IT’S MORPHIN TIME! – On August 28 th, 1993, the world was first introduced to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, who are five teenagers with attitude tasked by the wizard Zordon with defending the Earth from the empress of evil, Rita Repulsa. Nearly 30 years later, these legendary heroes return to take on a new yet familiar threat in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always, a reunion special that celebrates the 30-year legacy of the Power Rangers franchise. It features original cast members David Yost, who returns as fan-favorite character Billy Cranston, and Walter Jones as Zack Taylor for the first time since leaving the show in season 2. While MMPR was a global phenomenon in the early 90s, does it still have the power to keep fans captivated all these years later?
“Once & Always” is a dangerous tightrope act that attempts to balance complex, darker themes with a modernistic take on the camp and cheese of classic MMPR. The pacing is fast as we find ourselves immediately thrust into the action with Billy surrounded by a squadron of Putty Patrollers led by Rita Repulsa, voiced by returning Barbara Goodson, reborn as Robo-Rita. The other Rangers quickly teleport to the battlefield, and we have an opening fight scene full of glee-inducing nostalgia. Not everything is rainbow-colored spandex and one-liners as Robo Rita takes a kill shot at Billy that is intercepted by the Yellow Ranger Trini Kwan, who sacrifices herself to save the blue ranger. Trini was played by the late Thuy Trang, who posthumously portrays the character again through archival footage.
Billy and Zack are tasked with breaking the news to Trini’s daughter Minh, played by newcomer Charlie Kersh, which kickstarts the thematic narratives of loss, legacy, and true heroism. Becca Barnes and Alwyn Dale craft a wonderful story that introduces serious, real-world problems like death and grief into the brightly colored world of the Power Rangers. I applaud the writing duo for staying focused on the story at hand and not being bogged down by the temptation of over-indulging the fans with easter eggs from the past 30 years. I felt engaged from beginning to end, and while I believed the special could have benefited from another 20 minutes to help the story breathe, I was impressed with how well most of the characters were utilized.
Charlie Haskell incorporates a lot of dynamic camera work and modern filmmaking techniques to elevate the cinematic quality of the special. Does it look cheap at times? Yes, but that truly is part of the charm of a series like Power Rangers. Despite that, we still have some of the best-looking sets, costumes, and props in the franchise’s history. The stunt team down in New Zealand, where the special was filmed, also deserves recognition because the ranger fight scenes, both morphed and unmorphed, were extremely well done.
Going into the special, I was curious to see how Yost and Jones would fare as it has been decades since either was a major part of this franchise. While Jones continued acting post-Power Rangers, Yost found a home behind the camera as a producer. Both hand in wonderful performances, with Yost playing a Billy who is more confident and experienced with age while also feeling like the same innocent bookworm of old. Walter Jones may very well steal the entire special, carrying much of the emotional weight in a lot of his scenes. Once & Always gives us a Zack who is trying to pick up the pieces of tragedy while also honoring the memory of his friend, and Jones is ready and willing for the challenge. His delivery is strong, but we still get echoes of the fun, dance-loving Zack of old.
Also returning for the special are Steve Cardenas as the second MMPR Red Ranger Rocky DeSantos and Catherine Sutherland, whose Kat Hillard took over Pink Ranger duties from Kimberly in Season 3 of Mighty Morphin. Sutherland and Cardenas are great in the time they are given, which is not much. My biggest complaint is that Cardenas is treated like an afterthought, and I would have really liked to see him have a bigger role. “Once & Always” introduces us to Charlie Kersh as the daughter of Trini, who fills the requisite “teenager with attitude” role. Kirsch has the herculean task of having her first major role as the daughter to an iconic character of a 30-year franchise whose actor tragically passed away, and despite all this pressure, she is still somehow able to deliver a nice performance. Kirsch is a Taekwondo Xtreme Martial Arts World Champion as well as a Creative Martial Arts World Champion, and she incorporates that skill into her performance. She is very reminiscent of the OG MMPR cast who were comprised of unknown young actors that were skilled in martial arts, dance, or gymnastics.
As someone who grew up with this franchise, I can say that “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always” was a delight. It definitely has its flaws, but they are easily forgiven as we are transported back to our childhood for 55 minutes of pure nostalgic entertainment. This special is accessible to any fan, from the casual to the hardcore. I cannot recommend this special enough and encourage fans, young and old, to watch it ASAP! Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is available now to stream on Netflix.