Western Animation: Captain Planet and the Planeteers aka: Captain Planet
"Our world is in peril. Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, can no longer stand the terrible destruction plaguing our planet. She sends five magic rings to five special young people: Kwame, from Africa, with the power of Earth... From North America, Wheeler, with the power of Fire... From The Soviet Unionnote then former Soviet Union, then just Eastern Europe, Linka, with the power of Wind. From Asia, Gi, with the power of Water... and from South America, Ma-Ti with the power of Heart. With the five powers combined they summon Earth's greatest champion, Captain Planet."
—Opening Narrationnote Guess Australia is just left out, then. Also Antarctica. So is Central America and Western Europe, if you want to get technical.
The brainchild of Ted Turner (though most of the actual development work on the show was done by DiC producers Phil Harnage and Nicholas Boxer), Captain Planet and the Planeteers was an attempt to provide a show which would entertain younger viewers, while simultaneously educating them about taking care of the environment.The eponymous Planeteers are a Multinational Team of kids imbued with Elemental Powers to stop pollution using the power of... Aesops! When they are inevitably unable to deal with problems individually, they combine their powers into a single unstoppable entity: Captain Planet.Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990 to 1996) underwent several small revisions over the course of its run — it was renamed The New Adventures of Captain Planet during its 1993 to 1996 run, which coincided with a change in production companies — but the tone of the show always focused on the environment, often with An Aesopabout the environmentnote though other topics like violence or AIDS received their Aesops as well near the close of each episode. Prevalent in the show's theme was the concept of personal responsibility: Captain Planet's Catchphrase was "The power is yours!"The villains — who all had Obviously Evilnames like Duke Nukem (notthat one), Hoggish Greedly, and Looten Plunder — were strawmen who often seemed to want to destroy the planet just because it was the eeevil thing to do (though there was often a perfunctory profit-motive involved). This was a sincere, if exceptionally hamfisted, way of avoiding offense: if the villains had been given grayer morality, then kids might have compared them to their parents or their parents' employers, who are only trying to do their jobs in an efficient manner. To avoid friction, the writers created villains who were intentionally exaggerated and made to represent the planet's environmental problemsnote Duke Nukem=irresponsible use of nuclear power and radiation; Hoggish Greedly=overconsumption; Looten Plunder=corporate greed; Dr. Blight=unethical scientific research; Vermin Scum=disease and urban decay rather than the actions of individuals.The show was quite popular, for not only its tacky and ham-fisted charm, but its messages about the environment and social issues. Probably it has a lot of to do with how much this show was promoted, since it was clearly Adored by the Network.The Captain was also a Unexpected CharacterGuest Fighter on the Mascot FighterCartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion.The show's first season was finally released on DVD (in the US) on April 19th 2011, just in time for Earth Day. The packaging was, unsurprisingly, made from 100% earth-friendly recycled paper. In July 2011, Cartoon Network announced that a live-action film adaptation of the show was in the works.
Adult Fear: Consider how much danger the characters are regularly put in. Especially Ma-ti, who is in one episode tied to a chair in a burning building with another kid.
One episode features Linka's cousin, who is about her age, being injured and subsequently dying as a result of drug overdose. Another features kids about the age of the other planeteers engaging in group violence (as in, buying guns illegally) while another features Free-Range Children in New York possibly being used as scapegoats for Skumm's plots, while another is flat out killed off-screen after jumping on a train because he hit the tunnel.
Unlike most kids' cartoons where the villain simply wants to get the heroes out of the way of their plans, the villains here will try to not only murder the Planeteers, but even other children who stand up to them. And in "Future Shock", a child is the villains' target as her death would alter the future in their favor.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Averted-ish. MAL, Blight's AI henchman, was originally a nice AI who liked to play games, but was reprogrammed by Blight into his current malicious incarnation. He was reverted to his original programming in one episode and then proceeded to help the Planeteers.
He's also clearly in love with the bad doctor, and is very loyal to her (at least when Tim Curry took over for David Rappaport as the voice of MAL. David Rappaport's take on MAL was a typical computer program with no feelings).
All Just a Dream: Combined with social aesops like over population and homelessness, it's something of a Running Gag for Wheeler to end, up one way or another, entering a dream world or alternate universe to teach the day's lesson.
Allergic to Evil: Captain Planet is hurt by Adolf Hitler's hatred, considered to be a form of emotional pollution.
Analogy Backfire: One episode dealt with the ethics of putting animals in zoos to preserve their population by having an alien race arrive and put the Planeteers and the extras of the week into a zoo for their own preservation. The aliens made the exact same excuses, such as "it's for your own good," that humans had made for doing so earlier. The analogy falls apart due to the fact that keeping a sentient species capable of reasoning with you in captivity against its will is imprisonment. The show simply acts as if preserving an endangered condor in a safe environment and kidnapping people and stripping them of basic human rights is the exact same thing.
Furthermore, there's another broken analogy in the premise: the humans, Dr. Blight and Hoggish Greedly respectively, earlier in the episode were putting animals in a zoo to make room for a golf course, while the aliens were attempting to save a population and were otherwise not interfering with the Earth itself. Again, there's a vast difference between attempting to rebuild a species on the brink of extinction and just bulldozing their habitat for your own personal gain while dropping them in a zoo to make you feel better about it.
For that matter, "we have no right to protect species driven to the brink of extinction by human actions" is pretty strange for a Green Aesop show.
Also, with a range covering almost every habitable inch of the planet and a population well into the billions, humans don't seem to be in much danger of going extinct any time soon, which further undermines the aliens' position.
