In 1995 the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were at the height of their powers. The show had premiered on Fox Kids in the summer of 1993 and was basically an instant hit. Saban Entertainment churned out 60 episodes for that first season followed by a 52 episode second season which finished airing in early 1995. When it comes to successful children’s properties, most executives want to strike while the property is burning bright so a movie was fast-tracked for summer 1995. It would be a whole different kind of production as the television show was a mash-up of three separate shows. The Power Rangers as teens was all shot in California, while the majority of the action was taken from Super Sentai, a long-running Japanese action-adventure television series. To make things more complicated, the White Ranger was introduced in Season Two even though he was featured in an entirely different season of Sentai which is how you end up with three distinct source productions.
For the movie, 20th Century Fox stepped in and took over for the notoriously cheap Saban Entertainment. Saban was so cheap that by the time the second season ended three actors had been replaced with new ones. Austin St. John, Walter Emanuel Jones, and Thuy Tran had been replaced as the red, black, and yellow rangers when the three tried forming a union to request better wages. The actors reportedly were making $600 per week and we’re being asked to do their own stunts as well. For a hugely successful show, one would think they were justified in requesting a raise. Saban though is run by Haim Saban, the same executive who reasoned that the writers for the wildly successful X-Men cartoon should take a pay cut for the second season because now that the show was a hit, writers should be banging down on his door to write for it. The three original Rangers were replaced by Steve Cardenas, Johnny Yong Bosch, and Karan Ashley while the other three who declined not to unionize (Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, and David Yost) remained.
It’s for that reason that it feels like Fox was just a few months late with the movie. Had the more memorable, and frankly better, characters made it to the big screen it probably would have had more of an impact. Then again, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers isn’t really a film that asks much of its heroes, save for them to mostly look cool and jump around. There’s one memorable line from the Rangers in the entire film, so basically anyone could have played these parts.
With Fox on board it meant someone else got to foot the bill other than Saban. It’s not uncommon for a movie based on a television property to look much better than its small screen counterpart, but for this film it was clear that Fox really wanted to make that point. The Power Rangers have their recognizable costumes, but they’re now padded with armor plating. The villainous Lord Zedd’s (Mark Ginther) exposed brain now throbs with every line of dialogue and his right hand monster, Goldar (Kerry Casey), gets to sport glowing red eyes and re-worked face. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag for the characters we’re familiar with. Zedd looks quite menacing, while the Power Rangers look more like motocross participants and Goldar is actually less menacing than he was on television.
What does work is the film’s new lead villain. The basic story is a strange artifact shows up at a dig site that contains the ancient evil Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman). He apparently caused some trouble many years ago and an older version of the Power Rangers, together with their leader Zordon (Nicholas Bell), defeated him and sealed him away. Zedd is aware of the discovery and sees an opportunity to enlist Ooze’s help to defeat the Power Rangers and take over the world, but Ooze has other ideas. He traps Zedd and his bride, Rita Repulsa (Julia Cortez), in a snowglobe and takes over his operations with his own goal for global domination. He attacks Zordon and lays waste to the command center of the Power Rangers sapping them of their powers. The Rangers are then forced to use the last of their powers to warp to a distant planet to find a greater power in the hope that it will allow them to save Zordon and defeat Ivan Ooze for good.
The film marks the theatrical debut for director Bryan Spicer who worked with John Kamps and Arne Olsen to craft the story and script for the film. It’s a very basic story of a bad guy stripping a hero of their power and forcing them to find a new source to train, power-up, and return. It’s actually very similar to the plot of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in which the heroes lose their surrogate father and have to leave for a period only to come back and save the day. The film is only an hour and thirty-five minutes, but it’s a long hour and thirty-five minutes as there’s a lot of padding to be found. The film begins with a lengthy, and pointless, sky-diving sequence which gives way to an extended roller-blading outing for the Rangers. I guess the idea was to make the heroes look cool while also hitting that magic 90 minute running-time, but there’s a lot of pointless stuff going on.
