Everybody’s talking about the new Power/Rangers unauthorized short film. I saw it. I thought it was fun. I wasn’t super thrilled to envision my childhood heroes winding up like that, but it was a compelling bit of fan film goodness, from a guy who has done wonders with the Punisher, Venom, and Judge Dredd.
But today, I want to talk about the original Power Rangers. The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Zach, Kimberly, Billy, Trini, Jason, and (later) Tommy.
I was at JUST the right age to love this series when it first premiered on Fox Kids. It had everything. Superheroes, monsters, aliens, and (the major selling point for me) giant transforming robots…which were also DINOSAURS. So, just the concept was more than enough to get me to check out the series. But it wouldn’t have been enough to get me to watch past the first few episodes. The show had to actually be *good* to keep my delicate, 10 year old sensibilities entertained. And it was. It was SO good.
The main cast was a group of ethnically diverse characters with different hobbies, passions, and interests. SO different, in fact, that you’d be right in wondering just how these characters even KNEW each other, let alone became friends. Well, the show explained that. And it did so in a pretty interesting and subtle way. The town youth center was were most of the, well, youths in town hung out after school. Billy went to the youth center to study, something he often did with Trini. Trini, a study-buddy of Billy, also enjoyed shopping with Kimberly. Kimberly was into gymnastics and dancing, which is how she knew Zach, who was into dancing and martial arts. Martial arts were the main passion of Jason, who taught a class on the subject at the youth center. A class that the other four seemed to attend, at least once in awhile. So, they all knew each other, but they weren’t the best of friends. They weren’t some tight-knit group that had been together for years and years. They clearly belong to different social groups, as you *see* their other friends every now and then. It was only once they became Power Rangers that they started becoming closer with one another, and even then, you still saw their other friends in a handfull of episodes.
Even if parents groups lined up to slam the show for being too violent, nobody who’d ever seen a full episode could make that case with a straight face. The main cast were the most goody-two-shoes super heroes in history. They make 70’s Superman look like 90’s Wolverine. Even THAT is surprising. This was the early 90’s. EVERYTHING was EXTREME. GI:Joes were EXTREME. Ghostbusters were EXTREME. Comic books were EXTREME. Even frickin’ YOGURT was EXTREME. But not the Power Rangers. When they WEREN’T fighting aliens (more on that later), they were studying at the youth center, performing charity work, helping out in the community, or attending school functions. They were a whole group of GREAT role-models at a time when Spider-Man was smacking around his wife, Superman was dead, and the new Batman was making the Punisher look like Barney the Dinosaur. The Power Rangers became popular around the same time as SPAWN, just to give you some idea of how far apart they were from other super heroes of the day.
And as for the fights with the aliens? Everybody always jokes about why they don’t just summon their giant dinosaur kill-bots and step on the monster when it first shows up? This, again, is addressed in the very first episode. The Rangers are absolutely forbidden to use their powers, weapons, or kill-bots to escalate a battle. That means that they can’t change into Power Rangers unless they’re facing an enemy that can’t be defeated out of costume. They can’t use their weapons if their enemy doesn’t do so first. And they can’t summon the giant robots unless there’s a giant monster already. It’s even in the “Go Go Power Rangers” theme song. “They know to only use their weapons for defense”. Those parents’ groups complained about how the show was teaching kids to be more violent and solve their problems with violence, but the main moral of every story was to ONLY do that as an absolute last resort, when every other option as been exhausted, even if that comes at a cost to you.
I don’t have much to say about the Zords, the giant robot dinosaurs, other than that they were awesome. Giant robot dinosaurs that combine into a giant robot made out of giant robot dinosaurs. It is the most awesome concept ever and I can see why they keep coming back to it. They looked incredible and the toys were REALLY high quality. Those things were next to impossible to break. Go find some at a garage sale. They’ll probably be scratched all to hell and missing pieces, but nothing will be outright *broken*.
A few months after the show began, we were introduced to Tommy, the Green Ranger. No. Tommy, the EVIL Green Ranger. He was the new kid in town and he fell in with the wrong crowd. “The wrong crowd” here means “brainwashed by evil space aliens”. He fights the Rangers for a time until he breaks free of the aliens’ influence and joins the team. That’s a pretty common story (minus the aliens) for kids who just start at a new school. Maybe, in their rush to be accepted, they find themselves with a group of people who don’t have anyone’s best interests in mind. Tommy managed to escape that situation. In fact, he went on to become almost everybody’s favorite Power Ranger.
Power Rangers is “based” on Zyuranger. In much the same way that pizza sauce is “based” on tomatoes. The action scenes were taken from Zyuranger, but all the other stuff was filmed in the US with local actors. This lead to some problems down the road once the existing footage was used up. Power Rangers had to figure out in-universe explanations for things to work around that limitation. This forced the show to make drastic changes, the likes of which had never been seen in kids’ television before. Characters lost their powers. Some characters left the show and were replaced with others. Costumes changed. Tommy grew long hair. Billy got *buff*. Robots were destroyed and upgraded. The villains were DEFEATED and replaced with NEW ones. The show grew and changed in a way that kids had never seen before. And it’s STILL growing and changing today.
The original Super Sentai TV series are only very loosely connected. Everything kind of resets from scratch from one season to the next. Power Rangers has a bit more continuity. Not as much as it once did, but moreso than Super Sentai. Yeah, it’s a kids’ show that was made (and continues to exist) primarily to make a small group of people a WHOLE lot of money for as little investment as possible. But it doesn’t have to be. The writers have done SO much with very little. Power Rangers has now been going strong for more than 20 years. The people who watched the show as kids are now working in the industry. And it’s only a matter of time before Power Rangers gets their Don Rosa or their James Roberts. Somebody who has one heck of a fantastic story to tell with the characters they love. Will that be the upcoming Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie? Maybe. Or Maybe it’ll be a comic book. Or a cartoon. Or just some really compelling fan-fiction that gets the author noticed. I don’t know. But I know that it’s just a matter of time until we find out.