My childhood was spent lovingly between two worlds, the TV screen and the world of my imagination. With five brothers, two cousins and three boys living across the road there was an army of kids to play with and there was nothing better than taking the worlds from our favourite TV shows and making them our own. We were the Ninja Turtles beating up a cherry blossom tree that acted as Shredder, we were the children lost in the world of Dungeons and Dragons but Captain Planet was my own world.
Every day at noon I was glued to the television screen with the narrator proclaiming the troubles facing our world:
“Our world is in peril. Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, can no longer stand the terrible destruction plaguing our planet. She gives five magic rings to five special young people.“
I needed to be one of those young people, I wanted a ring, I wanted to save the planet and I wanted to help summon Captain Planet.
Each episode the team faced off against a troop of villains, Doctor Blight, Skumm, Greedly, Duke Nukem and Plunder did their best to take advantage of the Earths resources, putting the desire for profit, power and prestige ahead of the wellbeing of the local ecosystem, people and the planet as a whole. The villains were embodiments of their foul deeds, Greedly was pig-like in nature and appearance, Blight was scarred by her scientific endeavours and Skrumm was a twisted as his plans to rule the world.
I watched on as Kwame, Wheeler, Linka, Gi, Ma-Ti came to the aid of Mother Earth, Gaia, and using the power of the elements held within their rings, fighting everyday against pollution, corruption and the wrongs of the world and when it all became too much they came together to combine their power and summon one of the greatest heroes of my life; Captain Planet.
I still believe Captain Planet is one of the greatest heroes of my childhood. Watching it now I’m still overcome with similar feelings, the rush of excitement when one of the Planeteers uses their powers and when they combined those powers to bring forth the hero charged with protecting all Earth.
That said the episodes follow a standard formula – villain shows up, Planeteers engage and defend only to be overcome, Captain Planet is summoned and saves the day – it worked then and it does work now, the cartoon still holds its own against other powers based shows. What Captain Planet is best known for and what it’s often joked for is the information plug at the end – a life lesson explained by a Planeteer, encouraging children to recycle, highlighting the benefits of car pooling and generally helping young people to make informed choices.
Towards the end of Season one a new element is added to the show, the villains realise that hard as they try, they can’t compete against the power of the Planeteers and Captain Planet so Blight engineers a machine to duplicate their rings, granting them destructive powers then when combined summon Captain Pollution a deadly counterpart to our hero.
The show featured a string of talent for characters with actors LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Helen Hunt, Kate Mulgrew, Mark Hamill, Danny Glover and Neill Patrick Harris all lending their voices to roles.
The cartoon didn’t dance the line between entertainment and education, it was smarter than that – each episode isn’t just mindless action animation with a blot of story throw in but it’s not one of those generic educational message animations either! Captain Planet blended learning with entertaining, we were Planeteers in our own right and the show did it’s best to get that across with the characters addressing their audience frequently.
The show didn’t dumb down issues nor did it preach a single message about environmentalism, it addressed some of the most topical and debated issues at its time; HIV/AIDS, gender discrimination, gang crime, the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
While the dialogue is dated, the messages behind the words do still stand strong, the show endeavoured to imbue the audience with ideals such as equality, peace and protecting the planet we call home.
While I can’t say every single message sunk in from the show, I do still hold fond memories and watching back over it for this piece I’ve realised that it did have an impact on me. I believe that the show’s central message has stayed with me and my understanding of it might have changed – the power isn’t a ring that controls water or fire, it’s the power to change the world around me, to be the change I want to see.
I don’t think there is a better time for the Planeteers and Captain Planet to return, the world could use a hero like him again!
Remember, the power is yours!
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!