WHAT and HOW can we learn from cartoons

Remember Captain Planet? It was one of the most popular cartoons during my childhood.

Captain Planet, he’s our hero,
Gonna take pollution down to zero,
He’s our powers magnified,
And he’s fighting on the planet side

By your powers combined I am Captain Planet! …


I loved those cartoons. Though, now I wonder if back then I actually understood the message correctly and if the expectations were set correctly.

As mentioned in the article about creating false expectations, I wanted to write an article about what we can learn from cartoons, so this is it.

I remember the feeling I had:  what I liked was that there was a hero, a good guy that would take down all the bad ones. I liked the action and to see that everything ended well.

Children are exposed to so many stories that hold an important lesson behind the scene, but without guidance, the important lesson could be missed.

I think there are two lessons that most of us missed.

1) Heart? Why do we need it?

In this cartoon, there were more characteristics that would have had to be combined in order to create the Captain Planet:  Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart.  Just like in a true glued energized teams, where each member comes with their strong points, in this cartoon the children were able to create something bigger than the sum of their parts; the problem is that most of us paid so little attention to the last guy, the one with the Heart. He was the little one, the one that nobody wanted to be.

Now I see that without the Heart!  (the emotional intelligence, the empathy, the care) there could be no passion, no involvement, no strength to go through stressful times, no vulnerability which would increase the bond of trust and friendship.

Captain Planet says in the song: “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet”. Which means that none of them, in any other  configuration other than all together, would have been able to create the Captain.

Just like in the cartoon where some of the children had obvious strengths and others less obvious strengths, in real life and in real teams, some members have more obvious strengths than others.

And just like in the cartoon, where the Heart was brought by one of them (so the entire team could benefit from it) in any team there needs to be empathy, care, trust, focus emphasized and exercised, given by example first and foremost by the leader.

Children usually watch cartoons alone –  but what great lessons would be for children to learn if adults watched cartoons with them, and afterwards there would be conversations through which children are asked what they understood, what they liked, why they liked one character/situation over others.

Through analysis, by stimulating thought questions, they would learn to find value even in things/situations less obvious.

The process would look a lot like coaching, right? – clarification of thought, be conscious about the impressions and the reason you have them.  

2) Can there be one hero?

When the powers combined, Captain Planet appeared and all children considered him THE Hero.

Can there actually be one hero? Can we expect to find someone that can save us? Through our experiences, as adults, we have learned that there is no single action or person that can solve all the problems. We all need to be active, collaborate and get involved if we want to make the change. So Captain Planet is the personification of all our actions/strength combined.

But, all the movies with superheros, try to send another message though: that we can wait for a powerful spiderman, superman, or batman with a cool gadget or superpower so he can save the day (even if he usually arrives in the last moment).

Opportunities given by cartoons

I loved those cartoons. Though, now I see that I may have missed back then the right lesson and the expectations were not set correctly.

Children are exposed to so many stories that hold an important lesson behind the scene, but without guidance … the lesson is missed.

Children usually watch cartoons alone, and with that I think adults miss big opportunities to develop the empathy and emotional intelligence of the youngsters. Through analysis, by stimulating through questions, they would learn to find value in working together, in listening to others, in finding your strength.

That is why I much better watch cartoons like “Captain Planet”, “Mutant Ninja Turtles” than single superhero movies and I can hardly wait to have my own children to watch cartoons with them and hold conversations afterwards!


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