Mighty Morphin’ Masterpiece: One Man’s Inexplicable Love for ‘Power Rangers: The Movie’

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was after my time. I was 17 when Power Rangers toys became the biggest thing since Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, and while I was still watching cartoons and playing with toys in 1994—as indeed I still am in 2011—nostalgia alone determined my approach to children’s fare. In other words, I was too obsessed with Transformers reruns to bother with new cartoons aimed at a younger generation. Plus, a passing glance at any given episode was enough to convince me that Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was, well, ‘stunted’.

So why have I seen Power Rangers: the Movie five times?

My friend Kit was a fan from the start, even though he’s a year older than me and he already had kids and a job and all that grown up stuff when Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers debuted. I’d initially assumed that Kit’s enthusiasm for Power Rangers was ironic, but I decided I’d been mistaken when he hastily cut short our visit one day in order to race home in time for the White Ranger’s much-hyped debut.

To humor him, I tagged along with Kit when the Power Rangers hit the big screen in the cleverly titled Power Rangers the Movie, and I visited the theater for some more morphin’ action a week or two later because I was good friends with this little kid named Ole who thought the Power Rangers were the second coming of Jesus. (No doubt some nostalgic young smartass has already Photoshopped some sort of Jesus Zord somewhere on the internet.)

But then I watched Power Rangers: the Movie twice more when it hit video, with neither Kit nor Ole in attendance. And today I watched it again, for the first time in 15 years, and while I invited my daughter to watch with me, I’d have watched it without her had she declined.

And I don’t really understand why.

To be sure, there’s a handful of serviceably entertaining moments in the film, such as the scene wherein the Rangers meditate to discover their spirit animals, which inevitably include cool, tough animals like bears and falcons. The Black Ranger gets the laugh of the film when he dejectedly murmurs, “I’m a frog.” Also worth a chuckle is the moment during the climax when the evil Ivan Ooze dismissively notes the arrival of “that cute Pink Ranger”, to which his assistant Goldar replies, “Oh, you think she’s cute, too?”

But these meager scraps of amusement are not enough to warrant five viewings of something as hyper and silly as Power Rangers the Movie.

Maybe I’ve always been drawn to the film because it owes a lot to the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Both films feature the near-death of the heroic group’s father figure, necessitating that the heroes go on a spirit quest, which in both movies includes a campfire meditation session resulting in personal revelations, albeit revelations of a vague, generic, believe-in-yourself sort.

Also in both movies, a young boy reconciles with his father—wee Fred and his Ooze-hypnotized dad in Power Rangers the Movie, Foot Clan-recruit Danny and his dad in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles even appeared on an episode of Power Rangers. Or maybe the Rangers appeared on an episode of Ninja Turtles—I saw the story in question on YouTube, so I cannot be certain.

In Power Rangers the Movie, the Ranger super-suits are made of leather, rather than the spandex suits of the television series. (When the cheerful teens are in their Ranger suits, their every gesture and motion produces a loud whipping sound. I kept hoping one of them would bewilderedly test this strange effect, as Weird Al Yankovic does in his “Fat” video.) The leather makes for a reasonably sexy upgrade, but again, it’s not enough to justify my repeated viewings of such a cinematic clunker.

While I pretty much never watched the Power Rangers TV series, the audacious racial construct of the first season produced great fodder for small-town stoner conspiracy theories. This potential first came to our attention during a PSA starring the original Black Ranger, whose alter-ego was African American. Having yet to tune in to the series, my friends and I were startled to see this smiling young black man start off the anti-drug PSA with a happy greeting of, “Hi, I’m Zack, the Black Ranger!”

Further analysis revealed the following comical details: the Yellow Ranger was Asian, the Pink Ranger was a girl, and the White Ranger was the most powerful Ranger of all. Equally amusing was the clear implication that the heroic transformation of each Ranger was referred to as “morphin’” with an apostrophe, so that younger viewers would not become intrigued by the superheroic wonders of morphine.

Funny as all this nonsense was, one could just as easily joke about the racial symbolism without having to watch the friggin’ movie, so perhaps I only watched the stupid Power Rangers movie because I looked like one of its heroes; friends pushed me to become a teacher because kids loved me so much, but in retrospect I think kids mostly loved me because I had long hair, so I sorta looked liked Tommy, whom I believe was the Red Ranger at first, before he became the Green Ranger and eventually the White Ranger. Or maybe he was the Green Ranger right from the start. Kit would know.

Maybe I only watched because of the guitar solos during the fight scenes—thanks to the “Seattle Scene”, in 1994, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was the only place to hear a blistering guitar solo. Of course, that was the TV series, not the movie, and I doubt that I saw three full episodes of the show.

Aw, that’s all bullshit. We all know why I watched the Power Rangers movie, over and over and over. I watched it for the same reason any male aged 15 years or older (ahem, considerably older) watched—it is surely no coincidence that Amy Jo Johnson is the only person from the Power Rangers cast whom I can identify by name.

Seriously, have you seen the Pink Ranger? God, she’s delightful. Remember Goldar’s comment about her cuteness I quoted above? You should have heard the laughter in the theater when he said that. It was a particularly knowing breed of laughter. It was the laugh of people who cherished a secret shame and were delighted to have it acknowledged safely by another. It was… well, honestly, it was just me and Kit laughing. But dude, for reals: we were laughing hard.

But it’s time at long last to move on with my life. I am certain that I can finally leave this troubling Power Rangers fixation behind me. After all, I am a teacher now, and a father and a world traveler, besides. I have broadened my horizons. It’s encouraging to discover, for example, that I can now look past Amy Jo Johnson’s girl-next-door loveliness and firm, supple acrobat’s body and recognize that, hey, the Yellow Ranger is pretty hot, too.