The '90s were a great time for animated kids series, as it featured an innumerable number of shows that still have fans looking back fondly on them. One such show was Captain Planet, a show more environmentally minded than most of its era — or any other, for that matter. Rather than merely fighting off the bad guy or a giant robot, Captain Planet was a hero that fought against the real-world evils that harm our planet, like pollution and deforestation.
Something of an anomaly for its time, Captain Planet was a huge success, becoming one of the longest running animated shows of its era and spawning successful merchandise lines. Even if you think you know about Captain Planet, there's still plenty of behind the scenes surprises concerning the Captain and his five Planeteers. Here are 10 Things You Need to Know About Captain Planet.
10 Whoopi Goldberg voiced Gaia, the spirit of Earth.
While the general population of the '90s may have known her better for her roles in movies like Sister Act or Ghost, Whoopi Goldberg lent her voice to the character of Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, for the first few seasons of Captain Planet. Gaia would be the character directly responsible for the events of the show, as she was the one who picked the five Planeteers and gave them their magic power rings. Using her “Planet Vision,” Gaia sees where the greatest damage is being done around the world and sends the Planeteers there to stop it, often leading to them coming into conflict with one or more of the show’s various eco-villains.
Fun fact: after Goldberg left the show at the end of season 3, it was none other than Margot Kidder (best known for playing Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies) who took over as the voice behind Gaia.
9 It spawned a twelve issue comic series from Marvel
Though Marvel is much more well-known for their comics featuring their own original superheroes, like Spider-Man or the Avengers, they do publish comics from other licensed properties from time to time. During the heyday of Captain Planet, they published a twelve issue tie in series to coincide with the show. Oddly, the comics were part of a separate continuity than the show, leading to wildly different plots during its short run.
Even though it was not part of the larger Marvel universe and continuity, the creators of the comic did have a bit of fun with the series, using the cover of the fourth issue to parody that iconic Fantastic Four #1 cover.
8 It spawned a really bad video game
A video game loosely based on the animated series was released in 1992 for the Nintendo Entertainment System by the developer Mindscape. Featuring a whole lot of shooting (and little else), the game featured levels which the player would navigate using the Planeteers “geocruiser” and attack a villain’s fortress, before getting into the fortress and using Captain Planet to battle a number of foes and, ultimately, defeat the villain.
The game was almost universally panned by critics for its terrible graphics, limited playability, and immense difficulty, with most of the problems stemming from the fact that the player had to change powers and abilities while being actively attacked by enemies. The game was so poorly received that it led to the planned Sega Genesis version of the game being scrapped entirely.
7 It almost forced Duke Nukem into a name change
Captain Planet faced off against many eco-villains over the course of the show, with one of them being named Duke Nukem, a doctor who transformed himself into a radioactive mutant capable of firing radioactive blasts and using X-ray vision.
The name might be familiar to anyone who’s ever played one of the hyper-violent Duke Nukem games from Apogee. The two characters sharing the same name eventually caused Apogee to change the name of their hero to "Duke Nukum" in order to avoid any trademark lawsuits they could face from the people behind Captain Planet. They would later find out that there was no trademark on the name, allowing them to change the name of the hero and franchise back to Duke Nukem.
6 Captain Planet featured a star-studded voice cast
Maybe it’s because the show tapped into these actors' love for the environment, or maybe it’s just because the early '90s were a really weird time, but Captain Planet featured some pretty successful, and somewhat surprising, actors in various roles throughout its run.
At various time during the series' run, Captain Planet featured the quite a few big name stars, including Meg Ryan, Tim Curry, Sting, and Ed Asner. Add that to Whoopi Goldberg’s aforementioned role as Gaia, as well as Star Trek and Reading Rainbow legend Levar Burton lending his voice to the Planeteer Kwame, and Captain Planet had a pretty star-studded voice cast. And none of those actors were even the biggest names attached to the project.
5 Tom Cruise was almost Captain Planet
In a hard-to-imagine scenario, given his immense star power, Tom Cruise was at one point in line to provide the voice for Captain Planet himself. Playing on his own passion for environmental protection, Cruise was the original choice for the role, and supposedly even voiced him for six episodes before leaving the show. After Cruise’s departure, the decision was made to cast a new voice actor and have him redo Captain Planet’s parts in the first six episodes — in order to maintain a sense of continuity in the series. Voice actor David Coburn was eventually brought on to take over for Cruise, and Coburn remained in the role for the animated series' entire run.
As many Marvel fans know, this wouldn't be the last time Cruise expressed interest in playing a superhero, but we're going to let that slide for now.
4 It spawned a real life environmental organization
Captain Planet was built around the idea of raising awareness of environmental problems and giving viewers the knowledge and resources to enact change. To help ensure that that legacy would live on long after the show ceased production, the Captain Planet Foundation was founded in 1991.
By using a small percentage of the merchandising revenues to set up the project, a real life foundation was created to help provide seed money for schools and organizations who have environmental projects and need funding. Though it was almost shut down in 2001, the foundation was transitioned to a public charity independent of Time Warner, and has continued its work ever since.
3 It was one of the first animated shows to deal with AIDS/HIV
Every now and then, Captain Planet and the Planeteers would tackle a topic that wasn’t about saving the environment. One such episode featured the group confronting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which marked the first time a U.S.-produced animated children's show had done so.
In the episode, the villains brainwash the people of a small town into thinking that AIDS can be contacted through simple, casual contact, leading them to ostracize and alienate a local boy with the disease (played by Neil Patrick Harris, with his mom played by Elizabeth Taylor). It was up to Captain Planet and the Planeteers to help defeat the villains and educate the people of the town about the disease, and how it could and couldn’t be transmitted to others. While some may have thought the content to be a bit on the racy side for the show's youthful viewers, it was easily one of the series' most important episodes.
2 The toy packaging was only sort of environmentally friendly
When it came time to have a toy line based on the animated show, it only made sense that the toy line would feature recycled materials, right?
Well, sort of. The line featured various posable action figures of the characters in the animated series, as well as power rings similar to the ones the Planeteers wear and use in the show. The toys sported packaging that was made from recyclable materials, and Ted Turner (billionaire media mogul and co-creator of the series) pledged that the line would be “as eco-friendly as it can be," but, as one journalist at the time noted, the plastic would be around for a long, long time. Still, an A for effort.
1 We might get a movie. Eventually.
Rumors have swirled about the possibility of Captain Planet headlining his own live-action film for almost as long as the characters have been around. Beginning in 1996, various incarnations of the film have been discussed, with many being envisioned as a darker, more adult take on the material. A couple of the almost-films — like the adaptation Warner Bros attempted to get off the ground in the late '90s — reached design stages before falling apart.
Last we heard, Sony was deep into negotiations to acquire the film rights and get a live-action take into production as soon as possible. Until that happens, we’ll just have to make do with Don Cheadle's hilarious take on the character from the folks over at Funny or Die.
We may still be a few years away from a Captain Planet movie (if we ever get one at all), so for now he's little more than a fun piece of '90s nostalgia. Are you hoping Hollywood stays away from a Captain Planet movie? Who was your favorite Planeteer? Let us know in the comments below.