Anti-Villain: Most people who collude with the villains are either desperate or don't know any better.
Surprisingly enough, Looten Plunder, in "Bitter Waters". He's interested in rescuing a Native American reservation from its poverty, striking a deal with the tribal chairman to build an irrigation facility that'll allow the natives to grow food crops for sale, as well as restoring the local economy, personally paying rent for all workers and giving bonuses to the chairman. However, the chairman (and it's highly implied Looten knew full well) don't know that the irrigation is actually poisoning the local water reserves.
Apocalypse How: The episode "Planeteers Under Glass" has the Planeteers and a female scientist (Dr. Derek) enter a virtual planet where pollution is sickening the planet in centuries (sped up in minutes), starting from Class 0 up to Class 3. But then Dr. Blight traps them all in the rapidly wasting virtual planet, bringing the Apocalypse Class up to 4 and closer to Classes 5 and 6 before destroying them all (not even Captain Planet can save them)... or so Blight thinks. Fortunately, the team of Planeteers have a backup spot before they vanish so they can return safely to stop Blight.
Artistic License - Nuclear Physics: Ted Turner does not like nukes, and Duke Nukem is the walking embodiment of why we should never use nuclear technology. Actual technical errors include having mushroom clouds form from any explosion of nuclear materials, including a bomb detonating in space, and a highly inaccurate portrayal of a nuclear power plant in one episode, which among other errors displayed radioactive smoke coming from a cooling tower after Duke Nukem blasted a hole in it.
Author Avatar: Eco-conscious TV tycoon Fred Lerner in "Who's Running The Show?" Ted Turner
Ax-Crazy: It's pretty clear that Dr. Blight causes the problems she does for the sheer sick pleasure of it. As noted under Cut Lex Luthor a Check, below, she's devised all kinds of technology that could be used to fix any number of ecological problems (and this is what Gaia actually did when she became trapped in Blight's body during a "Freaky Friday" Flip) but causing pollution and wrecking the Earth is simply more fun.
Bad Future: Wheeler goes here in "Two Futures", where Hoggish Greedly and Rigger Take Over the World, and the other Planeteers live a very rough life protecting what's left of the environment.
There was also a bad future wrecked by pollution where the future descendants of the current villains are all together, complete with Dr. Blight's descendant commenting on the irony of having created technology to recycle, followed by them attempting to ensure their future exists as it starts to unravel by killing the Planeteers in the present day.
The Bad Guy Wins: In the episode "Whoo Gives a Hoot?", Looten Plunder gets away with his scheme to clear cut a forest where endangered species live. It ends with him laughing in the Planeteers' faces and daring them to try to stop him from doing it again.
Braids, Beads and Buckskins: One episode contained a Native American who acted and dressed like any other person. But after one hike through nature later with the Planeteers had him letting loose his hair, tossing his glasses, and becoming one with nature.
In the beginning of one episode, Wheeler bought an air conditioner to deal with a heat wave. As noted above, the episode later focused on the damage the chemicals of air conditioners cause to the environment, so in the end the Planeteers dumped it and started...playing with water and a garden hose to refresh themselves, implying that it's better to waste water than using an air conditioner.
Then there's the premise of the show. It's supposed to be "everyone needs to work hard to save the environment," which is great. Except what happens at least once per episode? The kids basically throw up their hands and say "Let's let Captain Planet do the work." Doesn't that perhaps imply you have to work hard to save the environment, but once things get uncomfortable you can hand the reins over to someone else? While Captain Planet is supposed represent to the power of teamwork, but it's kinda conspicuous how the kids usually just stand around while he does the heavy lifting for them.
Word Of God, the executive producer of the show, Nick Boxer, once pitched the idea of removing Captain Planet, the show just being the "Planeteers". But Ted Turner rejected the idea, so the team attempted to find way to keep the Planeteers empowered while Captain Planet did the heavy lifting. One way they did this was having the kids rescue Captain Planet himself when he is downed from time to time by the villains. So in a way, while Captain Planet does do the heavy lifting and rescues the Planeteers, when Captain Planet is down, the Planeteers, without their powers, must work together and rescue him as well. So in a way, the producers attempt to avert a Broken Aesop.
Calling Your Attacks: The Planeteers had to name their element in order to activate their rings. Of course, this happened whether they actually wanted to use them or not, such as when Wheeler off-handedly said "fire" and a small fire broke out.
Captain Obvious Aesop: Given the show's reputation, is it really any surprise that it was guilty of this?
Card-Carrying Villain: Most of the of the villains would love to see the Earth covered in a pile of sludge out of the sheer joy of...covering the Earth in sludge, with Dr. Blight and Zarm being the worst contenders. Even if, for some of these characters, this would severely impact them as well. Two of the villains, being monsters that thrive off disease and radiation (Verminous Skumm and Duke Nukem, respectively), at least have some sort of benefit to turning the planet into a wasteland (since for them, it would be better).
Chick Magnet: Wheeler had this going for him, and Linka usually didn't approve of it.
Christianity is Catholic: The episode "Nothing's Sacred" implies that Linka is Catholic. Eastern Orthodoxy was far more common among Christians in the Soviet Union, although there were Catholics, usually among specific ethnic groups (Lithuanians, Poles, and some of the Volga Germans for instance).
Clear My Name: One episode ("Jail House Flock") engages this when Captain Planet is sent to jail.
