[This summer, my older son is extending his prior efforts to help combat climate change by interning with the amazing Climate Just Cities project. That project is part of the long legacy of American environmental activism, so this week I’ll highlight a handful of such activisms. Leading up to a special weekend post on Climate Just Cities!]
examples of the longstanding link between animation and the environment.
Captain Planet and the Planeteers/The New Adventures of Captain Planet
(1990-96): As a viewer and fan of the show since its first episodes, I might be
biased, but it seems to me that Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle’s environmental
edutainment program (or programs, since the show changed its name when
Hanna-Barbera took over principal production in 1993) Captain Planet was one of the most radical and influential
children’s shows of all time. The show’s consistent environmental activist
themes and stories should be evidence enough for that claim; but if not, I
would point to the 1992
episode “A Formula for Hate,” in which the villain sought to spread lies
and paranoia about AIDS and thus to turn a town against an HIV-infected young
man (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris). The pre-Boston
March for Science talk I recorded through my role as the Scholar Strategy Network’s Boston
Chapter Co-Leader focused on science and public activism, and I can’t
imagine a clearer embodiment of that link than this Captain Planet episode.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992): 1992 was a banner year for
environmental animation, as it also saw the release of FernGully, a joint Australian and American animated film (based on Diana
Young’s children’s novel of the same name) about the growing threats
to the world’s rainforests. Among its many achievements, FernGully succeeded in bringing Cheech and Chong back together for the
first time in six years; it also perhaps influenced the casting of John Woo’s Broken Arrow (1996),
which likewise featured a pairing of Samantha Mathis and Christian Slater.
They, like all of the film’s voice actors (including Robin Williams in his first animated
film as Batty) worked for scale, as all were committed to the film’s
environmental and conservationist messages. Indeed, I’d argue that Captain Planet and FernGully together reflect the leading role pop culture played in
advancing those issues in the early 1990s—a trend worth remembering whenever
we’re tempted to dismiss pop culture’s social or communal roles.
Princess Mononoke (1997):
director Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 historical fantasy anime film
illustrates that those cultural contributions to environmental activism were
taking place around the globe. Like FernGully,
Mononoke uses the genre of fantasy to
tell its story of supernatural and human heroes working together to fight for
an embattled natural world against encroaching forces. Often the genre of anime
has been associated with futuristic and urban settings; but Miyazaki’s film,
among others in the era, redirected the genre’s tropes and
themes to the historical and natural worlds. Like Captain Planet and FernGully
before it, Mononoke was an international
hit (as well as a box
office smash in Japan), with its English-language version becoming
one of the most
popular Hollywood adaptations of an anime or Japanese film of all time. In
my experience, Earth Day really took off as a collective phenomenon in the
1990s—and if so, we might well have these pioneering 1990s animations to thank.
do you think? American environmental voices or efforts you’d highlight?