From the cover of the first Captain Planet etc. comic book. Artist: Neal Adams.


Original Medium: Television animation
Produced by: DiC
First Appeared: 1990
Creator: Ted Turner
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During the 1970s and '80s, a lot of American TV cartoons emphasized peace, cooperation and other so-called positive social values. Some of the impetus for this came from …

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… the Federal Communications Commission, and a lot came from powerful parent action groups, putting pressure on networks to provide what they considered more wholesome fare for children. Captain Planet & the Planeteers may be the only one driven by a television industry mogul's desire to do good.

Captain Planet was created by, and developed at the behest of, Ted Turner, whose WTBS had grown from a local station in Atlanta to a giant of cable TV. Like many who reach a state of power in the media, he saw no reason not to use a little of his clout in promoting his point of view. And his point of view happened to include some very non-mogul-like attitudes toward the environmental movement.

Thus, Captain Planet & the Planeteers, which debuted on September 10, 1990. It was produced by DiC Entertainment (which had earlier done the first run of Care Bears and the second run of He-Man & the Masters of the Universe), in conjunction with Turner's WTBS. It was carried not just by WTBS, but also, through syndication, by more than 200 broadcast stations.

The Planeteers (no relation to Tommy Tomorrow's outfit) were five young adventurers, representing the classical four elements of the physical world, plus a fifth, spiritual element. Earth was Kwame, an African boy, whose voice was done by LeVar Burton (Geordi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kunta Kinte on Roots, but mostly lacking other voice credits). Air, or "Wind", was Linka, a girl from the Soviet Union, voiced by Kath Souci (Phil and Lil on Rugrats, Mom on Dexter's Laboratory). Fire was Wheeler, an American boy, done by Joey Dedio (mostly a face actor, but with scattered credits in voice work). Water was Gi, an Asian girl, done by Janice Kawaye (various voices in Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? and the TV version of Disney's Aladdin). Heart, the fifth element, was a South American boy named Ma-Ti, voiced by Scott Menville (Jonny Quest in the 1980s episodes, Brian in Rainbow Brite & the Star Stealers).

They were gathered together by Gaia, the Earth goddess, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg (Stormella the Ice Queen in the 1998 production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), who had decided there was too much polluting going on. She gave the kids magic rings, which didn't just confer their characteristic powers on the wearers — when brought together, they produced Captain Planet, a blue-skinned, green-haired superhero who, intoning "I have the power!", would then proceed to mop the floor with such eco-villains as Sly Sludge, Doctor Blight, Argos Bleak, Hoggish Greedly, and Hoggish Greedly Jr. Cap's voice was provided by David Coburn (another face actor with scattered credits in voice acting). The villains were voiced by Meg Ryan, Ed Asner, Martin Sheen and other Hollywood mega-names, all working for scale (i.e., the lowest fee allowed by the Screen Actors Guild), to support what Turner was doing with the show.

If all this makes it sound a bit on the preachy side — it was. But it also seems to have been reasonably entertaining, as it was one of the top-rated shows of the early 1990s. It remained in production for six years, a total of 113 episodes. In 1991, Turner's company acquired Hanna-Barbera, a giant in TV animation since the Yogi Bear days, and production was transferred to that studio two years later. In 1994, the title was changed to The New Adventures of Captain Planet, possibly to emphasize the fact that new adventures were, indeed, continuing to be produced despite how many years the show had been on the air. There was the usual licensed paraphernalia, including a comic book adaptation from Marvel, which lasted 12 issues, October 1991 through October 1992.

From 1995 to the beginning of the new century, Captain Planet was rerun on Cartoon Network, also part of the Turner broadcasting empire (now owned by Time Warner). The show turned up again in 2006, when Boomerang (also a Warner cartoon cable channel, this one specializing in old Hanna-Barbera) showed 13 episodes that had never been shown in the U.S. It isn't being seen regularly at present, but that may not be a permanent situation.


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Text ©2002-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hanna-Barbera/DiC.