Ah, Captain Planet. I remember watching that show mostly because my brother would turn it on at, like, 7 AM on Saturday, before any of the other cartoons came on. A bit of well-meaning but obnoxious preachiness from Ted Turner, the cartoon came out at a time when being environmentally conscious was all the rage for children’s entertainment. Hell, I remember seeing commercials for G.I. Joe eco-warriors. The premise is that the Gaia, the Spirit of the Earth as voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, feels she has to do something about the environmental destruction that’s been going on. She’s apparently not a great planner, however, because she decides the best way to fight pollution is to give elemental powers to a multi-ethnic group of teenagers.
Strangely, although it seems like the creators wanted to represent the entire world, none of the Planeteers are from Australia. The powers are based on the four classical elements of earth, fire, air, and water, plus…heart. Since when is that an element? Was he supposed to have been on the team with Brain, Kidneys, Liver, and Intestines instead?
Well, to be fair, the idea of the fourth element being something immaterial is an old one. The Greeks had ether, traditionally the substance that fills the cosmos and makes up heavenly bodies, and sometimes more recently interpreted as spirit. Perhaps it would have seemed less lame for Ma-Ti to wield the power of Soul rather than Heart. From what I recall, his power made him able to telepathically communicate with animals, which seems like it would be pretty useful, if not quite Dr. Dolittle caliber stuff. An article I just read gives another possibility for how Ma-Ti contributed to the team. Hey, it makes sense that a powerful force “on the planet’s side” wouldn’t necessarily be on the side of humanity. Godzilla was on the size of the planet, and so were the jeweled Weapons in Final Fantasy VII. Anyway, in between giving lectures, the kids fought various plots to destroy the environment for no particular reason. Not that this is all that unrealistic, considering how prominent the “global warming is a hoax, so let’s drive gas-guzzling vehicles for no particular reason” movement is, but it was pretty heavy-handed. I remember a reviewer (it might have been the Nostalgia Critic) asking whether anyone would really do business with a guy named Hoggish Greedly.
On the other hand, if freakish mutants with silly names can become successful in the corporate world, it’s more optimistic in this respect than the X-Men, although that was a much better nineties cartoon. After getting their butts kicked, the kids would combine their powers to call in Captain Planet, a rather bland superhero with blue skin and green hair who dished out eco-justice. Unfortunately, he was weak against pollution, which made him a bit ill-suited to the job. It would be like getting Superman to gather kryptonite, although I think they actually did that before too.
I remember one multi-parter where the villains somehow managed to summon the Captain’s evil counterpart, Captain Pollution.
There was also one that incorporated time travel, and New York City was entirely underwater in the future, although I forget how far forward in time that was supposed to be. I don’t know if this show actually made kids more environmentally conscious (considering that things aren’t much better in this respect today, probably not), or if it just made them wonder why they didn’t get magic rings. Hey, I’ve been recycling since before it was cool! Where’s my supernatural jewelry? Come to think of it, was Gaia unable to make any more than five rings, or were those five kids just the only ones she trusted with them? Overall, I think the only real legacy the show has is that people around my age still make fun of Heart being an elemental power. That said, I’ve heard of a Captain Planet movie being in the works, which seems like it would have limited appeal. I don’t think it has the same nostalgia level associated with it as the Smurfs or the Transformers. Maybe a better marketing strategy would be to promote it as a follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth.
My brother and I rented the Captain Planet NES game from the drugstore, but we were never able to get past the first stage, a side-scrolling one that had you flying the Geo-Cruiser (no, I didn’t remember what it was called; I looked that up just now) and shooting down other planes with the elements.
You could switch between powers, but we could never figure out what some of them did. I know later stages let you play as the Captain, but he’d go down in one hit, which is kind of lame for a superhero. Then again, the same thing happened with the Silver Surfer in his NES game.