Name: Captain Planet w/ Kwame, Wheeler, Linka, Gi, Ma-Ti
Powers: Weather and Elemental control (Captain Planet) and Elemental Control (Planeteers)
Type: Marshmallow Voltron
Excels at: Advancing the plot weekly
Fails at: General Superheroics, Specifically being Awesome.
In the 90’s, I had a hunger for anything that looked like it was Superhero based. I watched many crappy, poorly animated series as long as they had a superhero. Even if that hero was incapacitated by a bucket of dirty mop water….enter Captain Planet. He is officially the worst superhero on TV.
From the depths of the most self-rightous era of pop-culture arose a cartoon so obnoxiously message driven, that it converted many of us to littering.
Captain Planet and The Planeteers exposed many of us to poorly realized characters, villains with baffling motivations and a hero so bland that his one-liners cause physical pain. Every week the Planeteers struggled against the worst collection of supervillains carrying out the most shortsighted acts of villainy for the dumbest reasons. Each Planeteer had a magic ring that granted them control over Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Feels but none of ability to accomplish anything besides summoning Captain Planet.
Captain Planet has a fantastic powerset. He can control weather, he can control the elements, he can fly. Unfortunately, he’s literally nothing but his powers and bad dialogue. He has no history, no agency and no identity. The show is named after him and there is nothing remarkable about this character. He can generate hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes but only exists at the whim of the dullest group of teenagers ever written so he is essentially a weather controlling genie.
The Magic School Bus kids plus magic rings minus the personality.
They are consistently ineffective. Imagine Earth/Fire/Air/Water Bending without any of the utility. Imagine every episode about Avatar including Aang, Katara and Toph getting captured by a non-powered villain, failing to escape and needing to be rescued by Super Carrot Top doing his unfunniest routine. Now repeat this 112 more times and over the course of 6 seasons and throw in some oddly scripted episodes about gangs and drugs for good measure.
Let’s discuss the Planeteers. No. Let’s talk about Ma-Ti. The Planeteers were useless by default but Ma-Ti was exceptionally worthless. Kwame could make the Earth tremble. Gi could create monster waves. Linka could create gale force winds. Wheeler could generate columns of flame. Ma-Ti..he had the ability to make you kinda feel bummed out about littering through the power of Heart…The power of Feels.
There was nothing awesome about his power. Ma-Ti would have better off if they just made him a mascot and kept him on the sidelines. At the very least, he wouldn’t have been tempted to use his lame assed power on actual people. If the Rogues Gallery was competent in the least, Ma-Ti would have been killed in the first few episodes. Speaking of the Rouges….
You know how the best villains have simple motivations? The Eco-Villains took it a step further. They had stupid motivations. They were driven by the need to destroy the environment in increasingly bizarre ways. They want to destroy the very air they have to breathe or the water they need to survive. To be honest, Looten Plunder was the only believable villain because his villainy had a profit motive. If he was going to spoil the drinking water, he was planning to sale the world his clean water, he was a true capitalist. The other Eco-Villains? Well… their plans showed us that scheming while high on bath salts is a bad idea.
As for Captain Planet
I personally hate one note weaknesses for superheroes. They always feel like a cop out when establishing believable conflicts for people with unbelievable abilities. Captain Planet’s Kryptonite is Pollution. Pollution is a thing everybody can do. With a bucket, some leaky batteries, some lead paint flakes, some runoff water from a drainage ditch and a stick to stir it, a motivated five year old can arrange a blanket party for Captain Planet. Got some old household cleaning products to get rid of and a grudge against Captain Planet? Revenge can be yours with little to no real effort.
This is an ugly show. The animation is hideous. The characters look lopsided most of the times and nothing in the show maintains it proportion. They brought in an amazing cast of voice acting veterans and had the support of some major production studios. The ingredients were present for something epic and the show stumbled the entire way. It felt that the creator’s desire to deliver a message the creator’s superseded the desire to make a good show. The hamfisted nature of the messaging made for a clunky narrative that affected all facets of storytelling.
I watched this show because I thought it would be a Superhero show. I think most people my age did too. We wanted to see the adventures of a team of teenagers with superpowers kicking ass and the godlike being they created when they combined their powers because shit got too real. With the benifit of hindsight, I can say that Captain Planet and the Planeteers lacked the rhythm of a superhero show. Main characters of superhero shows need to to capable of saving themselves, the Planeteers have these incredible abilities but are not capable of stopping anybody.
Making the Planeteers more formidable individually would have gone a long way towards improving the show. Since the Planeteers were supposed to be the characters the audience were able to identify with, making them capable of solving their own problems, by proxy, makes the audience feel capable of solving their own problems. This goes to the larger point. I think that having a tone closer to that of a Comic Book Superhero story would have helped this show hit the mark. Make the Planeteers individually as powerful as Captain Planet with regards to their specific element. Anything Captain Planet could do with Earth, Fire, Wind or Water, Kwame, Wheeler, Linka and Gi would be capable of. Ma-Ti’s power could be buffed to include Mind-Reading, Illusion Casting, Telepathy. The bulk of the story could have been the Planeteers learning to how to use their powers, how to work as a team and how to prevent destruction of the environment. Put a time limit on how long Captain Planet can exist on earth in a 24 hour period and have him as a last resort. This would have made the Planeteers the primary heroes of the show and given the viewers more interesting characters to identify with.