Ah, the ’90s-an era of grunge rock, fresh princes and Gigapets. So much flannel, so much angst! If you were a kid in the ’90s you probably had a soundtrack of songs from Seattle and a stack of Goosebumps books rounding out your days. You also had some pretty great movies and TV shows that brought various ecological issues to the fore for your generation.
Coming out of the excesses of the ’80s, entertainment in the ’90s began to take a decided turn when it came to showcasing conservation and the environment. Though far from being the theme of every show, there was a considerable up-tick in plot lines that showcased a wide range of ecological concerns. Kids had the benefit of seeing characters – just like them – that worked to preserve nature and help animals, sending the message that everyone can make a difference.
Some of these shows had broader viewership and higher acclaim than others, but nearly all of them have developed a significant following over time. Some have even achieved the designation as cult classics. Did your favorite make the list? There’s only one way to find out! Sit back, pop open a can of Crystal Pepsi (please don’t) and take a stroll down memory lane with these ecological heroes!
Crysta: FernGully: The Last Rainforest
This movie covered a range of themes from animal experimentation (ah, poor lovable Batty Koda the fruit bat) to deforestation, making FernGully a quintessential environmental movie in the ’90s. Made for a family audience, the conservation-threat themes were all wrapped up in a central villain named Hexxus. This gooey, fossil fuel-esque antagonist is released from his prison in a tree by loggers, and it becomes the mission of the heroes to lock him back up. When the heroine, a sweet little fairy named Crysta, accidentally shrinks one of the offending loggers, they work together to save the rainforest. Comedy, drama, action…this movie had it all and Crysta utterly personifies the theme that no one is too small to bravely make a difference.
Based loosely (very loosely) on the tale of a real life person, Disney’s Pocahontas depicts a character that cares deeply about the natural world around her. She tries to enlighten John Smith about the destruction she sees the settlers wreaking in the name of gold by singing the song “Colors of the Wind” – possibly one of the most environmentally-friendly songs ever. This movie shed light on the destructive path we so often take in the name of profit and how quickly we forget about the impact that path leaves. Pocahontas was pretty much the only person in the whole movie who had her priorities straight.
Cody: The Rescuers Down Under
All Cody wanted to do was ride the wind in Australia with his rare, golden eagle pal Marahute, was that too much to ask? Apparently when you’re a trapper intent on capturing endangered animals for personal gain it is. Cody risks everything to save his friend, along with a little help from our pals at the Rescue Aid Society. This movie was another one that empowered kids to see animals as sentient beings and to encourage them that if sweet little Cody could stand up against exploitation, they could too.
Jesse: Free Willy
Jesse is a troubled youth who meets Willy (a killer whale ripped from his pod and forced into captivity) as he’s being forced to clean up the marine park he vandalized. Bonding ensues. There’s not a 9’0s kid around who doesn’t picture the iconic moment at the end when (SPOILER ALERT) Willy jumps over Jesse’s head to freedom, reunited with his pod. This movie was the first to feature the plight of an orca in captivity and was so successful it generated two sequels, and resulted in $20 million in donations to the Save the Whales foundation listed at the end of the film.
Captain Planet: Captain Planet and the Planeteers
So cheesy, so awesome and so earth friendly, Captain Planet was a superhero that could be summoned when the Planeteers combined their powers in an effort to stop global destruction. Lead by Gaia (Mother Earth) Captain Planet was summoned to tackle all kinds of environmental issues like drilling, poaching and pollution, to name just a few. This show seriously dealt with it all. Captain Planet stood for saving the planet while empowering viewers to do the same with his motto, “The power is yours!” How cool is that? We think it might be time for a Captain Planet renaissance on Saturday Morning TV, don’t you?
Lisa Simpson: The Simpsons
She’s smart, she plays the sax and in the ’90s she became one of the first and only prime time characters on TV who made the connection that eating meat is eating animals. Young veggies everywhere rejoiced! Tackling issues like how to live as a vegetarian in a carnivorous society (Paul and Linda McCartney help her through, causing vegetarians everywhere to completely geek out), to deforestation (remember the one where Lisa camps out in the Redwood tree to keep it from being chopped down?). Lisa Simpson became the steadfast voice of reason among a motley crew of crazy characters and remains so to this day.
San: Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke, an anime style film by the famed Hayao Miyazaki, focuses on a mystical balance of nature in danger of being upset as humans continue to level the forest to build towns and mine iron. San, who was raised by the forest wolves that are being put in harms way by this deforestation, was seriously taking zero crap from the bad guys intent on destroying her world. She sets out to stop them with the help of her wolf family, never compromising on her mission to conserve her environment and that of her animal friends.
The Animals of Farthing Wood
Showcasing a group of animals who lose their natural habitat in Farthing Wood (due to human encroachment) and are forced to make a break for it to the White Deer Park Sanctuary in order to survive, this show was actually kind of brutal for an animated kids series. Unflinchingly depicting the plight of animals being displaced to make room for people, this show even went so far as to feature some character deaths. Airing around the world, though never in the U.S., this show is on the BBC’s list of best animated children’s features and its themes are still as important today as they were when it aired in the ’90s.
Did we miss any? Let us know which 90s eco-hero was your favorite in the comments!
Lead image credit: brainfreeze.be