Even after the 1990s animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers had its run and gained fans worldwide, humanity still continues to fuck up the planet. The Amazon rain forest remains threatened, animal species march toward extinction due to human interference, and weather events grow ever more extreme. It seems that our generation missed the message or chose to do nothing about it. Time for a reminder. Today’s suggestion deviates from previous installments which were based mostly out of a nostalgic desire to see reboots of shows and movies from my childhood. Instead, this re-imagining comes out of a necessity of shaking people out of their complacency with environmental issues and into action. Hollywood! Adapt this: Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
Let’s start off with a bit of irony as to this editorial. ”Hollywood” has already announced plans for a live-action feature film for Captain Planet and the Planeteers. However, since it’s from the producers of the Transformers series, I’d bank on it being more of a cash-grabbing popcorn flick than something that has any actual weight. What I propose here is something drastically different…and would have very little to do with Hollywood.
What It’s About:
Captain Planet and the Planeteers was an animated half-hour series on TBS that featured five teenagers from around the world who were gifted with powerful rings that controlled the elements and could also summon Earth’s greatest defender, Captain Planet. Started by Ted Turner with visions of bringing environmental events to a young audience in an entertaining and informative way, Captain Planet and the Planeteers ran for six seasons and 113 episodes, some under the name of The New Adventures of Captain Planet. The show went on to earn Emmy nominations as well as cult status in the memories of fans everywhere.
The Planeteers themselves were: Wheeler from North America with the power of fire, Linka from the Soviet Union/Eastern Europe with the power of wind, Gi from Asia with the power of water, Kwame from Africa with the power of earth and Mati from South America with the power of Heart. (Mati gets a lot of flack, but I’ll reinforce why his power is the most important, though not the coolest, later on.) The teens were granted these powers because they were chosen by Gaia, the Spirit of the Earth, who saw them as stewards of the environment. While they battled a variety of cartoonish eco-villains and assisted relief efforts during environmental disasters on their own, if a threat was too great, their powers were combined to summon Captain Planet. The titular hero was basically a wise-cracking Superman with elemental powers but a weakness to pollution.
While the show was a great introduction for young kids as to the state of the world, the environmental threats it faced and what they could do to reverse those deleterious effects, it was one of the brighter, more sugar-coated shows of the 90s that could have done with some more hard-hitting facts and figures. It clearly had little effect back then and would have zero impact today. Today, people need to be punched in the jaw before they pay attention. Here’s how a Captain Planet and the Planeteers reboot could make that happen.
How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?
First of all, my vision for a reboot of this series would never get a pass from the creators and rights holders. Far too many lawsuits would result (maybe Anonymous can get the proper creative people together to produce it underground, although Don Cheadle’s efforts have done pretty well). Although Hollywood likes to pitch “gritty and realistic” these days for everything under the sun (whether it needs it or not), their results rarely have any impact other than desensitizing audiences to actual atrocities in the real world. Cap could change that.
Keep the core concept of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, ie teenagers from around the globe who battle environmental injustice, but put them in the real world. Instead of a wise-cracking punk from the Bronx, how about a son of a Midwestern farming family who are watching their way of life be marginalized by corporations with immoral, unethical and environmentally damaging practices? Instead of saving monkeys from jaguars, how about a South American native whose land rights are usurped by companies that then offer them compensation in return for using destructive slash-and-burn farming practices on their own land? Instead of riding dolphins, how about a citizen of Japan or Indonesia who saw her entire family wiped out in a tsunami and has yet to see the pieces of her life put back together? How about poaching, production/consumption of fossil fuels and the inequality in the availability of clean food and water across the globe? You know, real problems!
The focus of the episodes should be on the root of environmental calamities: not Hoggish Greedly in a comical machine leveling forests and destroying wildlife, but unchecked corporate greed and the legal loopholes they’re allowed to step through by toothless and corrupt government agencies. Use names, use facts, use figures. Don’t hide behind metaphor and satire, call people out (as long as there is documented evidence to back it up). And, because it’s an animated series, the characters in it can get away with responding to these threats in ways we can only dream of in the real world. I’m not advocating forms of domestic terrorism in reality, but in an art form that represents the anger and impotence that we feel in the face of these very real and present dangers? Absolutely! (And now you see why Turner/Hollywood would never sign on for this. I doubt they’d want to be associated with a show that features Wheeler roasting a corrupt politician alive on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building.)
“The Planeteers as environmental terrorists are all well and good,” you say, “but what about Cap?” Cap was great as a comic book hero…I want a graphic novel hero (emphasis on the “graphic”). I want Alan Moore’s version of Captain Planet. I want to see that rage channeled into a being of ultimate elemental power, not a wise-cracking bro with a mullet. Cap doesn’t need dialogue as a force of nature. Keep the personification, but up the scale of it a few orders of magnitude. An oil refinery is gushing billions of gallons of crude into estuaries? Let Cap open up the earth to swallow the facility whole. Poachers hunting down the last of the great African elephants for their ivory? Let them find themselves in an elephant graveyard populated by bloodthirsty sentient elephant corpses bent on revenge, courtesy of Cap. Legislators leaning in favor of multinational conglomerates over common laborers and land owners? Cap will show them the meaning of a scorched-earth policy. People need to be shaken up; a modern, realistic and mature version of Captain Planet and the Planeteers could be just the thing to light a fire under the next generation.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow up on my comments about Mati earlier. Yes, it’s much cooler to shoot fireballs of summon cyclones or cause earthquakes than talking to animals (this has always been Aquaman’s problem) or communicating with your teammates when someone locks you in a dumpster. But while I’m advocating a brutally realistic and mature version of Cap that actually holds people accountable for their policies, we can’t lose sight of the fact that people are at the center of the issue on either side. People are equally as responsible for subsidizing cheap, low-quality food as they are for consuming it. People are the ones behind the prevention of advancing renewable energy technology and also behind the continued consumption of fossil fuels (myself included). Poachers and slash-and-burn farmers don’t do what they do to intentionally harm the environment, they do it to feed their families and survive. Mati was literally the heart of the old show and must be a force in the new iteration if only to keep a sense of compassion that makes us human, because without it, we find ourselves exacerbating the mess we’re already in.
So what do you think? Would you like to see Cap reborn with some actual substance and teeth? Or would just be happy just seeing whatever formulaic feature Hollywood eventually rolls out? Let us know in the comments below!
Well, if you’re still with me after that rant, be sure to tune in next week for Hollywood! Adapt This when we tackle a feature-film adaptation of a middle-grade book trilogy. What’s behind cupboard number-one?