The Planteer posse use their power rings to fight pollution. (Photo: Captain Planet Foundation, © 2009 TBS Productions, Inc.)
On a Saturday morning twenty years ago, the Earth’s greatest cartoon super eco-hero was born. Captain Planet and his team of Planeteers inspired a generation of kids to care about the environment. Living on Earth and Planet Harmony’s Ike Sriskandarajah looks at the origin and legacy of this superhero.
GELLERMAN: A team of five young people, from five continents, were given five magic rings. “With their powers combined” these kids summoned Earth’s greatest champion: Captain Planet. The eco-cartoon hero and his team of Planeteers first took to the airwaves 20 years ago, inspiring a generation of TV viewers to do no less than save the planet. Living on Earth and Planet Harmony’s, Ike Sriskandarajah watched back then - and has our story now.
SRISKANDARAJAH: In 1990, NBC News Today announced a new superhero:
TV: Teachers and parents often look at Saturday morning television as a kid’s wasteland full of cartoon garbage and sugar cereal ads. Well, tomorrow there’ll be a new TV character trying to change that.
SRISKANDARAJAH: And his name was Captain Planet…
TV: I am Captain Planet …Go Planet!!
SRISKANDARAJAH: Captain Planet was the brainchild of Ted Turner. The ecological warnings of the Global 2000 report, commissioned by President Carter, spurred Turner to beef up Turner Broadcasting’s environmental programming.
TURNER: Most of the experts say that if we don’t change things, the planet will be pretty well uninhabitable in another 30 or 40 years.
The pilot episode lays out the "creation story" for this new superhero.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Turner hired TV producer Barbara Pyle to sound the alarm.
PYLE: he wanted me to teach children about the facts of the Global 2000 study! I mean go figure. Ted Turner called me into his office and he said, “Captain Planet” and I said Ted, what is Captain Planet? And he said, that is your problem.
[SHOW: I AM CAPTAIN PLANET!]
[CAPTAIN PLANET THEME SONG: Captain Planet, he’s a hero- gonna take pollution down to zero!]
SRISKANDARAJAH: So Barbara and her team dreamt up an elemental warrior, in league five kids with magic rings
PYLE: If you think of Captain Planet as a religion (laughs), then this would be the creation myth- the creation story.
SRISKANDARAJAH: The pilot episode lays out the themes. It begins with eco-villain, oil-hungry, Hoggish Greedly, voiced by Ed Asner.
[SHOW: HOGGISH GREEDLY: With this giant land blaster I’ll be able to drill for oil anywhere.]
BARBARA: Well, basically they crack the ocean floor. So, anyway, Gaia is taking a nap and she is woken up by oil dripping onto her forehead.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Gaia is the spirit of the earth, trying to sleep in her subterranean palace.
[SHOW: GAIA: My goodness, can’t the spirit of Earth take a little nap.]
PYLE: ‘Get a little nap,’ she said. And then she flicks on her monitors, boom! And there they are, she’s seeing all the travesties happening on the planet today.
[SHOW: GAIA: I guess I napped to long… but how much damage could they do in a century…]
PYLE: The exhaust from the cars, the pollution in the river, everything you name it, the best b-roll of environmental disaster.
[SHOW: GAIA: It’s worse than I thought, Earth is dying…]
PYLE: Only it’s animated, of course. And then she says its time for the rings. She tosses out the rings.
[SHOW: GAIA: I need young people to help now. Starting with five very special kids from five corners of the globe.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Each ring held the power to control one natural element
[SHOW: GAIA: From Africa, Kwame.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Kwame could move earth.
[SHOW: GAIA: From Asia, Ghee.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Ghee could control water.
[SHOW: GAIA: From North America, Wheeler.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Wheeler shoots fire.
[SHOW: GAIA: From the Soviet Union, Linka.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Linka harnessed the wind.
[SHOW: GAIA: And, from South America, Ma-Ti.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Ma-Ti has the power of heart.
[SHOW: Alright, now let me get this straight. Your name is Gaia and you are the spirit of the earth? And you brought us here to help you save earth from being ruined? Yes, that’s about the size of it.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: Gaia tells the kids, the Planeteers, they must work together to do that.
[SHOW: We must do as Gaia advised, we must combine our powers. Let’s do it!]
SRISKANDARAJAH: So the newly formed team takes Gaia’s advice to clean up Greedly’s Oil spill.
PYLE: Boom! There’s captain Planet.
[SHOW: By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet….Go Planet!]
PYLE: What Captain Planet truly is- he’s a metaphor for teamwork. He doesn’t exist without the Planeteers.
[SHOW: CAPTAIN PLANET: Now the first order of business is to put all this oil back where it came from….]
PYLE: And he does the heavy work. And he caps it. And then he says goodbye to the Planeteers.
[SHOW: CAPTAIN PLANET: My works here is done but yours is just beginning Planeteers... and remember, the power is yours.]
SRISKANDARAJAH: For 6 seasons, that was the slogan- that kids have the power to change the world.
GOLDBERG: this is one of the few things that talks to kids about what they can do.
SRISKANDARAJAH: That’s Whoopi Goldberg, the voice of Gaia.
GOLDBERG: We won’t know what the outcome of this is until these kids grow up.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Now that generation, the millenials, have graduated from Saturday morning cartoons and college…Barbara Pyle:
PYLE: That’s actually, that group of young people is the largest demographic bulge in the history of our species on this planet and they are aging into their power years.
SRISKANDARAJAH: She says about half of the 80 million millenials in the US saw the show, as well as fans in nearly 100 other countries. Now there’s an international network of Planeteers who care about the environment.
ALEJANDRA: (Speaking in Spanish about her love for the show).
SHONA: Hi, my name is Shona and I’m from the North of Scotland, Inverness. I think Capain Planet was ahead of this time. I think now the time is ready to pay a little more energy to conservation.
SRISKANDARAJAH: The global problems Captain Planet fought- pollution, waste and oil spills- are still with us. And so is Captain Planet. He lives forever, in reruns. For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.
[CAPTAIN PLANET THEME SONG]
GELLERMAN: For more on the international network of Planeteers visit My Planet Harmony dot com. Our sister program, Planet Harmony, welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at My Planet Harmony dot com- it’s the thing to do!
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth