Thirty years ago, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers morphed for the first time and helped form countless childhoods, including my own. Now, Netflix is cashing in on that widespread nostalgia with the release of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always, an hourlong reunion special that just hit Netflix on April 19.
The special reunion brings back some favorites from the original 1993 television series, including David Yost and Walter Emanuel Jones as the Blue Ranger and Black Ranger, respectively. The movie – which is more 0f a long version of a classic Power Rangers TV episode than a full-fledged film — does exactly what it has to do: it’s Power Rangers through and through. But is that enough to warrant its existence? Even for fans nostalgic for their mighty morphin ’90s youth, is Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always worth watching?
A blast from the past
The film excellently captures the ultra-cheesy, semidramatic, childishly epic vibe that has enraptured kids across the world for decades. Once and Always follows the Mighty Morphin Rangers after a robotized version of Rita Repulsa seeks to steal the Ranger’s power to take over the world. It’s a simple story with a predictable trajectory for anyone who’s seen an episode of the Power Rangers, but the special’s treatment of the Yellow Ranger hits an emotional string beyond the show itself.
In the opening sequence, Repulsa kills the Yellow Ranger, Trini Kwan, with a spell that essentially disintegrates her on the spot. Later, Trini’s daughter, Minh, is informed of her mother’s death and vows revenge on Repulsa, setting up the key emotional arc of the film. The death of the Yellow Ranger rings a heftier bell due to the passing of Thuy Trang, who played Trini in the original series. Trang tragically died in a car crash in 2001. The special lovingly pays tribute to Trang throughout the story, and a particularly heart-wrenching ending sequence is sure to move some viewers to tears.
From random explosions to electric morphing scenes to a few zany villains, Once and Always is a loving, nostalgic tribute, but that’s about it. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel or give a new take on the Rangers. It’s trying to pay homage to the original series. And in all fairness, it does that really well! However, as a person who grew up with Power Rangers as a central part of my childhood, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of skepticism behind my goosebumps.
The limits of nostalgia
When I was a child, my siblings and I were devout Power Rangers fans. We couldn’t get enough of them; some of our personal favorites were Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Power Rangers: Dino Thunder, and Power Rangers: Ninja Storm. We even assigned each other characters as we watched the shows and played with the toys; my brother was very strict that I could never be the Red Ranger.
I fell in love with the Rangers. Their one-liners, wild fights, and insanely cheesy teenage interactions were always able to cheer me up. Now, as I watched Yost and Jones take on Robo-Rita, I could feel a smile creep up on my face as I was transported to my childhood home’s family room, sitting around the television. It was nice. But then, I started thinking: Is this not just a wee bit exploitative?
To be clear, I do not place these sentiments upon those involved in the special. Like I said before, it’s a loving tribute and homage to a classic Power Rangers period. However, during a time when reboots and legacy sequels are coming out of Hollywood at a near constant rate, it feels like producers and studio execs are packaging obvious money grabs as “tributes to fans.” Look at Disney deciding to remake Moana only seven years after its initial release. Or HBO announcing that it is making a television series remake of Harry Potter. The list goes on and on.
Nostalgia, in the eyes of studios like Netflix, feels like a weapon rather than a tribute. This makes things like Once and Always peculiar subjects to discuss.
People have been saying for years that things are “not made like they used to be” or that there’s “nothing original to watch.” Of course, there are a plethora of original and inventive creatives crafting crowd-pleasing, yet thought-provoking stories. But when consumers are almost constantly inundated with revivals instead of new, high-quality content, it exposes how capitalist companies seek to exploit nostalgia for commercial gain. It’s a tried-and-true strategy that, in all honesty, will likely stay in practice forever.
A guilty pleasure without too much guilt
This constant reappraisal of beloved work, though, diminishes that magic of our original nostalgia. I will always have a soft spot for Power Rangers because of the memories that I have from watching series like MMPR or Dino Thunder. So while I, like most Power Rangers fans out there, certainly am not going to turn my nose up at a classic homage to my childhood, I am not going to be singing its praises from the rooftops either. I would, however, sing that kind of praise for the Power Rangers RPM. That stuff rocks.
With Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always, I couldn’t help enjoying myself. Does that make me a sucker? Or does that just make me a fan that’s too on-guard with how companies structure their programming? I’m not sure.
Power Rangers was my childhood. It means something to me, even if that’s a weird thing to say. Once and Always seems to share that belief; I fear in the eyes of Netflix, though, that meaning is belittled to the equivalent of the emoji with dollar signs for eyes.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always is now streaming on Netflix.
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