Clueless Aesop: The show provides at least three stellar examples. Many have questioned whether it was really appropriate for a show about kids and their superhero buddy fighting supervillains and saving the world to tackle gang violence, AIDS, and The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The show tackled gang violence all throughout its run, with FOUR episodes on the topic..."Utopia", "Teers In the Hood", "Talkin' Trash", and "One of the Gang", and even in episodes where another social issue is raised, there are moments of gang violence in the story. Gang violence is a huge part of the series because it is a topic that affects youth.
Combined Energy Attack: Captain Planet, down to his elements. The Planeteers themselves would frequently combine their powers in smaller form, for example, Linka and Wheeler creating a laser by combining Wind and Fire.
Commander Contrarian: Wheeler exists to say or do something stupid or jerkass and then be corrected by his wise non-American teammates. Oh, and to have his power of fire fail to get them out of the latest tight spot.
The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Any viewpoint innocently contrary to the show is given to Wheeler, the stupid spoiled American of the team. Even when he has a perfectly legitimate point, the show sets him up to be "proven" wrong, mainly because he has the wrong attitude or goes about things the wrong way.
A great one is an episode where the team is taking all these cute animals home to the island to nurse them. Wheeler complains about this and rather than make the point that taking a cute but endangered species out of its habitat is bad, he's a heartless jerk.
Somewhat inverted in "Mind Pollution," when Wheeler is the one who talks sense into Linka when she's high on Bliss.
And again when he talked Gi out of killing the guy who shot her friend.
The aforementioned air conditioner episode, in which Wheeler is just trying to cool off the Planeteers during a heat wave.
Confusion Fu: In "Planeteers Under Glass", Dr. Blight's evil computer MAL takes over an environmental simulation and is able to block out the protagonists' attempts to regain control. Then Wheeler steps in to confuse MAL into submission by randomly inputting commands into the terminal, like he did earlier in the episode.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Looten Plunder and Hoggish Greedly. Sly Sludge often had elements of this, but he wasn't nearly as rich or as powerful as Greedly or Plunder.
Corrupt Hick: Hoggish Greedly isn't as rich as Looten Plunder, he has a redneck subordinate named Rigger, and his operations are much more local.
Creator Cameo: One of the H-B era episodes featured Blight, Nukem, Skumm and Greedly taking over a TV network, with the owner named Fred Lerner (a thinly veiled parody of Ted Turner, who voices himself!)
Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Why didn't the villains just sell their technology instead of using it against the Planeteers and being foiled?
Particularly mind-boggling when Dr. Blight switches bodies with Gaia for an episode. Gaia uses Blight's technology to effortlessly clean up oil spills, put out raging wildfires etc.; Dr. Blight is furious at the end of the episode. Just the oil spill technology would make her the world's first trillionaire if she shopped it around to oil companies, governments, the UN, Greenpeace...
Played straight in Sly Sludge's final appearance in the series, where he finally gets a clue that legit recycling is actually profitable and actually has a change of heart about pollution.
Darker and Edgier: A few episodes were much darker than the rest of the series, with "Mind Pollution", "'Teers In The 'Hood'", "Sea No Evil", "101 Mutations", and "Talkin' Trash" standing out the most.
Death Glare: From Adolf Hitler to Captain Planet. Planet actually feels pain from the hate Hitler projects.
"Whoo Gives a Hoot?" The Planeteers attempt to stop Looten Plunder with a court injunction against clear-cutting an old growth forest. They fail and the episode ends on that note, with Plunder taunting them to try and stop him again. Notable for being one of the only episodes where the Planeteers officially lose.
The episode "Mind Pollution" where Verminous Scumm hands out drugs to everyone and ends up killing Linka's cousin.
The episode "Utopia" ends with Kwame recoiling in shock as he hears that crime and gang violence are exploding nationwide, just after having a nightmare and reassuring himself that there could never be a world ruled by street gangs.
Drill Tank: Verminous Skumm and his minions operate one in "Rain of Terror".
Drugs Are Bad: "Mind Pollution". Skumm's drug Bliss is realistic, in that it does make people feel good for a while, but you must take more and more to get the same high. Though dragging down the gritty realism factor somewhat are its effects on its users (glowing red eyes, turning addicts into literal raving zombies), and how it is made and peddled exclusively by a malevolent human rat mutant.
Ma-ti's Heart ring was unable to scan exactly what Hoggish Greedly was doing with Wheeler in a distant temple in one episode, because the very fact he was doing something evil blocked away anything else the ring could detect.
Ending Theme: Which is a rap. Oddly, only instrumental versions were used for some seasons.
Eternal Hero: Captain Planet, as a heroic incarnation of Gaia, is arguably an example. Arguable because he's a modern-day hero and we might yet kill the planet for good.
Evil Colonialist: Hoggish Greedly and Looten Plunder. Both of them often go to foreign countries in search of more wealth and power at the expense of the natives. Sly Sludge also counts, since his garbage dumping operations are all over the planet.
Evil Counterpart: Captain Planet received one in the form of Captain Pollution, in one episode.
Who was summoned with evil counterparts of the planeteers' rings, worn by the Eco-villains: Super Radiation (Duke Nukem), Deforestation (Looten Plunder), Smog (Sly Sludge), Toxins (Verminous Skumm), and Hate (Dr. Blight).
Zarm is the evil counterpart to Gaia, and the most threatening villain of the series.
Evil Twin: Captain Pollution was an evil version of Captain Planet who was summoned by the villains, could be defeated by beams of sunlight since he's all dirty and stuff, and talked like a surfer. Because surfers, like, totally hate the environment, dude! Uh...wait...
