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Captain Planet: Remembering Saturday Morning Cartoons

Good morning, Planeteers, the year is 1989 and Barbara Pyle has begun to create of one of the most original and eco-conscious cartoons ever to be made.

What is Captain Planet?

One of the longest running cartoons of the 90s, Captain Planet and the Planeteers ran from the years of 1990 to 1992, then after Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc. was bought by Turner, it continued on from 1993 to 1996 under the name of The New Adventures of Captain Planet.

The core storyline of the Captain Planet cartoon centers on Gaia, the spirit of planet earth, who was first voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. Gaia sends five magic rings–four with the power to control an element of nature and one controlling the element of Heart–to five chosen youths across the globe.

  • Earth: Kwame hailed from Ghana, Africa, and possessing the power of earth, he was the unofficial leader of the Planeteers. He was voiced by LeVar Burton.
  • Fire: Wheeler was from New York and controlled the power of fire.
  • Wind: Linka was from the Soviet Union, although in later episodes was noted as being from Eastern Europe, in order to account for the collapse of the Communist regime.
  • Water: Gi was from Asia and controlled the power of water.
  • Heart: Ma-Ti was from the Amazon basin region of Brazil and wielded the power of heart.

They are then set against villains that embody environmental damage such as Duke Nukem, Sly Sludge, and Doctor Blight. But whenever the danger is too great, they put the power of their rings together to call forth the personification of the will of Gaia: Captain Planet!

Why was Captain Planet so popular?

The reason I’m such a fan of the Captain Planet cartoons is because it’s obviously designed to make the viewer think about global issues and how the individual can have an impact. From it’s outset, Captain Planet oozed it’s message, the best example being: “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!”

It did all this without compromising the enjoyment of watching a cartoon. Then, once his work was done, Captain Planet would leave with the message: “The power is yours!”

It was also popular for lots of other reasons. The main characters are varied, the villains are overly-dramatic and exude the evils of which they are named after, and Captain Planet is the embodiment of everything hopeful. What’s more, the animation and music style personify the intensity and importance of each battle facing the Planeteers.

What is the legacy of Captain Planet?

As a concept, Captain Planet went above and beyond anything else in trying to make earth-conscious behavior as fun as any other Saturday morning cartoon.

Although the Captain Planet series did end in 1996, it still lives on in multiple iterations from toys, comic books, video games, and even an Ok K.O.! crossover episode in 1997. Captain Planet still has a lasting effect.  

There had even been talks of restarting Captain Planet with many different movie deals being proposed throughout the years, one being associated with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Captain Planet is one of the golden oldies and everyone should get the joy of experiencing the cartoon, not just for moral reasons, but for the sheer enjoyment. Because remember, Planeteers: “The power is yours!”

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