Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Terrifying Moments in Children's Television: Captain Planet and the Planeteers

(photo @ wikipedia)

Captain Planet and the Planeteers was a cartoon that aired in the early 1990's.  It was conceived and produced by Ted Turner/TBS. The show was a bizarre attempt at combining environmental education with an action oriented super hero cartoon. Despite its terrible production values and animation, it developed a bit of a cult following that remains to this day. It also had one particularly disturbing episode that completely neglected to deal with any environmental issues, instead deciding to ramp up the creepiness.

Before we dig into the episode in question, you should know a little background on the show itself. Despite the show being called "Captain Planet," it actually revolved around 5 multicultural children called the Planeteers. Each one of these kids had a special ring (to go along with their insufferable personalities and ethnically stereotyped mannerisms) that gave them special powers that they derived from the earth itself.


Kwame (Earth)
The unofficial leader of the group, Kwame (who is from Africa) wields the power of "earth," which allowed him to created localized earthquakes. Thankfully, he never developed a god complex.

Wheeler (Fire)  
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Wheeler is the group's occasional comic relief and also the one that tends to make poor/destructive decisions. Fitting the way that many foreigners think of Americans, he often acts on impulse and doesn't realize the damage that he does to others. Wheeler also has what basically amounts to a high powered flame thrower on his ring finger, so no one messes with him.


Linka (Wind)
Linka is from Russia, which at the time the show began airing was still the Soviet Union. Despite being blond and having a foreign accent, she is the brains of the group. No character ever made a pun about her wind powers "breaking," which really is a shame.


Gi (Water)
Gi has the ability to control water, but not to create it (unless it is required by that episode's plot). Even though she is from Thailand, her accent most definitely isn't. Gi also gets incredibly emotional and upset when animals are harmed in any way. Unless the entire team is vegan (and there's no way that Wheeler doesn't eat Big Macs and steaks every day), this probably made meal time very awkward.


Ma-Ti (Heart)  
From the Amazon rain forests in Brazil, Ma-Ti was born with the same name as an alcoholic drink (though pronounced differently) and a terrible personality. His power is supposed to have something to do with love and compassion or some crap...really he's just completely useless.


Captain Planet  
Sporting a magnificent green mullet and Carolina blue skin, Captain Planet is summoned by the Planeteers combining their powers after they are tired of having their butts handed to them (or the show's writers need to wrap up the episode). His powers are a little hard to define (he basically can do whatever is needed to save the day), but he is consistently shown possessing superhuman strength and the ability to fly.

The episode that we are looking at today is the show's attempt at an anti drug message called 'Mind Pollution.' (See what they did there?) It begins in a very confusing  manner: A blond kid is running aimlessly through the streets of Washington D.C. while a sinister voice taunts him about how hard it is to be the new kid in town. Since this is probably how most new congressmen begin their first day after being elected, nothing seems too out of the ordinary...until the sinister voice is revealed to be a drug dealing rat named Verminous Skumm.

At least his customers know that he
will never put rat poison in the product.

Skumm is selling a drug that he calls 'Bliss.' After his hard sales pitch of "none of your problems will matter," the boy buys a pill while being encouraged by his anamorphic drug dealer to get "blissed out."

After taking the pill, the boy's eyes turn red and he begins to cackle hysterically. He then immediately decides to run out into traffic, where he is nearly hit by a car, falls to the ground, and hits his head against the curb. This causes the boy to laugh even harder. It also gives Venimous a chance to do the obligatory maniacal laugh and explain that his victim now feels no pain.

In the meantime, the Planeteers are shown doing basic maintenance on their flying machine under the direction of Linka. The group is taking a vacation to Washington D.C. so that she can visit her Uncle Dimitri, who works at the Soviet Embassy, and her cousin Boris. Linka hounds each member of the group about double checking their work and making sure that everything is done properly. When Wheeler attempts to make light of her perfectionism, Linka uses her stern Russian accent to sharply rebuke him and question his lazy American work ethic.

 "Frickin' commies..."

After blatantly violating Washington D.C.'s no fly rule and landing right next to the Washington Monument without causing an international incident, Linka departs from the group to see her uncle. When she walks inside, we discover that her cousin Boris was the boy from the drug deal/traffic incident that we saw earlier.  

After coming downstairs to greet Linka, Boris does what many people feel like doing when family comes to visit: He runs back up to his room, locks the door, and takes drugs. This causes him to come back downstairs dressed like an extra from a Molly Ringwald movie and act like a complete tool.

"What's happening hot stuff..."

At this point, Boris' father finally notices his son has a gigantic cut on his head, which Boris of course claims that he "doesn't remember" how it got there. Instead of taking care of his son himself, however, he asks Linka to treat the wound. Boris accidentally knocks the rubbing alcohol from her hand, which lands directly on the stove. This causes the entire kitchen to go up in flames in a matter of seconds.

As Dimitri goes to get the fire extinguisher, Boris asks Linka what they should do. Her actual response is:

"Use baking soda...and...WIND!!!"

