The Power Rangers are morphing back to the big screen. The teenage superheroes cherished by every ‘90s kid—think five teens dressed as Daft Punk defeating crude Godzilla knock-offs using karate—are making a comeback 20 years after the debut of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series, thanks to a new partnership between Lionsagate and Saban Brands, the original creator of the franchise. Plans are for the rainbow of rangers to star in a brand new live action feature film, though no timeline has yet been set.
For those who would sprint from their bus stop to their living room TVs every day after school, this is either heartbreaking or glorious news. The franchise has seen many reincarnations over the years, from its own 1995 movie that grossed $66 million at the box office (Ivan Ooze!) to an animated series, but this is the, by far, the splashiest attempt to bring the franchise back to relevance. As we've recently learned, attempts at rejuvenating nostalgic brands can yield brilliant results when approached with the right mix of cleverness and respect (see: The LEGO Movie, 2011’s The Muppets). But when approached with nothing but dollar signs in executives’ eyes, the results can be downright maddening (see: The Smurfs, early teasers for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
It is, of course, too early to judge what’s to become of these "teenagers with attitudes," but it does make sense that Lionsgate would want to get into the Power Rangers game. It’s been just over 20 years since the first episode of the original TV series had elementary school kids arguing over who got to be the Red Ranger during games at recess, making the timing just right to introduce the franchise to a new generation. The possibilities for commercial success would even have Rita Repulsa angling for a stake in the profits.
After its premiere, the original series quickly became one of the most-watched kids shows on TV, averaging 4.8 million viewers in its first season, according to Nielsen. To put that in perspective, that’s more than The Mindy Project, Glee, or Mad Men get now each week. The franchise was ripe for merchandising, too, with figurines, lunch boxes, Halloween costumes—you name it—flying off shelves. If you grew up in the ‘90s, you most definitely attended at least one Power Rangers-themed birthday party a year, and your parents probably still have leftover decorative paper plates in a drawer somewhere at your childhood home from yours.
The Rangers staged a full cultural takeover among a certain age group of the population. It was maybe even a little important. So much is made today over whether we’re ready, or at least willing, to have superheroes of color in major blockbusters (remember that “Why Can’t Spider-Man Be Black?” conversation?) or a franchise built around a female superhero (isn’t kind of bull that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow hasn’t gotten her own Marvel movie yet?).
But the Power Rangers were multicultural, if a bit obtuse about it (Really, the Black Ranger is played by a black actor and the Yellow Ranger by an Asian one?) And there was something certainly remarkable about the fact that ‘90s girls grew up watching the Pink Ranger and the Yellow Ranger kick butt alongside the boys and no one thought anything of it.
Plus the actors sort of held our hands from the transition from children who think the opposite sex had cooties to adolescents grappling with puberty. How many boys count the Kimberly/the Pink Ranger as their first crush (hi, Amy Jo Johnson, loved you on Felicty!), or the long-haired, mysterious Tommy/the Green Ranger, for the girls?
There is something calming about the fact that Lionsgate, which shepherded the fantastic Hunger Games movies and the, at the very least, not completely insufferable Twilight films to the big screen without totally infuriating the rabid fanbases of the books they were based on. Facing an army of twentysomethings who grew up with the Power Rangers, hopefully the studio will take the same care this movie, too.
In the meantime, take a look at the original pilot of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (does it make me old now that I can’t help but wonder why “Morphin” is missing an apostrophe, or a “g”?), which actually never aired because it was too violent but is still a hoot to watch—albeit while cringing over the quality of a series that we, at one point, thought was the best thing in the world.