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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

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.

The Power Rangers leap onto the big screen with new, armored, costumes.

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.

Ivan Ooze is the true star of this one.

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 Power Rangers also have new, ninja, outfits to show off which means Bandai has more toys it can sell.

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.

My children found movie Zordon frightening.

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.

“Mega” is not the way I would describe this Megazord.

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.

You would probably believe me if I said this was from a PlayStation game, not a major Hollywood blockbuster.

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.


Dec. 8 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – “I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger”

 

dreaming of white ranger

Original air date November 25, 1995.

Late in the summer of 1993 the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR) were unleashed upon the world. The build-up had been going on all summer with the Fox Kids Network running promos and print ads steadily to build-up momentum, and like a good little consumer, I was there for the premiere. The show became an immediate hit and soon supplanted X-Men as Fox’s highest rated children’s program. In my network, it first started airing weekday mornings which was a trying time to watch television as getting ready for school took precedent over everything. It eventually was moved to afternoons in the coveted after school timeslot and would also be shown Saturday mornings as well.

At this point, the story of the Power Rangers is probably well-known, but lets recap, shall we? Haim Saban is known for being notoriously cheap when it comes to television production, but he’s also been incredibly successful when it comes to children’s programming. Power Rangers is like the perfect Saban show because he owned the property and was able to create episodes on the cheap by splicing in footage from the Toei produced Super Sentai series, as well as other Japanese productions. Basically, there was footage of characters battling monsters in brightly colored costumes which was largely the domain of the Super Sentai program. And then you had the teens portrayed by American actors who were canonically the heroes under the masks. Except they weren’t. Their stuff was newly shot in the US and done on the cheap. It was so bad that three of the original cast members were let go when they stood up for higher wages with the original Red Ranger, Austin St. John, winding up homeless for a time shortly after leaving the show.

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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was inescapable in 1993.

As the show became hugely successful, the budget expanded, though still few extra dollars went to the non-union, agent-less, young actors playing the main characters. Instead, they were able to reshoot some of the stuff produced in Japan so that characters like the villainous Rita Repulsa could appear alongside the American actors and even have her mouth movements better sync with the English dub of her voice. The main series ran for three seasons and included a brand new feature film as well before the show spun-off into new iterations like Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, among others. It’s still ongoing with over 800 episodes produced thus far.

When the show arrived, it largely caught my attention due to the intense marketing. Leading up to it, I had formed expectations for the show which it did not meet. I remember thinking the main characters, who received their powers via dinosaurs, would be part dino when in their ranger form. I had visions of a Power Ranger losing his or her helmet at some point to reveal some hybrid dino-human visage beneath it, so I was a little disappointed to see the show was just a campy martial arts thing. I still found it captivating, especially the Green Ranger arc. More than the actual show though were the toys. Produced by Bandai, the Power Rangers action figures were huge at about 9″ tall. They were the first toys I ever saw with finger articulation, and the assortment of monstrous bad guys were pretty fun too. Best of all, was the Megazord which consisted of five prehistoric robotic beasts that combined into one robot, similar to Voltron.

Liking the Power Rangers quickly became taboo in my age group. It’s rather funny to look back on because the show was hugely successful and likely everyone at school claiming the show was for losers were all going home and watching it. As a result, I rarely discussed the property with friends in a sincere fashion and did so only to make fun of it. And for kids that didn’t watch it, my friends all had strangely specific critiques and jokes to make at the show’s expense.

The toys were so popular they were nearly impossible to find. I know I requested a bunch for Christmas of 1993, but ended up with nothing. Not that I’m complaining, as that was the year I got a Sega Genesis and Mortal Kombat, but I never did get much for Power Rangers stuff. I remember being immensely excited when I found one, lone, villain at Toys R Us. It was some kind of mouse-rhinoceros hybrid. It was pretty lame, but being the only toy I saw in person I had to have it. Eventually, I would have luck finding the morphing action figures (which have been re-released recently) which were neat, but not as cool as the large-scale figures. I never did get that Megazord, or the Dragonzord, which is what I really wanted. I carried around a clipping of an advertisement for it from some catalog for months, but it was to no avail.

As for the show itself, I actually was somewhat honest when I told my friends I wasn’t into it. I didn’t watch it regularly, but certain arcs would pull me back in like when the show introduced the White Ranger. I think I rented the movie, which was probably my last real experience with the show. It was usually on a little early on Saturday, and I liked my sleep.

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Tommy calls upon the power of Christmas to make this little girl happy.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” arrived as part of the show’s third season when I wasn’t a regular viewer. I’m pretty sure I never saw it before watching it for this post, but I was looking forward to doing so very much. MMPR is super campy and corny with fun martial arts sequences and some pretty kick-ass costumes. I was willing to embrace the corn and was looking forward to just going with it, but unfortunately the Christmas episode is apparently not the best way to jump back into the show. I suppose I should have seen it coming since Christmas tends to bring out the side of a children’s show that is extremely cheesy. Sentimental, sweet, with usually some sort of lesson to impart – that’s a Christmas episode in a nutshell.

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A hopeful misery has taken over the group at the start.

The episode opens at the youth center or whatever the main hangout is referred to as. Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) and Aisha (Karan Ashley) are leading a bunch of children in singing Christmas carols. Aisha is the choir coach while Kimberly plays guitar. It’s a nice way to kill some time for a Christmas episode. When the song ends, we get all of our plot setup in rapid succession, while also making time for some Hanukkah music too. Kimberly is sad she isn’t spending Christmas with her mom while a little girl named Becky (uncredited role) is blue because she misses her dad. Tommy (Jason David Frank) tries to raise her spirits and everyone wears looks of concern. Our other Power Rangers, just to get it out of the way, are Billy (David Yost), Rocky (Steve Cardenas), and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch). Of which, only Billy is really called on to deliver much in the way of lines. Poor Rocky hardly gets to say or do anything.

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These are definitely the kind of cops that will help you finish a six-pack rather than confiscate it.

Bulk (Paul Schrier) and Skull (Jason Narvy) enter the scene and they’re now police officers. I vaguely recall this being a development on the show as the two first started off as a dimwitted duo of bullies. They’re still pretty slow and everyone should probably be terrified they’re able to meet the standards of Angel Grove’s police force. They’re here to supervise and apparently play Santa and helper later.

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Zedd be scheming because villains never take off at Christmas.

Elsewhere, the evil Lord Zedd (Ed Neil, Robert Axelrod as the voice) has decided he hates Christmas (I assume this isn’t a new development for him). He and his minions have a crazy new plan to ruin Christmas for everyone that involves sending the evil Rito Revolto (Danny Wayne, Bob Pappenbrook voice), who looks like he was ripped from a Megadeth album cover, to Santa’s work shop and take it over. Meanwhile, the rangers are all farting around and being mopey about their situations. Tommy helps Kimberly hang some mistletoe, and Skull takes the opportunity to smooch her. That’s some pretty shitty behavior for a cop.

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Santa has been laying off the cookies this year.

Revolto does as he’s commanded and storms the North Pole. There, a rather skinny Santa (Robert von Fliss) is the overlord to a bunch of little people, only one of which gets any lines (Romy J. Sharf, though dubbed by Wendee Lee). They meet virtually no resistance from Santa and his followers, aside from the customary pointing out of their presence on the naughty list. Zedd apparently intends to have the gifts switched and this will somehow lead him to gain control of the world’s children. He doesn’t go into great detail and he really doesn’t need to.

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It’s nice to see Alpha decorated the place for Christmas.

Tommy gets a notification from Zordon (David J. Fielding, Robert Manahan voice) that something is up, and everyone gets to look serious and dramatic. They head to Zordon’s base where Alpha 5 (Donene Kistler, voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz) is busy getting all flustered and the floating head of Zordon gives the rangers an update on what Zedd has done at the north pole. He also introduces an interesting wrinkle. Santa’s workshop possesses some kind of magic around it that will negate their ability to use their morphing powers. If you think something like that is going to stop the Power Rangers though, you’re sorely mistaken.

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A real convincing looking north pole.

The plain-clothed rangers head to the north pole and scope out the situation. Amongst a set that looks like something you would find at a mall, they spy from the door way Revolto and his forces. They reason that since their powers won’t work here that Revolto’s probably won’t as well. Even assuming that, they still reason storming the work shop could put Santa and the elves in danger so it’s agreed that stealth is probably the way to go.

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All right, so stealth isn’t their strong suit.

