Can Cartoons Save The Planet?

I have been “saving the environment” as long as I can remember. My first activist stint was when I was three years old, a project entitled the “Save the Amazon River Dolphins!” club. Besides myself, it included my parents and at least five of my stuffed animals. I was inspired by The Lorax, and to this day I am still moved by the little guy. I’m sure you can recount other cute cartoon characters convincing us to save equally cute animals. Seriously, what’s not to love?

So without further adieu, here’s a list of the best environmentally minded cartoon characters. I hope they inspire you enough to start your own Green club!

1. Smokey Bear, the original badass.

Smokey Bear is the oldest cartoon character on this list; he’s been telling America how to avoid forest fires since 1944. Though he’s nearly 70 years old, he’s managed to maintain significant visibility, and in 2010, a CGI version of Smokey was introduced.

Experts think Smokey has been so successful because he portrays a strong bear willing to save his fellow animals. Apparently the most effective strategy is to discuss Smokey’s message after showing the forest fire in Bambi: a one-two punch ensuring that kids will forever remember how forest fires affect animals.

2. Yogi Bear, illustrating tourism’s effects on the environment.

Yogi Bear is another seriously old-school cartoon character. He debuted in 1958 and got his own show by 1961. Yes, he has an incredibly politically incorrect name, but an important message. First of all, some background: he lives in Jellystone Park (Yellowstone Park, if you didn’t catch the reference) with his sidekick Boo-Boo. He’s constantly complaining about the cars driving into the park and the visitors disturbing his personal space.

Yogi Bear has been a pioneer for the more explicitly green cartoons that have come around later. Though he isn’t as preachy as Smokey, he addresses concerns about National Parks as pleasure centers that disturb the wildlife and pollute the environment. His less-than-perfect personality makes him more accessible than Smokey; Yogi seems like a bumbling, clueless, wannabe actor without any realistic ambitions (see post on millennial guys).

3. Captain Planet, the superhero, and prospective member of the Blue Man Group.

Honestly, Captain Planet always freaked me out, probably because of his sickly aqua visage. Regardless, the message is pretty straightforward: Captain Planet and the Planeteers were out to save the world from humans’ destructive behavior.

Simple, right? But it was sold to children of the early 1990s in a way that would make conservatives rage today. Apparently the Earth mother, Gaia, woke Captain Planet to save the world. His sidekicks, the Planeteers, came from every continent. They are diverse, and there’s nothing even egregiously offensive regarding race – highly unusual for 90s cartoons (remember the Asian Yellow Ranger on Power Rangers?).

There’s not much else to say about Captain Planet. He provided a lot of incentive to protect the earth: if you didn’t, he and his Planeteers would hunt you down and kick your ass. Basically, why four-year-olds everywhere convinced their parents to recycle.

4. WALL-E, the robot dedicated to picking up our trash.

WALL-E is the tragic story of a robot living in 2805. He was designed to compact our trash and clean up the earth while humans lazily orbit in an awesome spaceship. The almost dialogue-less movie was released by Disney/Pixar in 2008, and was the most environmentally-minded family-targeted movies since Pocahantas was released in 1995.

The theme of the film is that irresponsible human activities, particularly committed by large corporations, ruined the earth and didn’t take responsibility for it. Eventually the Earth turned into an uninhabitable wasteland, and humankind went into space and did nothing for 700 years until people rediscovered the potential of Earth and the necessity of hard work to fix it. Layered within the “love story” of WALL-E is a highly-charged criticism of modern society’s reliance on big corporations and its lazy, “machines can do everything” ethos.

There are many more cartoons I’m not including here. There’s Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, and, of course, my personal favorite, The Lorax. There’s also Fern Gully and Avatar. Check them out – cartoons are fun. Who knows? They might even compel you to be more conscious of the environment in your everyday life.

Ashley Lee I'm a recent grad (Wellesley '11!) trying to break into the art world. When I'm not reading, writing, or tweeting about the contemporary art world, I like shoes, soccer, and Star Wars. Like Liz Lemon, I list things in threes.

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2 Responses to “Can Cartoons Save The Planet?”

  1. Angela Stefano

    They’re turning The Lorax into another one of those live-action feature-length Dr. Seuss movies (see: The Grinch, The Cat in the Hat) — I think DeNiro’s playing the Lorax?

    I tremble in fright at the thought…

    Reply

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