The acting presented here is about what you would expect. The Rangers themselves are rather wooden, but they’re also given some of the worst lines to work with. Tommy, played by Jason David Frank, is perhaps miscast as the leader of the bunch since he struggles with basically every line except for “It’s morphin’ time!” I say “perhaps miscast” because I am not sure any of the others really demonstrate anything better. Amy Jo Johnson, who plays Kimberly the Pink Ranger, is probably the best of the bunch, but even she isn’t given a whole lot. Worse is that she and Aisha, the Yellow Ranger, seem to constantly find themselves in peril calling out for help from the male Rangers in virtually every conflict. This is a departure from the show where the girls are freely allowed to kick some ass and even bail out their male comrades. There’s also a romance angle shoe-horned into the relationship of Tommy and Kimberly, but there’s absolutely no chemistry to be found between the two actors.
As is the case with the television show, the real stars of the film are the villains. Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa are a fun odd-couple pairing, for the brief time they’re around. They make me smile when they’re on screen, and I would have been very disappointed with how they’re written out if not for the presence of Paul Freeman’s Ivan Ooze. Ooze is a ridiculous looking villain, which is perfect for a film like this one that has a bit of a B-movie vibe going for it. He’s funny, flamboyant, and the pile of prosthetics Freeman is forced to wear do not cover-up his face so he’s free to emote and use his facial expressions to further enhance the character. He’s easily the best part of the film and it’s almost a shame he had to endure so many hours in a makeup chair for such a picture.
Where the film really takes a turn for the worse is in its desire to elevate the product above the television show. The show is formulaic and repetetive, but it’s not without its charm. The cheap effects are endearing, and the bad rock music soundtrack has a way of worming its way into your ear. Note that I don’t consider the main theme song, “Go, Go, Power Rangers!” as among the bad. That song is perfect for what it is. For the film, licensed music is brought in as is often the case for summer blockbusters. There are songs from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Van Halen to go along with the techno-rock score that just isn’t nearly as fun as the television soundtrack. It causes the property to have a sense of being in over its head, like it doesn’t belong, when in reality the soundtrack was aiming to do the opposite.
Worse than the soundtrack though, are the effects. There are a great many instances of practical effects in this film, which is what is appropriate for the franchise. Some of them get a little silly, like the White Ranger doing a comical amount of flips through the air. His deployment of his sentient sword, Saba, is also awesomely bad. What can’t be forgiven though is the CG finale. The film only had a budget of roughly $20 million so no one would expect Jurassic Park CG, but where the films errs is in its attempt to make the zords, giant robots piloted by the Power Rangers, entirely CG. Same with the evolved form of Ooze which features a frozen face completely removing the character’s strength. The zords are just brutal to look at and it’s a real shame that the studio didn’t just pour money into making awesome costumes for the stunt performers. The Rangers even get new, more powerful, zords, but kids were likely left underwhelmed at the end result. They do show up in the TV show in a manner fans were accustomed to, and they look light years ahead of what’s presented here.
I decided to watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie largely because my kids have been watching the original show and it’s been a fun trip down memory lane for me. I honestly can’t remember if I had ever sat down and watched this movie beforehand, but if I did I can see why it wasn’t very memorable. I was hoping for more camp and plenty of humor, some intentional and some unintentional, but the film really doesn’t deliver. The only redeeming part of it for me was Ivan Ooze, and when he’s not on screen I’m just not entertained, save for one line by Johnny Yong Bosch when he finds out he’s receiving the powers of a frog. The film was a hit as it reportedly made over $60 million at the box office plus it probably made a bunch more in merchandising. Despite that though, there was no Mighty Morphin sequel. Instead, we got Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie in 1997 which bombed at the box office. The franchise was also rebooted in 2017 as simply Power Rangers, but it didn’t perform well enough to warrant a sequel and rumor has it the film franchise is destined for another reboot. The show is still going though and it seems like the type of series that will last forever at this point. It’s just a shame that its best era received such a dismal feature.