Captain Planet and the Planeteers is an American animated environmentalist television program, based on an idea by Ted Turner and produced by Andy Heyward, Robby London, Barbara Pyle and Nicholas Boxer. The series was developed and co-produced by Turner Broadcasting System and DiC Entertainment and ran new episodes from September 10, 1990 until December 5, 1992. A sequel series, The New Adventures of Captain Planet, ran from 1993–1996 and was produced by Turner Broadcasting and then-corporate sibling Hanna-Barbera Productions. Both programs continue today in syndication.
These five are dubbed the Planeteers and given the task of defending the Earth in the case of the greatest of disasters and doing their part to keep others from happening. Gaia uses her "Planet Vision" to discover where the most devastating destruction is occurring and sends the Planeteers to help solve the problem. The Planeteers use transportation based on solar power in order to avoid causing pollution themselves.
In situations that the Planeteers cannot handle on their own, they can combine and magnify their powers to summon Captain Planet, who possesses all of their powers magnified, symbolizing that the combined efforts of a team are stronger than its individual parts. Captain Planet only appears in his Captain Planet garb. These are not clothes but elements of the Earth that are integral to his composition. He is able to rearrange his molecular structure to transform himself into the various powers and elements of nature. Captain Planet's outfit does not represent a specific culture. He has grass-green hair, sky-blue skin, earthy brown eyes, a fire-red chest, gloves and boots, and a sun-yellow globe insignia. In a manner similar to the early Superman, Planet has seemingly godlike superhuman powers, and seems to gain more to deal with whatever the situation requires. However, he is weak to pollutants which sap his strength, from smog to nuclear radiation. The Planeteers also cannot use their individual powers while Captain Planet is "active".
Despite his vulnerability to pollution, Captain Planet is a formidable and valiant hero. Once his work is done, Captain Planet returns to the Earth, restoring the Planeteers' powers. When he does this, Captain Planet reminds viewers of the message of the series with his catchphrase, "The power is yours!"
The series is also notable in that it used elements similar to Japanese Sentai series years before shows such as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Sailor Moon came to the US, especially in the manner of a team of five gifted with powers by a mentor, who will call upon something to defeat the villain. Unlike Sentai, however, there are no secret identities for the team, no transformation sequences, and the practice of heavily recycled footage is never used (even the calling sequence would often be re-animated and re-recorded for each episode). The concept of five individual heroes summoning a champion from various devices has its roots in DC Comics' Forever People. It is unknown if Ted Turner was referencing them or the Infinity Man when creating Captain Planet.
The Planeteers are summoned by Gaia, a modern rendition of the Ancient Greek goddess of the Earth, to defend the world from pollution, criminals, and natural disasters. The five teenagers, who each come from a different region of the world and who together represent several major ethnic groups, are each given a ring which allows them to temporarily control one of the four classical elements — Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water — as well as a fifth element, Heart, which represents love and communication and enables telepathy and empathy, as well as potential mind control.
In order to summon Captain Planet, the Planeteers must activate their powers in a specific order, preceded by the phrase "Let our powers combine;"(and followed by all of the Planeteers cheering "GO PLANET!"). It can be noted that during the DiC series, the sequence of special effects preceding Captain Planet's appearance differed each and every time (with the exception of a few select occurrences of stock footage), displaying the creativity of animators, and showing just how special the Captain Planet character was. In the Hanna-Barbera series, there were some creative ideas for Captain Planet's appearance when being summoned, but most of the time, it consisted of flashes of lightning, along with sounds of thunder. Animation in the DiC series was inconsistent, showing some episodes as darker or brighter in color than others, and characters looking different from one episode to the next, and in some cases, one segment (or even shot) to the next.
The Planeteers' rings are, like Captain Planet himself, susceptible to weakening when in the presence of toxic waste and pollution to the point that they can no longer use their powers or summon Captain Planet.
The five Planeteers are:
Kwame: From Africa, Kwame possesses the power of Earth. Kwame, 18 years old, has a soft spot for plant life. Growing up in a tribe in his homeland, he is at one with the land and its purpose, and does what he can to preserve it. Unofficially considered the leader of the group, he's the voice of reason that keeps the Planeteers in check when the group begins to lose faith in a given situation.
Wheeler: From North America (specifically New York City), Wheeler controls the power of Fire. At 17 years old, Wheeler is the street-smart comic relief for the group who, while having his heart in the right place, tends to get himself into tight spots with his impulse actions. He also tends to annoy Linka, whom he has an ongoing crush on throughout the series. Growing up homeless at an earlier age, his compassion and fighting spirit adds to the team's backbone.
Linka: From the Soviet Union, Linka has the power of Wind. At 16 years old, Linka closely studies bird life. She's also a master of strategy and logic, as well as a computer wiz. With a feisty personality, she's a no-nonsense girl whose common sense has helped the group when in their most critical moments. She seems to like Wheeler but gets turned off by his frequent annoying behaviour. Later on in the series, her introduction stated that she was from Eastern Europe, rather than the Soviet Union, to reflect the political changes that had occurred in the early 1990s.