To be fair, the "surfer dude" accent was meant to show immaturity. Captain Pollution definitely came off an an immature jerk who loved destruction and cruelty and couldn't have cared less about the consequences. Captain Planet, on the other hand, had a sense of humor, but sounded and acted like a wise mature adult.
Family-Friendly Firearms: While some episodes showed the villains wielding lasers, this trope was actually averted in many episodes that depicted real fire arms, mostly by minor thugs or soldiers not associated with any of the Eco-Villains.
Not only that, the Planeteers are threatened and shot at with those firearms.
Also subverted in "Wheeler's Ark", where Dr. Blight's new laser weaponry makes them even better killers, testing them on wolves to deadly and heartbreaking effect, kicking off the episode.
Fantastic Voyage Plot: "An Inside Job", in which Kwame drinks water polluted from raw sewage, which Wheeler of course didn't boil or dispose of when he realized Sly Sludge was pumping out tons of effluent straight into the seemingly clear mountain water. Fortunately, the Planeteers and the Geocruiser were shrunk down in the water by Dr. Blight while Kwame was consuming it, allowing them to fight the parasites inside.
Fertile Feet: Gaia, in "No Place Like Home," turns a lifeless construction site into a thriving grassland full of flowers simply by walking through it.
Five-Token Band: Writ large, with representatives from (almost) every continent.
For the Evulz: The most common MO when it comes to Captain Planet villains. While technically some of them were also ostensibly gaining money for it, they usually still ended up being more complicated than legitimate alternatives would be. In the episode where Dr. Blight tried to sell an atomic bomb to Hitler, one must wonder how she intended to profit on wiping out her own timeline (she is insane though). Verminous Skumm technically wanted to ruin the world for humans so he and his rats could take over, but his methods tended to make little sense, and he often just tried to make life miserable for humans because he hates them.
One episode had Plunder starting a war between two desert villages so he could sell both of them tanks. One attacks the other while he's in the village, and eventually they're both so poor they can't purchase food or repair their farms.
For the most part Hoggish Greedly and especially Looten Plunder cause destruction for profit, though their methods are more make profits in the moment and not for the future. Duke Nukem while typically falling into this absorbs radiation to stay alive, it's basically how he eats.
Word Of God is that exaggerating the villains to the point of cartoonish supervillainy meant that children watching the show would not be troubled by their parents if they worked in a polluting industry. Loggers for example are not monsters but had they been portrayed as such that could have caused confusion and conflict, so the bad guys had to be as over the top as possible.
"Freaky Friday" Flip: Gaia and Dr. Blight switch bodies in one episode, and end up switching powers too. Dr. Blight uses her powers over nature to cause all kinds of ecological chaos...which Gaia then starts fixing using Dr. Blight's technology.
Free-Range Children: Do any of their parents care that their children are fighting against evil doers about the world? Only Ma-Ti and Wheeler were explicitly explained as having no parents to speak of (Ma-Ti is Conveniently an Orphan; Wheeler ran away from home), so what about the others?
Frickin' Laser Beams: Despite the alleged desire to be topical, all the tanks and weapons are very sci-fi, and everything uses lasers or missiles.
Fur and Loathing: Although it only shows up a couple of times with Looten Plunder, Hoggish Greedly, and Dr. Blight, and isn't given any real focus. Both surprising and refreshing for this show.
Gaia's Lament: Though Captain Planet takes place in modern times, with mostly current technology and cultures combined with occasional super-science and high-technology, in "A Hero For Earth", Gaia finds out the world is in a terrible state, though still basically in the same condition as the real world, with polluted waters and skies, huge cities, and dying animals. The poor state of the environment is enough to make her take action.
Let's start with the fact the show had three episodes dedicated to population control. "Population Bomb", "Send in the Clones" and "Numbers Game"
The AIDS episode mentions unprotected sex and implied homosexuality.
Four gang violence episodes, "Utopia" "Talkin' Trash" "'Teers In The Hood", and "One of The Gang".
In "The Great Clam Up", a few of Ma-Ti's quotes about his detective fantasy involving Linka.
There was one episode where Wheeler and Linka were shrunken and couldn't fit into their clothes. Wheeler finds a way to cover himself, and Linka prepares to cover herself, hidden by her over sized shirt and Wheeler attempts to sneak a peak at her while she's changing.
The episode "Mind Pollution", where Scumm makes a super drug that causes people to get addicted fast. Mass rioting, violent brawls, and Linka's cousin jumping though the window, nearly bleeding out and eventually dying of a drug overdose.
The episode Utopia features a drive-by shooting, in which a family is shot to death on screen and you can clearly see blood on the floor visible.
Episode One, "A Hero for Earth" has Linka say "Chyort voz'mi" after experiencing the power of wind for the first time. When roughly translated to English, she actually said the equivalent of "Damn it".
"No Small Problem"
Linka: We can work together to fuse the fuselage!
Wheeler: I'll fuse with you anytime, babe.
Bleak: [referring to an irrigation project by Looten] We've got some pipe to lay!
Generation Xerox: The episode where the bad guys form a Legion of Doom-type setup (see below) also sees a second alternate timeline where a new generation of Planeteers drop in to make the save. Look close enough and you'll notice the future Wind user looks a lot like Wheeler and the future Fire user looks a lot like Linka. The characters even point this out, though Linka and Wheeler refuse to ruminate on it.
