It’s been said that television reflects our society’s evolution and cultural diversity; art imitates life and life imitates art. Many of us were fortunate to grow up during the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers craze of the 90s and with the recent announcement the series was being rebooted, the internet went into a frenzy not unlike the series initial run.
It was an innocent time where we jumped from our couches and high kicked the ever-loving snot out of a playmate (or an unfortunate sibling) until we were put on time out for knocking them over. The Rangers helped us develop an early interest in martial arts, in space travel and appreciate the art of kaiju monster movies of the 50s and 60s. The Rangers reveled in everything camp, super camp and mega camp but we never watched without learning a valuable lesson: anyone can and should be a hero.
The legend is simple: Jason, Billy, Trini, Kimberly and Zach were all high school friends are handpicked by floating head Zordon to be the guardians of Earth. With the help of their nifty Morphers and Zordon’s sidekick Alpha 5, they protect Earth from Rita Repulsa.
The initial Power Ranger uniforms were red, black, yellow, pink, blue with dinosaurs assigned to each. The mysterious green and later fabulous white would join the team later, played by the same character. Fairly basic color palette but an interesting connection to how we are trained to respect the world: “I don’t care if they’re red yellow, blue or green with white polka dots, you have to respect them.” The truth is, you have to respect the Rangers because they were anyone and in essence everyone.
Like any good bad guy, Rita had her share of special friends. She kept a close circle of weirdos; Goldar, Squat and Baboo were the best yes men an evil space woman could ask for but no villain is complete without disposable henchmen. Where Master Shredder had his Foot Clan, Rita had her Putties, drab gray clay soldiers that were baked in a giant kiln and shipped to Earth to frequently bother the and torment the tax paying citizens of Angel Grove. They made strange gobble sounds as they kicked punched and flipped around being pains in the ass. They weren’t the best henchmen since a simple kick punch combo or fancy dropkick to the chest would destroy them but you get what you pay for and Rita always had a pile of them.
If the putties didn’t do their job, Rita would send in her ringer, some terrifyingly warped version of a Disney mascot flopping around downtown somewhere, causing problems until Zordon and the Rangers caught wind of them. Sometimes they were giant fish, creepy birds, or amalgamations of the stuff you found at the bottom of your junk drawer and if things got too rough, Goldar would volunteer as tribute. They were always conveniently sent to the middle of downtown Angel Grove, where they could knock over as many things as possible. Rent rates in Angel Grove must’ve been super cheap.
The Rangers would respond in kind with their hyper kinetic Morphin sequence, summoning their respective Zords and naturally, they would win. For all it’s cheesy special effects, awkward cuts, bad dialogue and terrible fight sequences, the Might Morphin Power Rangers gave us as kids something to cheer for.
Each of these members of the Rangers represent a segment of our lives that is commonly found in high schools, community centers and in the streets. Any one of us could be a spandex clad superhero pilot a Zord and save the world. We see that people have to band together to defeat common enemies, no matter how ridiculous they looked, because we were chosen to defend the Earth. They had the qualities needed to be a great leader, a warrior and champion for change. They knew of the Rangers but had no clue who they were, despite five kids wearing suspiciously color coordinated outfits to school. Those selected to be Rangers were all unique in their skills and had distinct personalities that almost mirrored the traits exhibited by their respective Zords. It was a formula that worked.
The next crop of Rangers were shocked when Zordon pulled them to the headquarters and told them of their collective destinies, their Morphers handed to them by the same people they passed in the halls at school. By the time the series hit fever pitch and the Might Morphin Power Rangers movie was released, the Rangers had decidedly undergone a significant change in their starting line up. Kimberly, Trini, Jason and Zach left the team and were replaced by Aisha, Rocky and Adam. Tommy, who had been the villainous Green Ranger was now the heroic White Ranger and defacto leader of the team. Their Zords also changed. Gone were the dinosaurs and sabertooth tigers, replaced with bears, cranes, tigers and frogs. Interestingly enough, where the first Zords represented strength, size and power, the new Zords mirrored unique fighting styles and personalities. Tommy still got the best Zord; he went from the Green Dragon (which was basically MechaGodzilla but sshh) to the White Tiger Zord and a Morpher named Saba that spoke to him. Tommy was easily the favorite.
Yet despite the change in guard, the Rangers carried on with their core mission, defend the Earth, be all-inclusive, seek change, evolve and wear spandex. Just as the Rangers had changed, so had their enemies. If Darth Vader was allowed to be restriction free evil, he may have been Lord Zedd, a power mad flayed man with a massive Z crown who took over the command as meanest guy in space. He played no games. Zedd’s first order of business: He violently banished Rita Repulsa. He then rebranded the Puddies, as Z-Puddies, who were still the same putties with a Z on their chests, and commanding a bigger fleet of monsters.
He aligned himself with the bearded Purple Menace Ivan Ooze, who had managed to enslave the world’s adults (well, only Sydney, Australia’s adults) with his purple goo, Ivan’s Ooze. It seems like all is lost; it’s the perfect metaphor for what it’s like growing up. Here you are, young and working in the world only to be consistently knocked on your bottom almost daily. You want to give up but you can’t and won’t because there are far too many people depending on you and your team is willing to carry you though. The change in Rangers and Zords signifies the need to grow, let go, find yourself and trust that you are stronger than you feel.
Having struggled to find their new identities, destroy old Zords and become new heroes, the Rangers successfully defeat Ivan, send Zedd back to Rita’s old castle and have morphed (yes, that’s a pun) two different versions of the team into one cohesive unit.
This movie, while sounding simple, ultimately sets up the next chapters of the Power Rangers-verse. Since it’s launch in the States, the Power Rangers franchise has undergone dozens of changes, evolutions and developments that has taken it lightyears away from the original series but at it’s core, it’s still a series that encourages diversity, acceptance, teamwork and courage. While mainstream media seems to struggle with pan-ethnic casting, the Power Rangers have been flexible in casting ethnicities and genders in roles of leaders, villains and heroes. It is one of the few series on television that tells viewers, no one cares what you look like, you’ve got something that we need and we want you. That type of inclusion in a series can drastically change the way a child sees the world and subsequently create a real world hero from a basis of fantasy. Granted, when Zach and Trini were serving as the black and yellow Rangers respectively, one had to wonder if it was intentional that the African American ranger was the black Ranger and the Asian-American Ranger was yellow. The kids were all different, male, female, black, white, they were all kids that represented the best of the human race when it came to the wild world of being a Power Ranger and they reflected the kids who obsessed over the series.
Despite poor costume to ethnicity ratios, each of the subsequent teams that would form under the many titles in the power ranger titles) feature racial and societal differences amongst the rangers exhibiting the same type of strengths and team ingenuity that made the originals such an effective squad. They’ve dropped the ball a few, okay, a dozen times, with newer updates to the Rangers mythology, the concept remains the same: Take kids that you would never expect to band together to fight in the protection of mankind, put them in spandex, have them run around in suits and be awesome.
Changing who we associate ourselves with can broaden our world views, accepting that inside every nerd, jock, smartass and gymnast is a hero and of course, the most important lesson of all…every time is Morphin time.