Kimberly and Aisha are then shown to have snuck into the work shop and are hiding behind some presents. They get the attention of the head elf and pull her aside to let her know help is here and to get the lowdown on the operation. They then just throw themselves out there and get Revolto to chase them outside. There they join up with the rest of the Power Rangers and gang up on Revolto, who is disappointed to find his powers aren’t working. Zedd sends Goldar (Kerrigan Mahan) to assist, but he just walks into an ambush. No powers, no problem, as the Rangers demonstrate they are true ninjas and a master of their environment, so naturally they turn to snowballs. Goldar and Revolto are forced to retreat, but the elves have some Home Alone-inspired traps awaiting them as they trip on some trimmings. The weird bird monsters Revolto brought with him are felled by marbles and the elves seem quite proud of themselves to have contributed in some way.

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Take that, evil-doers!

The bad guys get warped back to Zedd and Rita (Carla Perez, Barbara Goodson voice) by Alpha 5 in a pretty bundle for him to get upset over. At the youth center, Bulk and Skull have taken on new personas as Santa and his reindeer helper. Bulk, who’s fake beard is full of candy canes, is thoroughly miserable while Skull doesn’t seem to mind the gig too much. He hauls the next kid to Bulk over his shoulder and it gives me a real A Christmas Story vibe given how rough the two are with these kids. The kid unfurls a comically long list for “Santa,” and it’s a bit funny because all of the stuff he’s reading aloud to Bulk is clearly not written on the list. Zedd and the gang also partially get into the spirit when a gift shows up from Santa. It’s filled with old junk he had either withheld from them years ago, or stuff he took from them? I don’t know, but Revolto gets into the spirit by giving Goldar a present. They seem to be enjoying themselves, but Zedd and Rita react as if they’re about to get violently ill.

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A neat little package to wrap things up.

At the north pole, Santa needs some help to avoid a full-blown Christmas catastrophe. The rangers are happy to pitch in wrapping toys and everything seems to have come together in time. Santa then gives the rangers a big old sack of toys to bring to the youth center. They warp in, which is pretty bold of them if they’re trying to conceal their identities. The kids descend upon the sack of toys like a pack of wild animals. Becky is cheered up to see Kimberly has returned and didn’t abandon her. We then get to wrap up those plots from earlier in predictable fashion. Becky, who just wanted her dad for Christmas, gets her wish as her dad shows up. And as a result, she wants nothing else from Santa so she gets to thank him (Bulk, that is) instead allowing Bulk to finally understand the meaning of Christmas. Kimberly’s family shows up too, because Christmas, and she and Tommy finally get to share a kiss under the mistletoe. The choir is reconvened for some more singing, and the whole gang delivers a hearty “Merry Christmas!” to end the episode. And then during the credits, a bonus scene between Revolto and the elves is shown where it’s questioned if he has the capacity for goodness inside of him, and it’s determined he does not.

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How cute.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” is a pretty by the numbers Christmas special for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Despite the pun in the title, there is no White Ranger, or any actual ranger, in this one at all. This episode was possibly entirely shot for the show and perhaps that’s why the morphing powers were explained away since they didn’t have a good chunk of battle footage to drop in that would make sense given the different settings included here. Which is disappointing for someone like me who wanted to just jump-in for a nostalgic blast of MMPR, but all I got was the corny stuff and none of the action.

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These kids are monsters.

It’s not a total loss though. I found the character of Rito Revolto to be pretty entertaining. He also looks cool as his costume is pretty interesting, though I don’t know why half of him is camouflaged. The stuff with Zedd and the villains was also amusing in a silly sort of way. They’re classic inept villains that revel in doing evil which rarely fails to amuse me on a surface level. Everything involving the actual Power Rangers is pretty dull though. It’s clear to me that they’re the worst part of this show. Bulk and Skull are fine and I didn’t mind my time spent with them, but the kids add nothing.

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This thing wraps up with the only way it can.

In spite of that less than glowing review, should you still wish to partake in this one you have quite a few options. By far the most accessible is via Netflix which has the entire MMPR era of the show available to stream. The quality isn’t very good, but this is a show that’s never been known for having much money spent on it. The series is also available via physical media DVD and a cursory look online suggests getting Season 3 used won’t set you back much. If you want it new, then you’ll have to pay a bit. You can also buy the individual episode on Amazon for 2 bucks. If you just want to indulge a bit in the show though, I wouldn’t recommend this particular episode. There are also free means out there as well that aren’t hard to find, and serve as a nice way to take some screen captures since Netflix makes that hard. If you’re a big Power Rangers fan, you’ll probably watch this during the holiday season, and if you’re not then you probably won’t and you won’t be missing out on much if that’s the case.


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