In celebration of my degree in Environmental Science I figured I’d dedicate a whole blog post to The Green Aesop. The Green Aesop is a trope that has to do with the environment. Said tvshow, movie, book, or any form of entertainment will have a message concerning the environment and how it must be protected. Most of the time it doesn’t quite work out so well; while it is easy to point fingers and say “hey this is bad for our earth, let’s create a story with a lesson,” it’s hard to make it entertaining, likable, and not frak up the message (let alone be accurate in staying true to your message).
It would be too easy and too lengthy to say “these movies/books/tv shows that try to preach about being environmentally friendly suck and are awful for this reason,” so I’m going to list a few forms of media that do a decent job of keeping the environmentally friendly message. Here is a list of shitty movies/tv episodes/seasons that are just awful. Ferngully 1 and 2 (the later does educate children a little more about how circuses mistreat animals though), The Lorax (2012 film), The Day After Tomorrow, season five of The Winx Club, and Power Rangers Wild Force (kudos for being balsy enough to kill off a kid on screen though). I’d include Epic on this list, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t exactly pass judgment on it properly.
Let’s get the biggest green cartoon out of the way; Captain Planet was created by Ted Turner from Turner broadcasting and featured five teenagers with the powers of Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, and Heart. These powers were given to them by Gaia the spirit of earth, and they were all different nationalities (with one of them from the Soviet Union of all places). I will admit it’s kind of hard to not want to mock the show for taking it’s save the earth message and shoving it down your throat, even as an adult.
The series was smarter and more thoughtful than viewers gave it credit for covering topics that had to do with the extinction of an entire species in a bad future, basic human rights and needs, nukes, and just about any environment message you can think of. They even have an episode concerning over population advising all the kids watching to limit themselves to having two children.
There were a few good episodes though; the extinct species as mentioned above had to deal with a future where all gorillas just died. I caught it by chance as a kid and it was fairly meaningful to me then and still is. The possibility of existing in a future where my child asks me “what happened to all the ____” is a pretty depressing thought. There’s also an episode where the subject of technology is addressed; Dr.Blight, one of the major villains, switches bodies with the physical god Gaia because she’s a mad scientist and why not. While Dr.Blight is causing all kinds of chaos through the form of natural disasters, Gaia spends the episode trying to figure out a way to convince the planateers that her body has been stolen. It is through this experience that Gaia learns that technology can be used to help reduce and clean up pollution.
In terms of characters, three fifth’s of the planateers are pretty dull and only seem to have personalities once in a blue moon. Wheeler (who the hell names their kid Wheeler?) and Mati have the most personality with the former being a total douchebag who needs to learn a lesson most of the time and the latter being the heart of the group and the key power to forming Captain Planet. Captain Planet himself is a half naked blue man with a green mullet who makes puns while doing the dirty work for the planateers when things get a little too tough for them to handle. Gaia is their mentor and is kind of dull. All their villains are kind of weird, but they seem to fall under “let’s pollute this shit for the evuls!” and “let’s save millions by polluting in this area!” and crazy ass Dr.Blight.
The show was pretty well animated though, action packed enough to keep kids fairly entertained. The story itself can range between too cheesy, too preachy, and actually entertaining.
Humans are Not so Bad
In alot of these shows there is some emphasis from the side of the animals/nature that humans are to blame for any environmental issue and don’t care to fix the problem. In the 1939 animated feature Peace on Earth, all humans are dead and cute woodland creatures have rebuilt society on their graves. The short functions more as a warning about what war can do to our species and how we can easily be the cause of our own demise with war obviously being the main source of pollution with just a sprinkle of propaganda for Christianity. This short was created between World War I and II and could be relevant today, but someone would be offended about that little sprinkle of Christianity in there (nothing against any other religion or atheism, but seriously this modern day society would literally cry over spilled milk, being offended by that statement is proof that I am correct).
However, there are some films that show humans not being such bad people. Once Upon a Forest is one of these movies that shows that although humans are responsible for a gas leak in a forest killing some of the population, including the parents from one of the protagonists (and they stay dead too), humans did put the effort into cleaning up the mess caused by the gas leak.
The Simpsons Movie (and probably some of the 600+ episodes), does feature the citizens of Springfield put an effort to clean up their pollution thanks to one of Lisa’s more successful warnings. Some episodes do involve animal rights and it’s a fifty/fifty chance at the outcome to what happens.
As mentioned above with Captain Planet the planateers do have their elemental powers, but rather than use violence to solve anything (the most violent they got was maybe melting a door down), they provided solutions to problems presented to them. It was their job to solve the actual problem rather than kick the ass of the villain of that particular week.
Corporations (Wall-E vs The Lorax)
It’s funny how two films on complete opposite sides of good and awful sort of have the same message. Before I go on, the book of The Lorax and the first cartoon are actually really good. The 2012 film should have everyone involved with writing banished from civilization.
What Wall-E and The Lorax have in common is that all the problems are caused by big business with Wall-E literally causing the end of the world and The Lorax just having a ecosystem just totally destroyed.