G-Rated Drug: In the episode "Mind Pollution", Verminous Scumm handed some drugs called Bliss to everyone. Of course, it doesn't turn out well for the users.
It has some exceedingly nasty side effects; in addition to completely negating the ability to feel pain (to the point where potentially fatal injuries are flat-out ignored), it is quite toxic and, judging from the fact that all the victims are in a hospital afterwards, has a really unpleasant withdrawal.
Addressed in "The Unbearable Blightness of Being," where Gaia!Blight's attempted radical ecological alterations (first on her list being to turn the Sahara into a garden) would ultimately end up being just as destructive as the stuff Blight usually does, addressing why Gaia didn't do that herself. Yet this creates another problem, because the Sahara Desert is a natural part of the environment and of course turning it into a garden would be bad (although there are a few theories that it was massively expanded by overgrazing in early history). But there's plenty of places ruined by man that she could be affecting that she just...doesn't. Like cleaning up Chernobyl, or putting out the coal fires in Centralia or refilling the Aral Sea.
In the same episode, Gaia in Blight's body spends the episode fixing ecological problems with Blight's technology. It seems that while she could use her own power to fix the world, she'd much rather teach mankind to clean up after themselves instead, and being in Blight's body gave her the chance to show humanity it was possible. Which is better? Her fixing everything for humanity and them learning nothing, if anything making the problem worse by making humanity expect her to just clean up after them or actually forcing mankind to take responsibility for the problems they created and learn to fix them themselves?
However, if Zarm interferes, also being a god power being, Gaia WILL step in. When Zarm in "Future Shock" brings future eco villains into the past to change the future, Gaia steps in and brings in future Planeteers with a future Captain Planet to try and stop them.
Grand Theft Me: "The Unbearable Blightness Of Being" features Dr. Blight kidnapping and switching with Gaia's body. This backfires on her when Gaia spends the episode fixing ecological problems with Blight's technology.
The Great Politics Mess-Up: Linka of "The Soviet Union" is one of the good guys (albeit described as from 'Eastern Europe' after the Berlin Wall fell), and Russia was never played in a negative light until a late episode in the show's run (Missing Linka), when Linka goes back to her home in Russia to discover that a hastily abandoned and poorly dug iron mine was responsible for spreading sickness through the groundwater table, highlighting the rampant environmental problems in Russia.
Green Aesop: The whole show, but especially "The Power is Yours!" sections at the end of each episode.
Healing Shiv: Molten rock and raging fires will roast just about anything that comes into contact with them, except Captain Planet. Since fires and magma flows are part of the Earth's natural ecosystem, Captain Planet can actually recharge himself by getting set on fire or swimming through molten rock. Lightning bolts are also shown to be capable of restoring Captain Planet's energy with no damage done to him (in fact, Gaia used this once to trick Dr. Blight into accidentally healing him when he was almost dead).
Heart Is an Awesome Power: It is pointed out that Heart is the most useful power even more then fire. Really, if Ma-Ti wasn't such a Nice Guy he would brainwash everyone. (In an alternate timelime in which Wheeler Refused the Call and didn't take the Fire ring, he does just that.)
Heel-Face Turn: Hoggish Greedly went straight after his environmentalist grandfather taught him a lesson, as did Sly Sludge when he learned that he could profit from recycling. How ethical they were then, if they even changed to clean industries, is questionable at best. Also, in a future timeline in "Dirty Politics", it's hinted that Dr. Blight becomes reformed by her daughter, Betsi Blight. In addition, several one-time villains get reformed by the Planeteers in the series, such as a scientist employed by Hoggish Greedly who uses dolphins to retrieve chemicals from a sunken Nazi warship in "Sea No Evil", Hoggish Greedly's son in "Smog Hog", the incompetent manager of a sewage plant in "Old Ma River", the gang members in "'Teers in the 'Hood.", the son of a factory owner in "Bottom Line Green", Trish, Wheeler's old flame in "Talkin' Trash", a corrupt southern sheriff in "Jail House Flock", a whaler working for Looten Plunder in "Fare Thee Whale", an African Chief who Dr. Blight accidentally corrupts in "Loosing Game", and young Native American business-man in "Tree of Life" and "Bitter Waters". All of these minor villains are shown to be truly reformed by the Planeteers.
As long as you don't look under that hair covering part of her face.
Human Ladder: Wheeler and Kwame in "A Mine Is a Terrible Thing to Waste (part 2)."
Humanity on Trial: "Twelve Angry Animals", where the Planeteers get held on trial by several extinct and endangered animals, representing the human race.
Humans Are Bastards: Pretty well averted. While those poor silly humans are always wrecking their planet with wanton disregard, nearly everyone the Planeteers meet (except the eco-villains, of course) can actually be reasoned with. The vast amount of secondary villains who redeem themselves make this clear.
Humongous Mecha: Hoggish Greedly and Rigger plan to obtain colossal amounts of crude oil in a very short amount of time with a mobile oil rig in the first episode, "A Hero For Earth". It towers over the trees and almost smashes a rabbit who is ant-sized in comparison, but it still proves to be no match for Captain Planet, and Greedly and Rigger move on to operate smaller yet still destructive machines with a pig-motif instead.
I Ate What?: In "Horns Aplenty", Wheeler eats some authentic Chinese food, where Gi warns him that this isn't the kind of Chinese food he's used to.
Wheeler: (eating) "What do you mean? It's great!"
Gi: (looking at food) "Really? I didn't know you liked duck feet soup and squid in its own ink."
