There was a lot of fanfare surrounding the potential that was the 30th anniversary special Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always. Familiar faces returned to take on their iconic roles once again in a special that also aimed to pay tribute to the tragic passing of Thuy Trang. It felt like it would potentially be the tribute we always wanted for our iconic childhood pretending to be Power Rangers ourselves while watching the show. With the special finally out, does it live up to the nostalgia?
It would be strange to say that it does and doesn’t really live up to what you might expect from this type of tribute. The thing is: as a modern take on the iconic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series, it works incredibly well. It has that same goofy and over-the-top action from the original. Even from the opening, it just feels like you’re a kid again watching an episode that just happens to be quite a bit shinier and of higher quality.
The costumes look just as goofy as they always do, but they don’t shy away at all from that era. Walter Emanuel Jones is back as Zack joined by David Yost as Billy Cranston, who are technically headlining the project. Steve Cardenas‘ Rocky and Catherine Sutherland’s Katherine also appear with franchise newcomer Charlie Kersh. Sadly, not everyone from the original line-up was around but the series tries to pay tribute to their characters; even if the use of Jason David Frank’s voice (may he rest in peace) for the Green Ranger was mired with controversy.
The biggest surprise about this project is that it actually follows the franchise’s in-universe canon. Rita’s return actually makes sense given the events of the original Power Rangers in Space where Zordon unleashed the Z-wave to defeat all evil. There are a lot of callbacks to the various storylines and Rangers that existed even if they were just little toys in the background that never actually show up. This is definitely a part of the original franchise that still knows what has happened in the past 30 years.
Yet, as much as I loved it as someone who grew up with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a lot of it just doesn’t hold up well. They tried to replicate the original series as much as possible, but that comes at the detriment of its overall quality. Outside of it being shot quite nicely beside a few jarring cuts, there’s just a lot lacking to make this feel like an evolution of the franchise rather than a time capsule. The acting across the board is very wooden and while you know it’s a labor of love, there’s a lack of really trying to give a performance.
there’s also something with the audio that makes it a bit awkward at times. Charlie Kersch’s performance is quite over-the-top and is definitely performing a role fit for a Nickelodeon series. Barbara Goodson and Richard Steven Horvitz give very over-the-top performances but it works as if they are doing voice work for robotic characters. There’s just a combination of overacting and underacting creating this strange disconnect, especially with some ADR making some scenes a bit more awkward than they need to be.
The same goes for the CG work in these series. It’s strange that they pay tribute with some wonderful costumes and environment work that pays tribute to the original series and its Sentai roots, but the VFX by the end ends up as what the Internet pretends Marvel CG looks like. Seeing the Zords was such a delight, as their introduction sequence paying tribute to the original actually looks incredible but once the Zord is fully formed it turns into a slightly better look from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie. Don’t get me started on the weird car.
What does make up for it is the overall action, as not only does it pay tribute to the original in clever ways with shot composition but it’s the thing that feels the most fleshed out. The cheesy one-liners also add to the charm of what’s happening on screen. Even if the story just rushes through plot points that seemingly have no real connection (and sometimes feel a bit half-baked), there’s still a lot of fun to have as a Mighty Morphin fan.
That’s kind of the struggle I have with this special. I love how it just goes out of its way to be a modern take on the original but it also feels like they could’ve done so much more. It’s special to celebrate the franchise’s 30th anniversary but it creates this feeling that it hasn’t really evolved after all this time. Having rewatched recent Nickelodeon entries, it sadly continues to feel that way and this may be a final hurrah before Netflix’s ambitious new Power Rangers take finds its way to the streaming service.