You're officially old, because the original Power Rangers series is now 25 years old. Any long-time fan of the tokusatsu show knows what this means: A new anniversary special bringing rangers from yesterday and today together for an epic team-up.
While Marvel Studios has successfully created a 10-year-old franchise with an ongoing continuity, the Power Rangers franchise has done the same for 25 years, adapting the Japanese Super Sentai serials while creating its own storylines along the way.
While we've had Power Rangers for 25 years, Toei Company's original Super Sentai series goes way back to 1975, with a history that includes a failed attempt by Marvel Comics to adapt the show to American audiences in the 1970s. It wasn't until 1984 when, during a business trip to Japan, music producer Haim Saban noticed that the only thing playing on his hotel room's television was Super Sentai, and he quickly became fascinated with the idea of adapting the show.
"There was something very different about the show," series co-creator Shuki Levy told SYFY WIRE. "It was filled with action and very colorful characters."
While most adaptations of Japanese shows, including Marvel's own plans, only got as far as dubbing the show into English, Saban had something a little more original in mind.
"We soon realized that there was a risk we might end up with a parody similar to Woody Allen's What's up, Tiger Lily? if he just dubbed the dialogue," Levy says. Instead, Saban and Levy would use the action sequences already used on the Japanese show and come up with their own storylines for the rest of the episode. With this, they were free to develop vastly different stories, but keep the action and excitement — including the Megazords. "We would create and shoot an original story to give context to the action sequences," Levy says. "I liked the campy feel of the action, so I embraced that and had fun with it."
When Saban and Levy finally produced a pilot in 1986, it was based on the eighth iteration of the Super Sentai series, which they titled Bio-Man. The pilot was (very) low-budget, and Levy's first attempt at screenwriting and directing; it got turned down by everyone who took a look at it.
"We felt it was an exciting project and unlike anything else on TV at the time," Levy says. "But we were the only people excited about it."
After seven years, Margaret Loesch, who ran Fox Kids at the time, decided to take a look at the show and ended up giving it a chance. She greenlit Levy's script and agreed to turn it into a series.
"She had a tough time convincing the network to give it a chance," Levy admits, "and she really put herself on the line for the project. She believed in it like we did."
Saban and Levy, with Fox Kids now backing their vision, looked to the most recent Super Sentai show, Zyuranger, and created what became Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The show became an overnight phenomenon, unlike anything that came before it.
Ratings went through the roof, and the demand for anything Power Rangers was so high that a live show at Universal Studios drew record-breaking attendance and turned a freeway into a parking lot, according to an L.A. Times article.
Power Rangers merchandise was so hot, it turned Christmas shopping into a gladiator match that inspired the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Jingle All the Way (1996). That year, Power Rangers owned a 40 percent share of the action figures market. There were signs with contact info for black market sellers started appearing outside some stores, parents offering $100 to store clerks to reserve Rangers for them, and new shipments of figures sold out before they even got out of the box and on to the shelves.
The Japanese version of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a vastly different beast. In that version, the Rangers are the pre-historic heirs of five kingdoms who awake in the present to fight a sinister witch with the support of their wizard-elf mentor. Since the Japanese mythology wouldn't fly on American TV, Saban and Levy decided to drop the medieval storyline in favor of a California high school and the responsibilities of royal life with typical teenage problems like homework, football, and bullies. Because the action footage involved the Rangers wearing masks and superhero suits, they were virtually unrecognizable, to the point where Saban decided to make one of the male Rangers a girl (the Yellow Ranger, which explains the lack of a skirt on her suit, as compared to the Yellow Ranger's get-up).
By the time the big screen adaptation premiered in 1995, half of the original cast had left the show. It was around this time that fan favorite Amy Jo Johnson departed, and the first (but certainly not last) Australian Ranger came on board. Catherine Sutherland joined Power Rangers in its third season as the Pink Ranger, and while she knew of the show, she couldn't imagine how huge it was.
Stepping into the shoes of an iconic character is never easy. "By the time I got on board, the show just started airing in Australia," Sutherland told SYFY WIRE. "I watched it to familiarize myself with it, but it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. But because of the movie, I did get to see the magnitude of its popularity, and how much people cared about it.
"I knew just how much Kimberly, [Amy Jo's character], was loved, and being the new Pink Ranger was intimidating. Thankfully, I think the writers did a good job making our characters different and making me bring something new to the table."
Sutherland proved to be popular among fans. She stayed on for three years and had a role in the second Rangers film. The Pink Ranger was one of the few characters who went through several iterations of the Rangers' costumes (four, to be exact) and mechanical Zords, so Sutherland was treated to a revolving look. "And I also got to play evil, which was a ton of fun," Sutherland says. "It gave me room to evolve as a character."
Still, she was only acting in half of every episode because Power Rangers was still using stock footage from the original Japanese series. "I never saw Super Sentai, so it wasn't until we did ADR for the fight scenes that we got to see how the show actually worked and looked."
Over time, the use of stock footage decreased; soon, the American version was celebrating its own history.
Following the tradition of the original Super Sentai series, every five years there would be a special Power Rangers episode in which a big threat forced the current Rangers to join forces with some legacy characters for a team-up. One of the characters with the most appearances in these special episodes, Jason Faunt's Red Ranger, joined the show in its ninth season, Power Rangers: Time Force, the last show to air on Fox Kids following the sale of the franchise to Disney. By the time Faunt became the Red Ranger, the use of stock footage had decreased.
"They definitely used a lot less footage from the Japanese show," Faunt told SYFY WIRE. "We had a lot of very deep storylines, and a lot more character stuff going on."
Time Force was a more mature show compared to earlier seasons, which resonated with a fan base that continued to grow older. "I think the older kids who grew up on the show tapped into the new adult stories," Faunt says. "We had a romantic relationship, time travel paradoxes, we even had the Red Ranger die in the first episode! It was a lot more complex and the older fans gravitated towards that."
This year's anniversary special, set to air on the day of the 25th anniversary, will bring back Kat Hillard (Sutherland), Wes Collins (Faunt), and Tommy Oliver (Jason David Frank), as well as other Rangers from past seasons in a team-up across dimensions. Faunt believes this episode will please fans who were disappointed with the last anniversary special.
"The last one was a bit rushed, and a lot of people didn't get any dialogue, so fans were disappointed with that," Faunt says. "I thought this one was cool because there's a lot happening that feels pivotal to the story. There is some major stuff going down." Sutherland teased answers to some big questions. "I feel like this one answers a lot of questions that fans may have about how the universe and the Rangers are all connected."
When it comes to the enduring popularity of the Power Rangers franchise, Sutherland thinks it's the identifiable cast that connects to people. "They are really good at having a diverse cast that kids can identify themselves with," she says. "They are good at having strong female characters, and minorities in strong roles that inspire people."
Meanwhile, Shuki Levy says he isn't surprised by how long the show has lasted. "When FOX placed their first order for 13 episodes, I told Margaret to make sure she budgeted for the next 10 seasons. I knew kids would connect with it because I connected with it — and I'm really just a kid inside, even after all these years."