In an interview with Mother Nature, entrepreneur, environmentalist and Captain Planet creator Ted Turner compared his Hero for Earth to “a Superman- or Batman-type character.” (Forgive him for thinking those two day-and-night characters are anything alike. He’s a billionaire businessman, not a comics-obsessed internet person.) Turner claimed that he would’ve called the character Superman if the name weren’t taken. Although they both fly, rescue humans in peril and fight evildoers, there are striking differences between Captain Planet and Superman. Superman is an alien who champions humanity. Kal-El believes in us, in our capacity for good, and fights for us.
Captain Planet wants to protect the physical, natural world from us. Sure, his primary enemies are deranged eco-villains, but what are they if not stand-ins for humanity’s disregard for the environment? The show’s premise is that Gaia, the Spirit of Earth, is awakened from her subterranean slumber by Hoggish Greedly drilling for oil. She gives five magic power rings to five special young people (Kwame, Wheeler, Linka, Gi and Ma-Ti). When the rings’ powers combine, they summon Captain Planet, a blue-skinned, green-mulleted superhero… who might just be the world’s biggest jerk.
15. ALWAYS JUMPS TO THE WORST CASE SCENARIO
Each episode pits Captain Planet and his nature-loving Planeteers against one or more eco-villain(s). Duke Nukem, Verminous Skumm, Dr. Blight and their ilk will never out-crazy the Cap, try as they may. A green mullet is always a symptom of mental illness. At every opportunity, he brings up the darkest possible timeline. Every conflict threatens worldwide annihilation. Every whaling boat threatens every whale ever.
Creator Ted Turner plugged the show as informative and fun, saying, “[there’s] a lesson and a message [about healthy living and/or environmentalism] as well as great entertainment in every episode.” But he should’ve said, “There’s palpable resentment and despair about pollution, as well as signs of clinical depression and possibly homicidal tendencies within the hero’s miserable heart, in every episode.”
14. HE’S A NARC
Drugs aren’t cool, don’t use them, they turn you into a zombie. That’s the theme of the special “drugs” episode, “Mind Pollution.” Verminous Skumm gets Linka and her doomed cousin Boris hooked on a ridiculously addictive drug called Bliss. Like the best fictitious drugs, it turns ordinary people into desperate yet stylish, depraved zombie-like addicts after just one hit. Skumm sends his army of addicts to attack the Planeteers. Under the spell of the drug, Boris jumps through a glass window and gets badly injured. “No one made him take the drug. He did that to himself!” Then, in the most notorious moment, Boris ODs and dies in front of the Planeteers.
Although the episode mischaracterizes addiction, indulges in victim-blaming and hits viewers with potent nightmare fuel, its worst misdeed is how aloof Captain Planet is towards the whole scene. As usual, he rescues the Planeteers from imminent danger, fights with Skumm and makes bad puns. He neither consoles Linka, who just lost a family member, nor scolds Wheeler for being a victim-blaming jerk. Don’t do drugs, kids.
13. ROUTINELY CONDESCENDS TO LEADERS
Captain Planet should learn to negotiate. In “Greenhouse Planet,” he appeals to the President of an unnamed country to shut down “the world’s largest power plant.” The President rebuffs claims about climate change, saying, “It probably won’t be [as] bad” as ecologists say. “Maybe,” says Captain Planet. “Or maybe it’ll be worse!” He then explains how creatures will have to “adapt or die!” or else Earth will end up a greenhouse planet like Venus! Therefore, what? Shut down all power plants?
Likewise, in “The Predator,” Captain Planet gives this advice. “Mr. Mayor, the best way to protect your environment is to not mess with it in the first place.” How is that helpful? It’s incredibly condescending. Then he says, like always, “The Power Is Yours!” But which power is he talking about? The power to not have messed with the environment in the first place? What a jerky thing to say to a leader whose cooperation is pivotal to protecting that ecosystem!
12. ROUTINELY TELLS KIDS TO DO
Captain Planet asks weird stuff of kids. In the Planeteer Alert of “The Predator,” Captain Planet says, “The Power Is Yours [to help stop industrial overfishing]!” Is it, though? Can socially conscious children fix global systemic problems? Recognizing this limitation, other Planeteer Alerts oftentimes include a request to “ask your parents to write to Congress,” which we’re sure parents were thrilled about.
Another Planeteer Alert distinguishes between good drugs, the ones given to you by a parent or a doctor, and bad drugs, the ones that are illegal. Then Captain Planet tells kids to “get help” if they suffering from drug addiction. Right, because kids know what addiction means! To make matters worse, based on the episode’s content up to that point, there is little difference between drug addicts and zombies. He might as well just ask, “Are you a zombie?” since that’s the frame of reference it has provided.
