CAPTAIN PLANET & THE PLANETEERS - A FORMULA FOR HATE (1992)
Neil Patrick Harris, Elizabeth Taylor, David Coburn, LeVar Burton, Joey Dedio, Kath Soucie, Janice Kawaye, Scott Menville
Story by: Nick Boxer, Pat Allee and Ben Hurst Written by: Pat Allee and Ben Hurst
Verminous Skumm – “AIDS is the best thing to come along since the Black Plague”.
Ah the 1990s...
....a time of ladettes, new men and taking pollution down to zero.Yes the 90s were a decade of change (weren’t they all?) which along with everything else saw an attempt to get the then latest generation from buggering up the planet any further.Whether it was green house gases, holes in the Ozone Layer or having too much packaging on Happy Meals, there was a problem and someone needed to fix it.The constant abuse of the planet by its inhabitants (yes all of us, which means you too) had not gone unnoticed and as Superman, Batman and pretty much everyone else was busy, one super hero had to step up to the plate and do his bit.Of course that guy was none other than Captain Planet, who along with his Planeteers fought all the problems Mother Nature couldn’t handle alone.
Not actually based on a comic but featuring an environmentally aware super hero, the cartoon show Captain Planet and the Planeteers attempted to do its best to improve the world, by informing kids of some of the problems they would face in the future if things weren’t altered.The show did this via animated episodes which featured a group of kids called the Planeteers who each had an elemental ring that when combined summoned super hero Captain Planet.Planet would then do his level best to drive home a moral message about the effects of pollution whilst tackling a bunch of bad guys.Love it or hate it for the way it handled the environmental subject matter, the show certainly struck a chord as it attempted to focus on some serious issues kids would ordinarily be unaware of.There was however an episode which went a step further than pushing environmental issues, and dealt with a subject matter just as important and relevant to the next generation.The subject wasn’t something easily adaptable for an animated series aimed at kids and it wasn’t something that could have easily just slotted into the shows premise.In fact Captain Planet and the Planeteers could have easily completed its run without ever covering the topic, but in a very brave move it didn’t.The subject in question was HIV and AIDS.
Focusing not so much on Captain Planet or even the Planeteers, the episode A Formula For Hate instead concerned itself with a high school basketball player named Todd whose life got turned upside down when he discovered he was HIV positive.Not content with just openly talking about what was a topical issue of the time, the episode went so far as to actually make one of the characters have to confront what it was like to be diagnosed with HIV and deal with the confusion over the difference between HIV and AIDS.In terms of the story it meant ‘villain of the week’ Verminous Skumm was able to exploit the ignorance and general lack of knowledge for HIV and AIDS that was apparent in real life, in order to cause panic and mistrust amongst a small community.In terms of what the episode meant on a larger scale it was able to transport an issue to an audience who had probably never been given the information on HIV before in order for them to understand what it all meant.
As the story progressed Todd’s fellow students refused to go anywhere near him, parents didn’t want their children playing on the same basketball team as him and his friend was beaten up for defending him.As the situation escalated it was clear the story was reflective of real life situations which ordinarily would sit uncomfortably in a Saturday morning cartoon.It may have been a story about a super hero, but the subject matter was very real and a prejudice derived from fear was something that many people were facing at the time.In fact so important was the issue that the events of the episode remained at the forefront meaning Captain Planet barely made an appearance.When he did turn up it wasn’t to solve Todd’s problem it was merely to act as a supportive figure, to make people listen to Todd’s coach who had stuck by his student and was able to give the facts of the situation.Although Todd faced a lot of prejudice he did have some support from those who understand what he was going through and it was his coach who ultimately informed people about the truth behind the virus.There was no simple way out of Todd’s situation and the writers understood that and never once tried to make excuses for it.Through events in the story they made it clear that in order for people to learn about a difficult subject matter then dealing with a lot of negativity is the first step on removing preconceptions.A Formula For Hate was not only an important story that needed to be told, but a brave story which could have easily been twisted to make it seem more acceptable.Remember that cartoons such as X-Men also dealt with prejudice during the 90s, but did so by wrapping the situations within a different context to get the message across.A Formula For Hate didn’t do this, instead it just tackled the subject head on.To this day there are still a lot of misunderstandings about HIV and AIDS, but thankfully by openly talking about it the future can be improved for others.Captain Planet may not have stopped the onset of climate change, but maybe he did something that still helped shape a generation in his own little way.
TALKING RUBBISH: *In A Formula For Hate the story never established how Todd contracted HIV, it was simply suggested it could have been from a number of things including unprotected sex or a blood transfusion.It is also stated that it didn’t matter how he became HIV positive, instead the focus was on learning to live with the diagnosis.
*Captain Planet and the Planeteers ran for a total of 6 seasons, with 3 of these under the title The New Adventures of Captain Planet.
*The 5 Planeteers were... Kwame (Earth), Wheeler (Fire), Linka (Wind), Gi (Water) and Ma-Ti (Heart).Only when they combined the power of their rings could they summon Captain Planet.
*Although Captain Planet and the Planeteers didn’t originate as a comic, Marvel Comics did publish a short lived title to tie in with the show.
*Over the entire run of the programme numerous actors providing the voices of the characters including Whoopi Goldberg, LeVar Burton, Margot Kidder, Danny Glover, Louis Gossett JR, Mark Hamill, Helen Hunt, Dionne Warwick, Tim Curry, John Ratzenberger, Meg Ryan, Martin Sheen and Sting.
*The show produced a number of toys, computer games and VHS tapes (hey this was the 90s), which if you think about it surely goes against the programme’s idea of being environmentally friendly?!
*Like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power, Captain Planet and the Planeteers always ended each show with a moral message.