by John Ortved
Can you name the early '90s TV show that featured appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Sheen, Meg Ryan, Malcolm McDowell, Phyllis Diller, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Taylor? Pop-culture aficionados will recognize the line-up from "Captain Planet and the Planeteers," a Saturday morning cartoon, conceived by Ted Turner in an attempt to marry environmentalism with superheroes. Only spanning a few seasons (it turned out kids were more into the capering of "Darkwing Duck" and the violent noir of "Batman: The Animated Series"), Captain Planet managed to achieve cult status, predating many of the green trends of today. A timely launch, beginning mid-April 2010 the first season will be available on DVD.
The plot is stupidly simple: Gaia (mother earth), concerned by the devastation wreaked on her planet's environment by the world's polluters (the bad guys have names like Duke Nukem, Sly Sludge and Looten Plunder), gives rings to five lucky teens, each representing a force of the environment. The rings are distributed along hilariously politically correct lines (and the dialogue follows suit): the African Kwame has earth; Wheeler, from North America, gets fire; Linka, from the Soviet controls wind; from Asia, Gi has water; and Ma-Ti, from South America, owns the somewhat nebulous "heart." When the Planeteers combine their rings and shout their "Go Planet!" war cry, they summon Captain Planet, a shiny superhero sporting a mullet, whose ability to harness the environments seems unlimited—his only weakness is, naturally, pollutants.
While Captain Planet and the Planeteers' writing or animation is campy at best, its aim of delivering a positive message to kids—other than the normative, Christian, didactic fare otherwise available—was certainly remarkable.
And while Captain Planet doesn't have Spongebob's laughs or Sesame Street's smarts, if your kids are going to cheer for an animated superhero, it might as well be Captain Planet. Season One is available for pre-order from Amazon.