11. BAD FOR THE EARTH? SMASH IT! CAN’T SMASH IT? CHUCK IT INTO SPACE!
Captain Planet has the powers of the four elements and, uh, heart. He’s basically an eco (and emo!) incarnation of Leeloo Dallas from The Fifth Element, but without the charisma and Multi-Pass. Instead of finesse, he uses threats, punching and coercion to deal with things and individuals he judges to be unsavory.
Captain Planet destroys a lot of pollutants over the course of six seasons, sometimes by punching them, sometimes by zapping them. He even drowns Captain Pollution in magma underground. He can’t punch all pollution out of the environment, though. What he can’t destroy safely, he flings into outer space. As YouTuber ChannelFrederator explains, space is where most of the bombs that Captain Planet encounters end up. “That [radioactive] debris has to go somewhere.”
10. BROKE THE LAW, WENT TO JAIL, DESERVED IT
In “Jail House Flock,” Captain Planet, the Planeteers and Ma-Ti’s pet monkey Suchi all go to jail for trying to prevent Hoggish Greedly from destroying marshland. When the sheriff shows up, things go differently than you might expect. You see, Greedly acquired the rights to the land legally, and they were trespassing. Not only that, the Planeteers and the Captain were directly responsible for causing a fire and an explosion on the property. In the real world, they would’ve been hit with felony arson at least, and perhaps attempted murder.
In the cartoon, however, Captain Planet and Suchi end up in stereotypical black-and-white horizontal-striped prisoners’ garb and singing the line, “Nobody knows the blues I’ve seen.” Meanwhile Greedly and his minion trick the Planeteers into thinking they’re free to go, making them fugitives. They all ultimately clear their names and Greedly gets tricked into signing over the rights to the marshland. Obey the law, kids.
9. NUKES ARE THE WORST, AND IT’S HIS FAULT THEY EXIST
There’s nothing remotely OK about nuclear power in Captain Planet. While radioactive eco-villain Duke Nukem embodies, literally and figuratively, the show’s negative opinion of all things nuclear, nothing is so bad as the atomic Bomb. In “A Good Bomb Is Hard To Find,” better known as “The Hitler Episode,” present-day Dr. Blight and her future self travel back in time to sell a nuclear bomb to a dictator called “the Fuhrer.”
The Planeteers and Captain Planet follow them and ultimately thwart their plan. Captain Planet escorts the Blights into the time-portal and that’s when the unthinkable happens. Dr. Blight re-emerges in the 1940s with the formula and drops the plans for making an atomic bomb. Captain Planet could totally go back for them, but he doesn’t. Instead, an American soldier finds them, and history presumably repeats itself thanks to his negligence. Hero for Earth? More like a Zero for Earth!
8. GOOD AT CRISIS MANAGEMENT, BAD AT ALMOST EVERYTHING ELSE
There’s this weird split between the Captain Planet of the show and the kindly way he appears in Planeteer Alerts. They’re incompatible. In the narrative segments, Captain Planet manages crises and disappears. The only things he’s any good at are using violence and making threats. He intervenes in emergencies but he wouldn’t know the first thing about administering continuing care and that’s what environmentalism is about.
Perhaps that’s why there are Planeteer Alerts. In these bite-sized messages, Captain Planet plays the advice-giving hippy who happily tells you, the viewer, to plant a garden or pick up litter or write to your congressman about whatever environmental issue Ted Turner was mad about that day, as if kids watch cartoons to find out how to live. Watch enough of these mini-sermons and you’ll wish he’d just get back to doing the two things he’s good at — bullying the eco-villains into temporary submission and being a condescending jerk to everyone else he meets.
7. OFFERS RIDICULOUS, SIMPLISTIC SOLUTIONS TO COMPLEX ISSUES
By necessity, perhaps, Captain Planet oversimplifies complicated issues. The notorious episode “If It’s Doomsday, This Must Be Belfast” addresses and seemingly resolves strife in three war-torn places — the Middle East, Northern Ireland during the Troubles and apartheid-era South Africa. Sure, the Planeteers say that hatred persists in the regions, but it doesn’t affect the characters who matter. With the problem officially solved, he returns to the power rings. See? World peace isn’t so hard to achieve.
Gaia, for her part, has a little more sense than the Captain. In “The Unbearable Blightness of Being,” Dr. Blight switches bodies with her. Unfortunately, she forgot to bring her destructive tech with her, so Gaia does what Captain Planet rarely thinks to do. She repurposes the evil doctor’s gadgets and uses them to clean up the environment. Wait, does Gaia even need Captain Planet?
6. HE SCAPEGOATS PEOPLE FOR THINGS BEYOND THEIR CONTROL
In the Gulliver’s Travels-like episode “Population Bomb,” Wheeler, who wants to have a big family when he’s an adult, hits his head in a windsurfing accident. In a trippy sequence, he witnesses the fall of Miceland, an overpopulated, heavily militarized and increasingly desperate civilization of talking mice.
