There are certain TV shows I used to watch as a kid that I look back on now and wonder, “Did that really happen, or did I just make that up?”
Was there really a show about a creepy ass robot that looked just like a little girl? Yes; it was called Small Wonder.
Was there really a show about the secret lives of mouse butlers, like a cartoon Downtown Abbey if all the characters were mice? No; but get on that.
Was there really a show about five ethnically diverse teenagers that each have separate Earth powers which when combined form a eco-fighting superhero named Captain Planet? Yes; you kind of beat me to the punch there, but it was called Captain Planet – and they’re making it into a movie now.
Shut the front door! Is this actually happening? Possibly. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Sony Pictures is in final negotiations to pick up the rights to the early 1990s series for a [film] adaptation to be produced by Mark Gordon,Don Murphy and Susan Montford.” Who the hell are those people? Unknown names who produced things you’ve heard of like Speed, Saving Private Ryan, and 2012 (Gordon), the Transformers films (Murphy), and Real Steel (Montford). By their producing powers combined, the world may yet soon have a Captain Planet movie.
Captain Planet, of course, was originally the brainchild of Ted Turner who in 1989 apparently exclaimed, “We need a super hero for Earth. Let’s call him Captain Planet.” He took the idea to a TV documentary director/producer named Barbara Pyle whose prior work had titles like Our Finite World: Mexico and One Earth. They co-developed the show along with her creative team, and it premiered as Captain Planet and the Planeteers in 1990 and was syndicated in over 220 U.S. markets and in over 100 countries worldwide.
Here is Robot Chicken‘s version of how obsessed Ted Turner might have become with Captain Planet:
It is a show which sounds and looks positively hokey from a modern perspective. From THR:
Five teens from around the world — North America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and South America — are given powers by Gaia (initially voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), the earth spirit, in order to protect the planet from the devastation of polluters. When their powers are not enough, the teens combine to summon a superhero named Captain Planet. The Captain and the Planeteers fought villains such as Dr. Blight, Verminous Skumm, Duke Nukem and Looten Plunder. (The series initially attracted high-profile celebrities to play the baddies — Sting, Meg Ryan and James Coburn among them.)
However, this was from a time when shows like G.I. Joe episodes used to counterbalance cartoon violence with educational end-of-episode “‘Now you know’/’And knowing is half the battle'” segment. Here’s one about fire safety.
It seems so antiquated to think of an animated show basing its entire premise around educating children on a hot-button social issue such as environmentalism, which it was – a hot-button social issue – at that the time. The closest current example I can think of is how in a time of debate over immigration Dora the Explorer dares to humanize a Latina girl and even covertly teach children a little Spanish. However, it’s not like every episode of Dora features the intrepid explorer scaling immigration fences or calling on viewers to help her get past border security.
Yet Captain Planet was a big force in educating children about environmental issues like pollution and recycling and featured a core story dynamic which emphasized teamwork. It was the first (if not only) ever edutainment eco-toon, and it was showered with awards during its 6-year, 113-episode run. In that time it was undoubtedly the bane of many an overworked parent’s life who suddenly had a little planeteer in their household admonishing mommy for mixing the glass with the plastic in the recycle bin (or arguing endlessly for how they needed to start recycling if they weren’t already). The show even used its profits to establish the Captain Planet Foundation, which offered seed money to help start environmental projects proposed by schools and various other organizations.
When it was still on the air in the 90s, there was a Captain Planet film adaptation in the works that never left development hell. In 2011, Cartoon Network attempted to adapt the show into a series of live-action films with producer Don Murphy. Of course, Murphy is still attached as producer to the version Sony is negotiating to buy. It is not entirely clear in the reports out there if Sony is negotiating for a live-action or animated film, but based upon the Cartoon Network thing and presence of Murphy it’s probably meant to be live-action.
There is a slight problem: for all the good it did, Captain Planet is a pop culture punchline at this point. Its off-the-charts level of cloying, non-ironic sincerity is almost offensive to our modern cynical ears. Funny or Die did a series of hilarious (not safe for work) sketches involving Don Cheadle as a drunk-with-power version of the character (do yourself a favor and just go over to YouTube and watch all 4 of the sketches they did). Plus, in a post 9/11 world where terrorists are the new Russians (i.e., the go-to bad guys in movies) a lot of what the actions performed by the five teenagers is pretty close to what we might now consider eco-terrorism.
Here’s what Robot Chicken had to say about that?
Isn’t this a dicey proposition for Sony consider how controversial The Lorax was among conservative Americans for its comparatively far more subtle environmental message? Of course, those Transformers movies had absolutely no business being successful, and this Captain Planet thing comes to us from one of the same producers. So, watch this be the blockbuster hit of (picking a year at random) the 2014 Summer movie season.
So, going back to the crazy shows I watched as a kid if this Captain Planet movie actually ends up happening for real does that mean Small Wonder is next? The horror, the horror.
What do you think of this news? Fan of Captain Planet? Never liked it? Never even heard of it? Still laughing at the Dora the Explorer picture (I know I am)? Share in the comments section.
- Sony closing ‘Captain Planet and the Planeteers’ movie deal (digitalspy.co.uk)
- Calling Captain Planet! (angieswonderland.wordpress.com)
- ‘Captain Planet’ Movie Adaptation Close To Being Acquired By Sony (screenrant.com)