Wheeler: (eyes bulge out and he begins to cough) "Suddenly, I don't feel so good..."
Done again in the same episode at the end where Wheeler eats what he thought was pasta.
Wheeler: (eating) "Mmmm! I love pasta!"
Mabu: "Uh... what pasta? It is grub worm stew." (the four other Planeteers go wide-eyed, then look at Wheeler in morbid fascination as he continued to eat until he cleaned off his plate, obviously not hearing what Mabu said)
Kwame: "Do you think we should tell Wheeler?"
Kwame, Linka, Gi, Ma-ti and Mabu: "...... NAAAAAAAAH!" (laughter)
Idiot Ball: Although the "Heart" power is useless in a fight, it does come with immunity to the Idiot Ball, especially in Ma-Ti's character focus episodes.
Especially notable in "The Big Clam-Up", where Ma-Ti is the only one to spot the obvious trap that is the tip to go to a restaurant on Pier 13 at midnight, and is thus able to save the others, who were definitely carrying the Idiot Ball at that point (and also when they talked to a mime who was obviously Verminous Skumm and didn't figure it out).
Blight picks it up big time in "The Unbearable Blightness of Being": Dr. Blight creates a machine that allows her to switch bodies with Gaia, does so and starts using her powers to destroy the environment for the hell of it...yet apparently gave no thought whatsoever to the fact that after the switch, Gaia is now in her body: not only is Gaia free to wander around her base (it would be as simple as locking yourself in a cage during the switch, Blight!), but Blight didn't even inform MAL of this. Naturally, not only does Gaia use Blight's gadgets to fight back with MAL's assistance, she even tricks him into continuing to do so after they switch back claiming it's "all part of her plan".
If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: In "'Teers in the 'Hood", Gi gets called out on this by Wheeler as she attempts to drown the gangster who shot one of her teachers. A fair example, as the Planeteers have never actually killed anybody.
On the episode "An Inside Job", four of the Planeteers are shrunk by Dr. Blight. The episode becomes a Fantastic Voyage Plot when Kwame accidentally drinks them and they must fight parasites inside of him.
In "No Small Problem", Sly Sludge shrinks the Planeteers and leaves them in a dump.
Wheeler and Linka after getting hit by Blight's frog darts in "Frog Day Afternoon".
Ink-Suit Actor: Dr. Blight bears a strong resemblance to her original voice actor, Meg Ryan. The same can be said with varying degrees of accuracy about the other eco-villains and their respective voice actors.
Invocation: "Let our powers combine!" and "Go planet!"
Just a Kid: Ma-Ti often feels like he's The Load of the group, and one of the reasons is that he's just twelve years old, whereas the other Planeteers are all over the age of fifteen.
Karma Houdini: The villains seem to have received prison escape lessons from Lex Luthor and the Joker, as no matter how many times they get put away, they seem to be back the very next episode.
The worst punishment any villain ever got was Verminous Scummaccidentally eating a dose ofBliss. Since he doesn't have any more and lost the formula, he got better, but he would have had to go through the withdrawal, which is implied to be very unpleasant.
Kick the Dog: Many of the villains have moments like this in case they weren't evil enough for you.
One episode depicted an alternate timeline in the future after the regular Rogues Gallery formed a proper evil alliance and conquered the world.
There was also the episode where they formed that alliance under Looten Plunder and created evil versions of the kids' rings, which enabled them to summon Captain Pollution.
Let's Meet the Meat: An interesting example. Despite its clear animal-rights agenda, Captain Planet never explicitly promotes vegetarianism nor condemns eating meat, and also doesn't shun hunting when it's done safely and smartly. In one episode, a man ate a bear's meat and wore its fur, but also honored its spirit, and in another, a man chided Linka, as she was angry at him for hunting animals for sport, even though she herself was eating a lamb kebab.
Misapplied Phlebotinum: None of the Planeteers ever used their rings to their full potential. If they did, Ma-Ti alone would be enough to end most crises without bothering to summon the our mullet-wearing hero.
Keep in mind that Captain Planet represents the kids' powers combined and magnified. He wields the rings' powers to a higher extent than the rings themselves.
This was explored slightly in the episode where Wheeler time travels and has a Refusal of the Call moment: Ma-Ti had crossed the Moral Event Horizon and was using his ring to brainwash people into doing what he felt was right.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The villains have the kind of Meaningful Names that should trigger warning bells for any sane person. Would you invest in a company with a CEO named Looten Plunder? Or take environmental consulting from Sly Sludge? Would you let a man named Hoggish Greedly drill for oil and mine for coal by your home city? Or let a woman named Dr. Blight...within 50 feet of you?
Nebulous Evil Organization: The Eco-villains occasionally organize with each other, though they're more likely to appear alone. None of them are really nice to each other, though Sly Sludge usually uses Dr. Blight's technology. See also the "Legion of Doom," trope above.
Nobody Poops: Somewhat averted. Ma-ti mentions that manure is a good fertilizer in one Planeteer Alert. If it mentions a kind of mammal solid waste, it implies that humans void as well. Other episodes depict raw sewage.
No Fourth Wall: "Hog Tide", in which Captain Planet sings a part of the show's theme song.
No Swastikas: None are to be seen when they meet Adolph Hitler, and Hitler doesn't even look much like the historical Hitler.
