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You’ll Pay for This, Captain Planet!

Five of the most mixed-message moments in Captain Planet history.

By / Posted on 22 April 2011

Captain Planet and the Planeteers
In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to celebrate that beloved enviro-educational cartoon we all mocked even when it was new, Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Six seasons, 113 episodes, lots of important lessons about preserving our ecology, many of which were ahead of their time… and yet, the show was just so cheeseball, straddling the line between reality and fantasy that made it hard to take anything seriously.

Here are five of our favorite moments from Captain Planet where the writers either lost the message or seemed to just give up on communicating it properly:

Future Shock

Future Shock

Three eco-villains from the future are transported to the present so that they can assassinate a little girl. Yeah, it’s that kind of show. Using their high-tech future weapons, the future villains easily chase off the Planeteers and trap Captain Planet in a bubble of corrosive acid that is burning and suffocating him. All hope seems lost… until Gaia produces the Planeteers of the future, who in turn summon Future Captain Planet, who doesn’t even break a sweat taking out the future villains and freeing the present Captain Planet. The moral? Fight time travel with time travel? For a show all about the small changes we can make today to save our planet for generations to come, this one episode was all about how there is nothing we in the present can do to fight the pollution of the future. Failure of concept much?

A Formula for Hate

A Formula for Hate

Having apparently run out of ideas for how to mutate the human race or burn down the forests or whatever, half-man half-rat Verminous Skumm decides to turn the population of an American suburb against a teenager who was recently diagnosed as HIV-positive from an unscreened blood transfusion. Scumm hangs posters around town, spreads rumors in the high school halls, and leads an angry mob to… knock down a vegetable stand? Was that really his endgame? While the topic of HIV/AIDS definitely needed to be addressed at the time, you can’t help but feel that petty slander and vandalism is just a bit beneath the sort of disaster these guys were usually involved in.

Population Bomb

Population Bomb

Wheeler hits his head and hallucinates a world where anthropomorphic mice have industrialized, polluted, and overpopulated. When Linka and Gi suggest early on that people be limited in the number of children they can have, Wheeler snaps back with the justifiable, if self-centered opinion “nobody is gonna tell me how many kids I can have.” Population control is a tricky and controversial issue, as evidenced by the fact that these five cartoon characters can’t even agree on a stance. Wheeler changes his mind based on his hallucination, which is like me deciding blueberry pancakes are bad because I dreamt about a giant pancake being arrested for racketeering. There’s just something unsettling about a children’s cartoon telling you not to produce many more children.

Night of the Wolf

Night of the Wolf

Looten Plunder brings a robot wolf to Yellowstone, planning to cause enough trouble to be hired to slaughter the park’s wild wolf population. The robot wolf, of course, is powered by toxic pollution, so the Planeteers’ rings have no effect on it, and the robo-wolf easily subdues Captain Planet. Helpless and facing certain doom, our heroes are rescued by… the wild wolves of Yellowstone! The robo-wolf, damaged by the real wolves, quickly powers down as pollution makes for a lousy battery, and all Captain Planet really did was pull people from a burning building. The moral of the story: people can’t fight pollution, but nature is stronger than it anyway. Once again, way off message there, Captain Planet.

Numbers Game

Numbers Game

Another episode where Wheeler falls asleep and dreams about overpopulation and over-consumption. Man, is that all this kid dreams about? Before that, though, the Planeteers go to an eco-theme park. A virtual reality ride explains how a child in a developed country consumes up to thirty times the resources as a child from a less-developed nation… and Wheeler sleeps through the whole thing! He perks right up when it’s time to ride the Tunnel of Love with Linka, though. Oh, you overprivileged American!

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.

There are 3 Comments about this post

  1. Peter Smith says,

    “which is like me deciding blueberry pancakes are bad because I dreamt about a giant pancake being arrested for racketeering” – GOLD

     

    on 22 April 2011 / 11:21 AM

     
  2. Jon Cann says,

    Wow, I definitely didn’t realize that this show had attempted to take a position on population control, much less HIV. And I had forgotten the hilarious names of most of the villains…really, the only one that stuck with me was Hoggish Greedly (I guess he didn’t do anything off-message enough to make the cut here).

     

    on 22 April 2011 / 2:44 PM

     
  3. Thank you! This is the greatest thing I’ve read all week!

     

    on 22 April 2011 / 4:12 PM