I think what makes Wall-E the better film is that the primary story is a love story between two robots. True there are heavy references to the Bible (Eva is the name of Eve in some countries and one of the few named humans is Mary). The fact Earth got messed up is background noise and when the humans return to earth, rather than regret coming back to the planet, they fix things up using science and technology (and are even successful at it too.)
The problem with the Lorax film is that it doesn’t give a flying fuck about the original message. If you want a more detailed reasoning for this belief, please click the link above to a woman who reviewed and compared the book and film of The Lorax, I swear it’s just coincidental that we share many of the same views on the topic of the film. Just to list a few issues, many of the important scenes of the book are glossed over during the How Bad can I Be musical number, the film cares more on developing the character of the Onceler, the film is constantly saying “big business bad!” and we’re supposed to believe it, Zac Efron having a crush on Taylor Swift, and the fact someone thought it was a good idea to turn forest creatures into clones of the god damned minions!
The book version of The Lorax is of course darker with the Onceler giving a warning to an unnamed boy about how he destroyed the land by not listening to The Lorax. When the topic of business is brought up, the Onceler does defend himself (admitting in a ‘I don’t care’ way) he tells the Lorax that if he were to close up shop, he’d have to lay off countless workers. The book also does not have a happy ending with Dr.Seuss choosing to end the book open ended.
We Dun Fraked Up
Similar to Peace on Earth there are some sources of media where things are too messed up to recover from, a bad example being The Day After Tomorrow insisting that all of this crazy weather will pop up out of nowhere (mass extinction and an ice age don’t work like that). A good example of this would be the series finale to the Jim Henson sitcom Dinosaurs.
What starts off as accidentally destroying a habitat for native bugs for semi big business, the lead character Earl accidentally causes the end of the world with nukes, volcanoes. It’s the darkest episode of the series where the last few moments feature the Dinosaur family slowly being trapped in their home by a combination of ash and snow with Baby asking what’s going to happen to everyone. Earl say’s he doesn’t know, but is hopeful they will survive this predicament. Sadly it is heavily hinted that things will not get better and that the family, friends, and many others will perish during the events of mass extinction.
Earth Maiden Arjuna and X/1999
This thirteen episode anime Earth Maiden Arjuna is sort of like Captain Planet meets Sailor Moon, minus the fun parts of Sailor Moon, and going to dark places Captain Planet was not willing to go. After dying a teenage girl named Juna is offered the chance to return to life after being given a future of current and future travesties to befall the earth. Juna becomes a magical guardian of Earth. Topics of climate change and humanity is brought up, and in the trailer for this anime it’s even mentioned that humans are just temporary parts of life on earth and will one day die with the earth living on without humanity.
X/1999 is the total opposite of Captain Planet with Earth being a living entity and having the Dragons of Earth act to destroy humanity for the sake of Earth living on because humans have caused so much pollution and waste. To counter this, the Dragons of Heaven counter attack the Dragons of Earth and argue that humanity can change it’s ways and that it is possible for earth and humanity to co-exist and recover. Instead of concentrating on “hey let’s recycle these coke bottles because it allows us to reuse them in a new way” X/1999 focuses more on the humanity part of the subject with the members of the dragons of heaven being from various faith backgrounds and life backgrounds giving reasons on why human life is worth saving to the dragons of earth.
Studio Ghibli is an animation company out of Japan that makes amazing movies, sometimes with an environmental message subtle (like pulling a bike out of a polluted river in Spirited Away) to being the main theme of the story (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke). The studio may be successful in these endeavors because both the message and the story are taken into consideration and are properly prioritized without one overtaking the other.
Instead of repeating the same story over and over, different approaches are made to each story. Nausicaa has more to do with survival in a world where a toxic jungle is slowly spreading over the land and giant bugs run around. The movie is based off a manga and covers the first two volumes with interesting views. Princess Mononoke has more to do with the expansion industrialization causing the destruction of nature and finding a balance between humanity and nature.
Before I finish this up, I’d like to have some honorable mentions on tv episodes and books that did a decent job with an environmental message; the Futurama movie Into the Wild Green Yonder, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe from Doctor Who, Extras by Scott Westerfeld, Zanzibar from Rocko’s Modern Life, and episode 23 of Animaniacs.
How do you write a good Green Aesop
I don’t know; it’s a topic where one has to intake many sides to a conflict humanity faces to fully understand, and then actually make it entertaining. I can say that keeping things fairly real and honest is a good approach. Sure songs about wanting a tree to live, cute critters running around, and using magic for the sake of sparing the feelings of a child sounds like a good idea, but it’s not a good thing to say. It is the responsibility of humanity to monitor the current situation we are in, educate ourselves on what other people on this planet are facing, find out WHY big business is considered a villain in all of this and how to reduce the waste we produce, how to to re-use as much as we can, and how to recycle things we don’t use. (oh gosh I have no idea if my professors would frown upon this or love it.)