Seriously, that's how it went down. Take a look:

Linka and Boris then decide to completely abandon Dimitri and his newly damaged home to ride their bikes together. While they are doing this, Boris inquires about his cousin's powers. She explains that they come from a special ring she wears that is connected to the earth. Since this answer made her sound like a drug addict as well, Boris takes this opportunity to offer her a gigantic bag of "bliss" pills in exchange for a chance to use her ring.

Linka chastises Boris for using drugs and attempts to take the pills away from him. In the ensuing struggle, the bag is ripped and all of the pills fall down a conveniently placed storm drain. Boris yells at Linka for losing his stash, calls her a "stupid cow", and once again darts into oncoming traffic.

Later, Boris goes to meet with Venimous Skumm again only to find out that he doesn't have enough money to buy even one pill. He instead offers to steal Linka's ring and bring to him.  But when Venimous hears that a kid possessing a ring with elemental powers is in town, he quickly deduces that it is one of the Planeteers.  Skumm makes Boris promise to bring him not only the ring, but Linka herself.

"And don't let me ever hear about 
you wearing sunglasses indoors again!"

Linka rushes back to her uncle's house to find that he has left due to "trouble at the embassy." The trouble turns out to be mobs of people that are high on bliss and committing acts of violence and vandalism all over the capital. But just as Linka begins to freak out over the possibility that her cousin may be a part of it, Boris shows up behind her.

He lies and says that he is no longer taking bliss, when in reality he has bought her a burrito and put a bliss pill inside of it. Linka takes the food, completely unaware of the future ramifications.

...or the hilarious irony of being 
unknowingly drugged by a burrito.

Elsewhere, the Planateers receive an "Eco Alert" in the Washington D.C. area. Apparently, the city is going crazy due to people's minds being polluted by the drug, bliss. (See what they did there?). The team flies over to Washington, where they are set upon by a mob of strung out addicts under the command of Venimous Skumm.

Wheeler attempts to stop them with fire, but the mob simply marches through it, unaware of pain and only wanting to bend to the will of their drug dealer.

Bliss apparently shares some of
the same attributes as PCP and diplomatic immunity.

The Planeteers break from the normal order of last minute solutions and attempt to summon Captain Planet. The plan does not work, however, due to the fact that Linka is now also a bliss addict and under the control of Venimous Skumm.  

The Planateers are somehow able to recapture Linka (though she is still completely incapacitated) and flee with her into the Capitol building. While inside, Ma-Ti uses his power (SERIOUSLY, HE ACTUALLY USES IT) to discover that all authority figures and security personnel have fled Washington like a bunch of pansies, leaving only roaming bands of drug addicts and the Planeteers.  

At that moment, a large mob (which has now strangely begun to look like zombies) begins to surround the capital building like it was the mall from Dawn of the Dead.

"Stop filibustering...and give us braaaains...."

About here is where things really begin to get weird. It starts with Wheeler exclaiming:  

"If you were a zombie, where would you be...the Vice President's Office!"

At the time this episode aired, Dan Quayle was the sitting V.P. He may not have been able to spell very well, but that hardly made him a "zombie."   

While Wheeler is making his veiled political attack, Linka attempts to let the zombies into the building. As Wheeler tries to stop her, she tempts him with bliss. As vaguely patriotic music plays in the background, Wheeler throws the drugs on the ground and demands that she snap out of it. While all this is happening, Boris hurls himself through the window, severely cutting his arms and causing his blood to spill all over the floor.

I know this sounds a bit too insane to all be happening at once, so here is the clip:

The group takes the injured Boris and runs from the rampaging mob of drug addicts/zombies that have now breached the interior. For some reason, they decide that the safest course of action is to head to the top of the building and stand on a narrow ledge. As they are doing this, the zombies break through the observation windows and begin attacking them. Ma-Ti almost falls to his death, but unfortunately, he is saved.

While the Planeteers fight for their lives, Venimous Skumm flies up on his helicopter to where they are and throws a full bottle of bliss pills towards the group. This is when things get pretty dark:

Yep, just like the Bravestarr episode we looked at a few months ago, a kid totally O.D.'s and dies. But this time, you get to see it happen and hear his final, raspy breath.

As you probably can tell from the end of the clip, zombies don't really care about giving people time to grieve. Despite Linka's drugged out state and severe depression over losing her cousin, Wheeler yells at her until she is able to once again use her earth ring to help them summon Captain Planet.

Somehow, the Planeteers are able to shout a hearty "GO PLANET!" (their deus ex machina catchphrase) while standing over the body of their dead friend.

The 'Cartoon Network' logo has
never looked more inappropriate.
Captain Planet proceeds to beat the crap out of Skumm, Linka greives for her lost family member, and no one asks where our leaders or military were during a national crisis in our nation's capital. The episode wraps up with the expected anti-drug PSA, followed by the terribly awesome Captain Planet theme song.

Once again, I have to commend this cartoon (as terrible as the series was as a whole was) for having the guts to show a kid actually die due to a drug overdose. If you watched this episode when you were young, there were a couple of important lessons to be learned.

1.)  Taking illegal/harmful drugs is something that can hurt everyone, even your own family members.
2.)  If you still decide to take illegal drugs and buy them from a giant rat wearing a trench coat, you probably deserve to die.



Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter.

To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page. Every time someone does, Captain Planet decides not to turn another human into a tree.