesting to see the episodes that took place in the homeland of one of the Planeteers, as the others (and we, the viewers) were introduced firsthand to a new culture by somebody who could be our friend. And they did make friends: each episode ended with somebody being made into an honorary Planeteer and being charged to defend the planet from villains.

Romantic interests! Where would the show be without them? Other than the constant flirting between Gaia and Captain Planet, there was the budding romance between Wheeler and Linka. Aside from the ulterior motive of showing that the United States and Soviet Union could be on good terms, it was also used as the vehicle for an episode showing a vision of the future where the two are married with far too many children, and working for an Eco-Villain. Does absolute power necessarily corrupt absolutely? It’s the business of the United States and newly dissolved Soviet Union to decide for the future.

The show dealt with a number of hot issues. Amongst these were nuclear proliferation, corporate dumping, AIDS, overpopulation, political corruption, and many other topics which Turner thought needed to be unravelled. The AIDS episode is particularly interesting, as it goes to the heart of what the issue was at the time: a high school sports hero is accused of having the syndrome, and one of the villains convinces the other students at the school that it’s contagious just from being near the sufferer. The episode concerns itself with teaching the students the truth about HIV/AIDS, and not really at all with punishing the villain. We’re left with the message that it’s better to be helpful and forgiving than to seek retribution. It’s interesting to note that parents’ groups did not start angry, hateful campaigns because of this episode, as they have with other shows since.

The show also ended with unbearably catchy theme music, which I will never be able to get out of my head. For those who are fans of Brave New World, it’s a perfect example of the youth being indoctrinated with messages that they will memorize and eventually (hopefully) metabolize:

Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Heart! Goooooo Planet!
Captain Planet:
By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!

Captain Planet, he’s a hero
Gonna take pollution down to zero
He’s our powers, magnified
And he’s fighting on the planet’s side!

Captain Planet, he’s a hero
Gonna take pollution down to zero
Gonna help him pull asunder
Bad Guys who like to Loot and Plunder

Lotton Plunder:
You’ll pay for this, Captain Planet!

We’re the Planeteers!
You can be one too!
‘Cause saving our planet is the thing to do!
Looting and polluting
Is not the way
Here’s what Captain Planet
Has to say!

Captain Planet:
The power is YOURS!

Insidious indeed. Every episode also included a Planeteer Alert!, which would teach the viewer about some evil in the real world which they could help to fix, such as littering, name-calling, and large corporations. These Alerts would show the Planeteers helping ordinary kids fix up the planet — and if they could do it, so could you!

Cast List: