Pluto has not always received the utmost respect from the earthbound populace. Since its recorded induction into our solar system in 1930, the trans-Neptunian object has been chided for its diminutive stature and oblong orbit. In 2006, Pluto was even robbed of its longtime status as a bona fide planet, reduced in designation with the “dwarf” qualifier, and thus emancipated from all last minute science fair dioramas yet to be. But this week, Pluto got its due glory. On Monday, NASA’s New Horizons probe sent back photos of Pluto. It first launched in ’06, and this week it became the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of our de facto ninth planet in one of the most enchanting feats of scientific achievement humanity can proudly claim. Of course, in the interim, pop culture Pluto references have been scarce, but still present — though not as readily present as the references to other planets.
This recent fanfare for Pluto feels unique, especially when compared to the wealth of celebration our society, and its pop culture sphere in particular, has granted its fellow planets. We’ve sent Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Sinise, and Taylor Kitsch to Mars. Keir Dullea, Matthew McConaughey, and Mila Kunis made it to Jupiter. Zsa Zsa Gabor reigned over Venus, Rose Byrne orbited Mercury, John Agar explored Uranus, Laurence Fishburne faced a tussle on Neptune, and Wall-E had a brush with Saturn. But Pluto’s screen résumé is a touch skimpier than the rest.
Still, we have to pay respect to those few brave films and series that have boldly explored our Solar System’s icy underdog.
The long-running series’ 1977 serial “The Sun Makers” sends
the Doctor and his companion Leela to a rapidly industrializing Pluto (albeit
one plagued by egregious taxation).
The Magic School Bus
In one of the educational cartoon
series’ grimmest (and most meme-able) moments, student Arnold removes his space
helmet during a class trip to Pluto in order to prove to a friend that the
planet fosters inhospitable temperatures. As if there was no other way to go
The animated program centered one 2001 episode around the Planet
Express Delivery Company’s involvement in the protection of Pluto’s endangered
penguin preserve. As anyone familiar with the cartoon might anticipate, things
Rick and Morty
Eight years after Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet, the
irreverent animated sci-fi series finally raised the all-important question:
How do the Plutonians feel about this? Sticking to the guns of sentiment, Chris
Parnell’s character Jerry Smith stands for the “still a planet” platform, encouraging
misguided support from his extraterrestrial brethren.
Girl Meets World
One year later, Girl
Meets World faced the same conflict, although its concerns rested with the
agenda’s domestic supporters. Chief among them was protagonist Riley Matthews,
whose love for Pluto led to her friends working together to keep her blissfully in the dark about its removal from the
Sailor Pluto is perhaps the most mysterious of the Sailor Moon heroines, and the one with
the most tragic turn of events to boot when she is robbed of her spiritual
stature. In other words, she more than lives up to her handle.
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Brushing past this…
The Whisperer in Darkness
In 2011, director Sean Branney attempted to adapt H. P.
Lovecraft’s 1931 short story “The Whisperer in Darkness,” which featured a
planet called Yugoth that orbited beyond Neptune. In fact, Lovecraft had begun
writing the piece, and had invented Yugoth, before Pluto was even discovered.
The two have since colloquially been accepted as one and the same, despite
Yugoth’s substantial Mi-go population. Planet or not, Pluto, we salute you.
Images: Adult Swim; PBS; Comedy Central; H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society