Obviously Evil: Played straight with Hoggish Greedly, Sly Sludge, Verminous Skumm, and Duke Nukem, who are all ugly, rude, and at times dirty. Averted by Looten Plunder, who is well-dressed, mild mannered, and attractive, despite his name. Subverted by Dr. Blight, whom other than the scars in half of her face (which were always covered by her hair) was an attractive woman. YMMV on whether Zarm plays this trope straight, averts it, or subverts it.
Sometimes they'd forget to draw the captain's boots.
In the very first episode, at a close up on Greedly's face, one of his eyes was slightly off-kilter. It was... kinda creepy, even for this show.
Oireland: The Belfast sequence in "If It's Doomsday, It Must Be Belfast" is probably the single most offensive take on this.
Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Dr. Blight. She's worked with Sly Sludge to make garbage disposing machines, created the world's largest oil refinery and made incredibly powerful rocket fuel for the President of the United States, made several time-traveling devices, experimented on countless animals and plants, and she's even hacked governmental computers to change national parks into waste dumps. Since she can pretty much create anything, she's the subject villain of many episodes. The only villain seen more frequently than her is Hoggish Greedly.
The Other Darrin: Mary Kay Bergman replaced Meg Ryan as the voice of Dr. Blight in the second season. Also, the voice of Gaia had Whoopi Goldberg replaced with Margot Kidder when production moved from DiC to Hanna-Barbera.
Our Zombies Are Different: Verminous Skumm ends up creating two plans that than involve corrupting humans into zombie like beings. The first time, he poisoned the water supply of a South American village with a fluid he manufactured called "Rat Rot". It turned the humans who got into contact with it into rat-humanoids like Verminous Skumm, but also made them feral and mindless. The other time, he produced a drug called "Bliss" and sold it on the streets of Washington D.C., which would give the user a high feeling and make their eyes glow red and eventually cause them to go insane with addiction.
Parental Abandonment: The kids live in the Hope Island with Gaia as their Team Mom. Wheeler was the only one explicitly stated to have living parents. Also, Ma-Ti is specifically shown to be an orphan raised by his grandfather. Linka's brother appears in an episode, making the lack of parental mention that much more noticeable. Kwame also states in one episode that he never got to know his father - implying his father is dead.
Personality Powers: Each Planeteer receives control of an element related to their personal environmental passion and their personality.
Hoggish Greedly in the episode "OK at the Gunfight Corral". He hired a bunch of racist white men to attack the local "Injuns" so he could claim their land as his and sell it to Sly Sludge, but otherwise he never even commented on anybody's race or did anything remotely discriminatory.
Verminous Skumm harassed and lied about a boy who had HIV, and he gave nuclear detonators to people fighting in the The Troubles, The Apartheid Era, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, in an attempt to discredit the entire human race. Both of these episodes went down in infamy, unsurprisingly.
Looten Plunder in "Bitter Waters", using terms like 'chief', 'wampum', referring to the (unnamed, though they're most likely primarily based on Hopi, considering the desert land) as his "red brothers". When corrected by the chairman of the local tribal council, his henchman angrily declares that he "doesn't care if he's the blinkin' medicine man".
Reckless Gun Usage: In one episode, Wheeler had been showing off his gun-twirling skills with a loaded revolver. The gun went off but since it's a cartoon, it hit the sign, making it fall and hit Ma-Ti on the head.
Refusal of the Call In a two-part episode ("Two Futures"), Wheeler decides he'd have been better off not being a Planeteer (in a Shout Out to Its A Wonderful Life), so he goes back in time and convinces himself to refuse the Fire ring. This results in a hellish present (see "Bad Future", above) where there are no Planeteers. Wheeler then has go to back and stop himself... from stopping himself.
This episode is a prime example of the writer's mantra: "Wheeler is always wrong." Gaia informs Wheeler that this terrible world is all his fault...even though she could have fixed the entire mess by giving the ring to someone else. But apparently, she had no backup candidates in mind, and openly refuses to try and find any, essentially preferring to let the world go to Hell rather than do the extra work. And this, too, is blamed on Wheeler. Furthermore, in the Bad Future, Gaia herself has been killed by pollution, meaning she effectively let herself die because she wasn't willing to find someone to take Wheeler's place. It doesn't help that the reason the Planeteers broke up is they couldn't create Captain Planet without a fifth member. So without a pun-spewing genie in their corner, they couldn't handle it.
Reed Richards Is Useless: The team could eliminate most pollution by simply releasing the technology they use in their own vehicles and equipment (since we're told it doesn't pollute at all).
Relative Error: "Missing Linka", where Wheeler mistakes Linka's older brother for her boyfriend.
The Remnant: In "Mission to Save Earth", the Planeteers come to an island and stumble upon Commander Clash. This soldier had been assigned to guard the island and prepare for a possible invasion of America by the Soviets. After they manage to convince him that the Cold War has been over for a while, he goes into a Heroic BSOD when he realizes his superiors had long forgotten about him and he had been fighting for nothing. Clash eventually finds a new purpose in helping the Planeteers protect the Earth from pollution and such.
Rogues Gallery: There's a regular stable of villains with only a handful of one-offs. Hoggish Greedly and Dr. Blight appeared much more frequently than the other villains, because they represent resource abuse and technology gone wrong respectively, which are probably the two biggest problems for nature.
The show had lots of potential for this type of thing. Even without the potential Planeteers with rings coming from Australia, Oceana, and Antarctica (Penguin Planeteer ahoy!), the show does induct new Planeteers all the time. They're almost always kids who help in one episode, then never show up again, and they don't have any rings or powers (The only exception is Goki in "Gorillas Will Be Missed"). Given that there are about six or seven billion humans, almost all of whom could probably join the planeteers in this same limited capacity, you have an entire species of Sailor Earths!
