In 1993, thousands of kids and I sat down after school and watched six teenagers with attitude fight off the Putty Patrol and Rita Repulsa weekly during the Fox Kids block. I even dressed up as the Green Ranger once upon a time, early in elementary school. The Power Rangers franchise has been a mainstay in pop culture for thirty years, with 23 iterations of these characters and a new one on the way. As the Ranger story pantheon grows with every generation, they don’t forget to bring the past one along for the ride. Hence, there have been instances where older fan favorites like Tommy Oliver pop up in shows and comic books.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is a 30th-anniversary event that balances the nostalgia of what made the 90s instance so everlasting and acknowledges the sadness that has run through it. There’s a noticeable void from the passing of Jason David Frank in November of last year. A heaviness also comes from the 2001 passing of Thuy Trang, once known as the character Trini Kwan. An episode of Power Rangers Time Force titled “Circuit Unsure” was dedicated to her memory – however, Once & Always incorporates the late character into the story. Her daughter, Minh (Charlie Kersh), is at the age where she wants to continue her mother’s legacy. There are a few scenarios where it is a headache for the veteran Rangers, but her heart is in the right place.
This time, Rita Repulsa (with returning voice actor Barbara Goodson) has returned in a robot body. With even more power at her disposal, the Power Rangers of old have to enact the Bandora Protocol to stop her. Billy (David Yost), Zack (Walter Jones), and Kat (Catherine Sutherland) are just a bunch of the original cast who return for the 30th-anniversary special. A few other characters from the classic iteration did not return, so the show tries to integrate a storyline reason for this.
It’s good to see Yost and Jones in a leading position, along with characters from the spinoffs. They all seem to move back into the 90s one-liners cadence like they never left. Once & Always is designed as a “remember when” tentpole with many older trademarks like the Angel Grove Juice Bar and the “aye yi yi’s” of Alpha. But even with the focus on nostalgia, the special does try to dive into deeper issues, such as grief and the difference between revenge and selflessness. That might be a bit heavy, considering this show is ultimately for kids. However, those themes are dealt with in a manner that knows the audience it’s speaking to.
Thus, it works for children and adults. It almost feels that this special is a collective gathering for fans who cannot mourn those losses. To see a character like Minh find her way and flourish genuinely feels great. That said, the episode's special effects could have used a bit more polish. To see what they were doing with massive fights in 1992 and some of the CGI’d Megazord fights feels like a supreme step back.
The cheesy dialogue is a trademark of the Power Rangers series – it’s in big amounts. Some of it is used to break up the more serious moments. Some of the fight choreography is tighter in some moments than others. It’s a special that tries to work through the confines of some of its limits. Once & Always has some easter eggs within it, but this one is mainly for the fans of the old days. While it’s not perfect, it’s a celebration of the long-lasting legacy of the series and those who continue to love it.