The episode’s big point is about why the viewers should “keep [their families] small” when they grow up, as if population problems result from individual decision-making. Forget about Wheeler’s untreated concussion. In the end, the ghost of a dead mouse laments his people’s “doomed” fate. “Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let there be more people than your world can hold.” In the Planeteer Alert, Captain Planet tells us that overpopulation puts undue “pressure on our Earth.” So, never mind the systemic causes of overpopulation, just don’t have too many kids. Or else it’ll be your fault the planet dies.
5. HE’S A STRANGER IN TOWN, YET HE’S ALWAYS THE EXPERT
In “Twilight Ozone,” Gaia sends the Planeteers to investigate a rash of mutations — including open sores and blindness — in sheep and cattle around the world. They learn that Aussie scientists at the ozone research facility have genetically modified livestock by using nuclear radiation from Duke Nukem’s body. Why? To help the livestock survive as the ozone layer depletes.
As in so many other cases, though, the Planeteers start the trouble. Nukem sees the Planeteers, assumes the scientist sold him out and starts destroying the place. Everything was fine — but for the cattle issue — before they arrived on the scene. If Captain Planet hadn’t stopped Nukem’s rampage, it could easily have become an international incident. What would the kids have told the authorities, then? “Sorry about the nuclear destruction. On behalf of the Spirit of the Earth and the man who lives inside our rings, please stop destroying the ozone layer”? That’ll go over well.
4. NO RESPECT FOR PEOPLE’S JOBS
In “Greenhouse Planet,” as mentioned above, the President shuts down a power plant after a lecture from Captain Planet. The President’s reason for being at the plant is to christen it. It’s ready to rock! Yet, by the episode’s end, a democratically elected head of state has acted unilaterally to shut down the largest power plant in the world. In the end, the President agrees to shut down the plant to spare future generations a hellish world. Case closed? Not quite.
According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, power plants employed 54,700 people in 2016. We can assume that a great number of the President’s constituents have jobs connected to the power plant’s construction and operation. That plant has brought hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs to the area and cost taxpayers’ money to build. Shouldn’t the President’s constituency have a say in the matter? That’s their livelihoods.
3. PUNNING AT INAPPROPRIATE MOMENTS
Captain Planet delivers his message of gloom with a smile, a quip and family-friendly puns. In every episode, he puns obnoxiously at others’ expense, like a bully who thinks himself clever. According to TV Tropes, the pun humor was an effort to appeal to parents by invoking the humor of the 1960s shows like Batman. Oftentimes he puns before he attacks, long before the blow connects.
In “The Predator,” he says, “Sorry, you’re looking at a net loss,” before cutting his way out of a fisherman’s net. As a shark closes in on the idiot responsible for the cataclysmic overfishing, Captain Planet says coldly, “I’d hate to see that poor blue shark get indigestion,” and picks the idiot up out of the water at the last minute. “I’m letting you live, so why don’t you live and let live,” he says. That’s hardly a pun, Planet.
2. CANNOT BE REASONED WITH, REFUSES TO COMPROMISE
Parodies have picked up on the Hero for Earth’s creepy refusal to compromise on the issues he cares about. In Robot Chicken’s Captain Planet parody, for instance, Ted Turner paints his face blue, runs around shouting “Captain Planet!” and causes anarchy in the streets, all in the name of protecting the environment. “Protect the environment or I’ll ****ing kill you,” he says at the end, in perhaps the most honest Planeteer Alert ever.
Likewise, according Funny Or Die‘s parodies with Don Cheadle, you had better do what the planet-spawned, pun-loving, platitude-spouting ubermensch says, or else he’ll “turn you into a ****ing tree.” He’ll do it, too. He’s murderous, merciless and crazy as hell. Didn’t you see him rip out Ma-Ti’s heart, turn it into a fruit and eat it?
1. HE COULD DO SO MUCH MORE TO FIX THINGS AND DOESN’T
“You don’t really give a damn about human beings,” the Comedian tells Dr. Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, accusing him of a sin of omission which left a pregnant woman dead. “You coulda… teleported either of us to ******* Australia, but you didn’t lift a finger!” shouts the Comedian. Like Dr. Manhattan, Captain Planet can do incredible feats, and yet, he leaves most of the heavy lifting to people far weaker, in this case a teenage mini-United Nations committee. Why is he holding back? Is he “driftin’ outta touch,” too?
Maybe, or maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe he doesn’t really care what happens to us. Take this line from “Population Bomb’s” Planeteer Alert. “The more people there are, the more pressure we put on our planet. So take it easy on our earth and conserve what you can.” In other words, the fewer humans there are, the better off Earth will be. That’s a scary thought, considering what he’s capable of. The power to save the planet is not ours, never was. It’s too late. Put that on blast in your next Planeteer Alert.
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