Science Is Bad: Though played straight with the character of Dr. Blight, all the other scientists are good. In fact, the show promotes the use of science and technology in a good way.
Supposedly the technology on the island is perfect eco-technology from the future that lets a supersonic jet fly off solar power. However, they don't share this technology with anyone else, nor do they go into how the mining for rare earth elements for solar power isn't actually sustainable)
Secret Test of Character: Greedly's grandfather, green industrialist Don Porkaloin, fakes his bloody death and leaves a bogus fortune to his grandson to test if Greedly could be taught to be environmentally conscious. Nope.
Seven Deadly Sins: The ecovillain cast can be seen as such. Verminous Skumm is Envy, due to his hatred of humanity and wanting his rats to take over. Hoggish Greedly, despite his name is closer to Gluttony, while Looten Plunder is a better embodiment for Greed. Dr. Blight is closer to Lust, because she lusts for power and control, while Duke Nukem takes Pride in his superpowers. Sly Sludge is the embodiment of Sloth with his lazy waste disposal schemes, while Zarm represents Wrath due to his need to start conflicts.
Shout Out: Captain Planet's designs look similar to Colossus. Mostly Colossus's older design.
Wheeler does several shout-outs to certain shows and movies.
Linka: "How can you think about pizza with what is happening to those turtles!?"
Wheeler: "I don't know. Turtles, pizza, must be something subliminal."
When Gaia tells the Planeteers that the timestream had been disrupted which caused the Grand Canyon to be turned into a dumping site, Wheeler makes a subtle comparison to Back to the Future.
Wheeler also makes a comment about Alien after hearing a researcher's plan to naturally kill off Scumm's mutated weevils by using wasps to lay their eggs in them and their young burst out of them.
Wheeler: "Cool! Just like in Alien!"
Tom Cruise was originally going to voice Captain Planet, so the character's design was based off of him. He dropped out soon after production began.
Sibling Yin-Yang: Bambi Blight actually cares about the environment unlike her sister, Babs Blight.
Strange Minds Think Alike: In one episode, we saw Verminous Scumm working in his lab, humming "I've Been Working On The Railroad" to himself. Later in the same episode, Cap is singing his own version of the song — while tearing apart Scumm's lab, no less!
Strawman Political: Too many to list, but taken to ridiculous extremes with Looten Plunder. In one episode in the future, he even promised tax-cuts for the rich while running for President, because "The more you have, the less you should share!". Hoggish Greedly counts too, being a Deep South style CEO who partially represents the damage caused by obtaining and using fossil fuels.
Just in case anyone doubts the veracity of any of the above, here's the tagline from Plunder's TV ad when he was campaigning:
Voice-Over: Vote the Plunder/Pinehead Repulsivecan [sic] Party Ticket — So these kids can grow up filthy rich!
Strictly Formula: Nearly every episode follows a very specific formula. Occasionally, they might break the formula- the episode where Looten Plunder won, or the Special Episodes with no Eco-Villians, for example, but that was about it.
Sunken City: Wheeler goes forward in time in "Two Futures", and the first thing he sees is New York underwater due to global warming.
Taking the Bullet: At the near end of the episode "Future Shock", one of the future villains tries to shoot a laser gun at a little girl to fix his future. Ma-Ti jumps in front of the girl and gets hit by the beam, which renders him unconscious. He gets better.
Team Mom: Gaia the Spirit of the Earth, and Gi to some degree.
Timey-Wimey Ball: Wheeler jumps into a time portal and makes his past self refuse the call. This destroys the world. Wheeler travels back in time and stops his other self from stopping his past self. Then both of them are sucked back to present, fusing together en route. What?
Unexplained Accent: Oddly enough, Gi and her lack of accent. All of the other Planeteers speak with accents based on where they are from, even American Wheeler speaks with a Brooklyn accent, but Gi, a native of East Asia, inexplicably speaks very clear Standard American English. note Gi's voice actress, Hiromi Janice Kawaye, is Japanese-American, and is completely fluent in Japanese. As such, in the pilot, she spoke Gi's lines with a soft Japanese accent. However, for the rest of the series run, Kawaye then switched to speaking her lines with her natural American English accent. No reason for dropping Gi's original Asian accent has ever been given.
Verbal Tic: Hoggish Greedly always snorts like a pig when he talks.
Villainous Glutton: Hoggish Greedly, obviously. He even ate his own horse while in the middle of a desert once, because he really was that hungry. He's also meant to represent how acquiring vast amounts of natural resources damages the environment.
Villains Want Mercy: In one episode, Dr. Blight begs Captain Planet to save her from being trampled to death by a genetically altered steer (that she created) stating, "You have to save me! It's in your hero code!" Cap admits she's right and does save her.
Weaksauce Weakness: Captain Planet is weakened by not only the very thing he exists to fight (pollution) but also what he exists to protect (raw natural resources, mostly oil and even gasoline). This wouldn't be so bad, but he basically falls every time he's attacked with pollution, and the (human) Planeteers can resist pollution better than he can.
Though in a display of Genre Savvy, the planeteers were able to invert this with Captain Pollution and were able to repulse his initial attack by... spraying him with water. Captain Pollution was also shown to be vulnerable to fresh air and concentrated sunlight.
Also, volcanoes put out millions of tons of what can be termed as pollutants. Toxic gas, carbon dioxide, particulates... and yet lava heals him.