Gi: Hailing from Asia, Gi controls the power of water. This power is the only power that requires tapping into a source in order to be useful. Also at 16 years old, Gi is a self-proclaimed marine biologist. Her compassion for sea life contributes to the overall effort of the Planeteers' protection of animals.
Ma-ti: From the Amazon Rainforests of South America, Ma-ti uses the power of heart to instill love, care, compassion, and empathy into the people of the world to care for the planet. He can also use this power to communicate with animals telepathically. At 12 years old, Ma-ti is the most impressionable, but his youth and innocence also aids in the level of love and caring that keeps the group together.
It should be noted that this representation of Gaia was depicted not as a Hellenic Greek, but as a mix of the three primary racial ethnicities: dark brown skin, prominent cheekbones, wavy black hair, and blue eyes.
The only ally of the Planeteers (besides Gaia), who appeared more than once in the series, was former cold war soldier Commander Clash. He helped the Planeteers to defeat Captain Pollution as well as Zarm.
A small group of villains, usually referred to as the eco-villains, make appearances repeatedly in most episodes. They are well aware that what they do is wrong, yet they do it anyhow, simply because of greed, selfishness, or a desire for power. Due to conflict among them from their varying self-serving interests and backgrounds, they tend to work alone most of the time. Each of these villains represent a specific ecological disaster. These include:
All seven joined forces only once, under Zarm's leadership, in the two-part "Summit to Save Earth" episode.
"The New Adventures of Captain Planet" also featured the Slaughter family led by their mother Mame Slaughter and her second-in-command son Stalker Slaughter. They were a family of poachers, often in direct monetary competition with Looten Plunder.
Various other one-time villains were also used.
They summoned Captain Pollution with a slight variance in order from their opposite planeteers; with Nukem (fire's counterpart) leading the way, followed by Plunder, Sludge, Skumm, and Blight.
In the later two-part episode A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste, Captain Pollution is brought back to life by toxics that seep into the earth. If Captain Planet could be considered to be a nod to Nereus, then Captain Pollution could be considered a nod to Typhon, one of Gaia’s final children, a monster of great evil who spewed toxic smoke. Captain Pollution was voiced by David Coburn in both appearances.
The clips contained moral messages directed at the viewer, delivered by characters from the show (often Captain Planet or Gaia). Similar messages and delivery styles were used in other cartoon shows from the same era, though the practice has fallen out of use in recent years.
Much like the morality of the show itself, the clips contained information and advice on how to help protect the environment, prevent pollution, save animals, form good relationships with people, and how to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. One episode even dealt with prejudice against people infected with AIDS-HIV. While informative, these clips tend to be the thing that those who dislike the show use to mock it.
The ending credits theme (maintained by both DIC and Hanna-Barbera’s versions) is also considered one of the most memorable parts of the series due to its catchy main chorus and rock track ("Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero").
The original series was the second longest running cartoon of the 1990s, producing 113 episodes. It lasted for three seasons under the name Captain Planet and the Planeteers (produced by TBS Productions and DiC), before many of the voice actors quit or were replaced and much licensing occurred, changing the title to The New Adventures of Captain Planet (produced by Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, which was acquired by Turner in 1991).
This series had noticeable differences from the original, such as episodes revealing more of the past of each of the characters. This series doesn’t directly contradict the first but expands on it dramatically. Gi tells the story of her pet dolphin, while Linka is revealed to have a mining family who used canaries to detect lethal gases in the mines, and her opening sequence generalizes her birthplace as Eastern Europe to avoid confusion in viewers born after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 (which would place her canonical birthplace among one of the countries that gained their independence when the Soviet Union collapsed). Dr. Blight, with a new voice actor, is revealed to have a sister who is a famous movie actress.
Other changes were also noticeable, most significantly the animation style. While the character models from the DiC episodes were retained (and the original DiC opening sequence used) the new animation relied less on shading and was slightly more colorful. Many of the characters had refurbished outfits. The sound effects utilized when the Planeteers used their rings were changed and the echo in Captain Planet’s voice when he emerged was also gone. Also gone was the DiC season's use of a specific synth rock soundtrack, these tracks were replaced by a large number of orchestral pieces, although the famous end credits theme was retained, now showcasing footage from the Hanna-Barbera episodes. A small number of cast changes occurred, affecting Gaia and most of the eco-villains; similarly, the opening narration was voiced by David Coburn (Captain Planet) rather than LeVar Burton (Kwame), and was eventually replaced by a rap by Fred Schneider of The B-52's.
Finding a comprehensive list of what was released is difficult, since not all toys shown in the initial retailer catalog were even released. The collector’s market is small, the toys being somewhat rare on eBay. The Captain Planet Foundation still sells a small number of them online, however. There may have also been further foreign variations of certain toys which may be even more difficult to catalog. Various toys from the New Adventures waves are also likely to be less well-known.
All five Planeteers, five Eco-Villains, Commander Clash, and several versions of Captain Planet, each with a different gimmick or paint scheme, were released, along with several vehicles. Four small vehicles were also sold through a Burger King promotion.
NOTE: Richard Gere was originally slated to voice one of the villain characters, but backed out for unknown reasons.