How ‘Power Rangers’ Kept Fans Engaged after 30 Years
When I was four or five years old, I vividly remember being captivated by a new toy at my daycare. It was a Power Rangers toy that could change heads with just a simple click, just like the characters in the television show. Even though I was too young to watch the show at the time, I was well aware of its popularity, as it was a staple for every ’90s kid. Little did anyone know that this franchise would continue to thrive three decades later. Inspired by the recent Once & Always reunion special on Netflix, I decided to explore the franchise and its enduring impact.
In 1993, young viewers were introduced to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The show repurposed action footage from a long-running Japanese children’s television series called Super Sentai. TV producer Haim Saban had the ingenious idea to incorporate Super Sentai footage but localize it for Western audiences by featuring American actors for the unmasked scenes of the characters.
The basic premise revolved around an all-powerful entity named Zordon, who recruited “teenagers with attitude” to become the Power Rangers. These five (later six) superheroes, each assigned a different color and dinosaur theme, united to combat the evil forces of Rita Repulsa. They fought as superheroes and also summoned massive vehicles called Zords to battle the gigantic monsters summoned by Rita. The Zords could combine to form a colossal MegaZord, reminiscent of Voltron, leading to epic city-leveling battles akin to a Godzilla movie.
The show became an instant hit, but faced initial criticism for its level of violence in a program aimed at children. However, I believe its appeal and success can be attributed to its relative originality. During the 1980s, which heavily relied on popular toy franchises like He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers, nothing quite matched the distinctive flavor of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Its rocking theme song and vibrant visuals added to its unmistakable ’90s charm.
Today, there are 29 television seasons encompassing 21 distinct Power Rangers series with various themes. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers remains the most well-known and enduring incarnation of the franchise. Due to its long run, it had the highest cast turnover and served as the foundation for the franchise’s first and most successful theatrical release, 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.
In the film, an ancient adversary named Ivan Ooze (played by Paul Freeman, best known as the antagonist Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark) is resurrected by Rita Repulsa. Ivan wreaks havoc, betrays Rita, destroys the Rangers’ command center, strips them of their powers, and nearly kills Zordon. Only after completing a challenge on a distant planet do the Rangers regain their powers, enabling them to confront Ivan head-on.
Ivan Ooze stands out as one of the franchise’s best one-off villains, largely thanks to Paul Freeman’s acting prowess and charisma. Some of his lines are downright hilarious. For instance, at one point, he exclaims, “Oh, the things I have missed: the Black Plague! The Spanish Inquisition! The Brady Bunch reunion!” I would consider this movie a suitable starting point for franchise newcomers. It offers a sleeker and more streamlined experience compared to its TV counterpart, quickly delving into the action by efficiently presenting the necessary exposition. Although it may not be a great movie overall, it represents the franchise at its peak popularity. However, its sequel, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, released two years later, failed to achieve the same level of success and acclaim from both fans and critics.
Then, in 2017, a movie simply titled Power Rangers aimed to capture the superhero movie boom and bring the concept into the modern era through a high-budget reboot. On the surface, it had several strengths, particularly its cast. Elizabeth Banks delivered an entertaining performance as a reimagined Rita Repulsa, while Bryan Cranston made a nostalgic appearance as Zordon, paying homage to his early voice work on the show. The new lineup of Rangers included Dacre Montgomery from Stranger Things, Naomi Scott (known for her role as Princess Jasmine in the live-action Aladdin), R.J. Cyler (acclaimed for his performance in the indie movie Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and even Latin pop star Becky G. These new Rangers were likable and perfectly suited for their respective roles.
Unfortunately, the end result of the 2017 movie felt muddled. While the final act, featuring a grand battle with the morphed Rangers and their Zords, was undoubtedly the highlight, a significant portion of the movie focused on the Rangers dealing with various teenage dramas before morphing. Teen drama can work well in superhero movies, as seen in Marvel’s successful Spider-Man trilogy starring Tom Holland, which embraced Peter Parker’s high school roots. However, teen drama was never an integral part of the Power Rangers concept, unlike Spider-Man. Therefore, when the Rangers gather around a campfire to discuss their personal lives, it feels out of place and lacks authenticity.
Furthermore, the movie infamously indulged in heavy product placement for Krispy Kreme. The magical crystal sought by Rita Repulsa was conveniently hidden beneath a Krispy Kreme location. This led to forced mentions of Krispy Kreme throughout the movie, the final battle taking place near Krispy Kreme, and even a scene featuring Rita Repulsa inside the franchise location eating one of their donuts. Such blatant and excessive product placement hadn’t been seen in a major motion picture since the “Now all restaurants are Taco Bell” in Demolition Man. However, the product placement in Power Rangers lacked the same tongue-in-cheek approach. All these distractions diminished the movie’s positive aspects. It created a divide among franchise fans and performed poorly at the box office. Although a sequel was teased, promising the introduction of the Green Ranger, it never came to fruition.
Nevertheless, the Power Rangers franchise found success in other forms of media, particularly in comic books. Boom! Studios has held the license to adapt the material into comic book form for several years. As a fan, I’ve had the pleasure of reading two series: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, which continues the story after the addition of Green Ranger Tommy Oliver, and Go Go Power Rangers, which delves into the Rangers’ early days after receiving their powers from Zordon.
These comics offer a more mature take on the Power Rangers universe while remaining suitable for preteen readers. The characters feel more authentic and genuine than ever before. For example, one issue explores Blue Ranger Billy’s habit of wearing his costume under his clothes because it makes him feel powerful, which is typically not the case. Despite Tommy’s transition to the side of good, he still battles inner demons influenced by Rita Repulsa. Such twists and unique approaches make these comics stand out.
Surprisingly, the medium where the franchise thrives is in the world of video games. Boom! Studios’ adaptations have breathed new life into my love for the franchise. The recent Battle for the Grid video game draws inspiration from a storyline in the comics. The game allows players to choose Rangers from various eras to engage in Mortal Kombat-style battles. It fulfills the childhood debates of which Power Ranger could defeat another.
Reflecting on the franchise’s journey, I am astounded by how much of a millennial touchstone Power Rangers has become. In high school, it was often dismissed, and the focus was primarily on Pokémon and ’90s Nickelodeon. However, during my college years, I witnessed a resurgence of millennial nostalgia for the franchise.
From friends nicknamed after Power Rangers to MegaZord Funko Pops occupying prominent spots in their apartments, the franchise remains significant as the original viewers have grown up.
The recent Once & Always reunion special, akin to the 50th-anniversary special of Doctor Who titled The Day of the Doctor, made me appreciate the enduring legacy of Power Rangers. Both specials celebrate beloved TV sci-fi franchises, assuming the audience’s familiarity with the shows and their lore. In both cases, the celebrations are successful.
Looking back, I’m happier than ever to have had Power Rangers in my life for this long. One aspect that impresses me the most is the franchise’s ability to adapt to the times and trends. New casts, costumes, and high-concept premises may come and go, but the core appeal of the franchise remains its simplicity: the satisfaction of seeing the good guys triumph over the bad guys. Happy anniversary, Power Rangers! I eagerly anticipate what the future holds for this enduring franchise.