For us 90s kids, we took our TV shows with a grain of salt. No, we didn’t think that dunking our pets in nuclear waste would turn them into crime fighting, pizza eating super heroes. And a number of us realized that if the Power Rangers just got in their Megazords when the henchmen showed up, they could have won the battle and gotten back with plenty of time to watch Amy Jo Johnson practice gymnastics. We didn’t think that ducks could talk (much less have vast fortunes) and we knew that clunking a ladder up to a girl’s window instead of using the front door was an easy way to get thrown back out said window (looking at you, Sam, from Clarissa Explains It All).
Yeah, we swallowed a lot of BS and showed up the next week for another helping because it was entertaining and there was always something to learn. It wasn’t until we grew up that the illusion started to fade and we began to see cracks in the foundation.
The most glaring example of this is one that many people have overlooked: That Captain Planet Was Completely Useless. Or, rather, unnecessary. Sure he could fly and had that super sweet mullet, like a cross between Silver Surfer and MacGyver. But the fact is, he could have stayed at home. Or wherever he was when “their powers [weren’t] combined”. Which is a really good question.
Let me back up. The premise of the show was that Mother Earth was under attack from pollution and, basically, corporate greed. So she created five magic rings that she distributed to five deserving youths around the world. Each ring had a special power; earth, wind, water, fire, and heart. With these powers, the gang of kids thwarted evil polluters (side note: I have always thought that the theme song included the phrase “pooting and polluting is not the way, here’s what Captain Planet has to say”. And I still do to this day. Captain Planet is anti-farting). When they can’t beat the villain on their own, which is basically every time, they combine their powers to summon Captain Planet who comes in and saves the day with quips and life lessons about respecting the environment.
Here’s where the problem lies. Remember those rings? Four of them had elemental powers but the fifth ring controlled heart. Which controlled telepathy, empathy, and mind control. Do you get where this is going? If you can control people’s minds, or at the very least, their emotions, why would you need any other powers? “Oh, you want to take over the world? Heart! No you don’t. You want to go home and shut off the lights when you leave a room.” Done. No need for the Captain or even any of the other Planeteers.
Of course that wouldn’t make for a very interesting plot line but you see the point. Ma-Ti was all you needed. And he had a freaking monkey!