I love Power Rangers. I realize this is the most ordinary thing a child of the ‘90s can possibly say, but it’s true. I love how it’s all at once batshit insane and yet charmingly simplistic. I love how it keeps reinventing itself season after season. I love the way it’s brought cultures together, introducing an entire generation of American youth to Japanese tokusatsu. But most of all, I love the childlike sense of fun and optimism it inspires in me every time I watch it.
The feeling I’m describing is called “nostalgia”, a concept I’m sure you’re all familiar with. It’s become something of a buzzword in recent years, and has been a frequent influence on our culture since any of us can remember. It’s such a natural human instinct, the desire to capture that feeling of simplicity and ignorant bliss that characterized our childhoods. So we latch onto anything, any memory that might trigger some semblance of that feeling: a favorite toy or game, a familiar song, an old friend, etc. But more broadly recognized and shared are cultural moments that touched and inspired entire generations: famous historical events certainly, but also media like films and TV shows. These things can not only make us feel like kids again, but bring us together in a mutual wistful remembrance of times gone by. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.
So why are we so damned ashamed of it?
Actor and MMA fighter Jason David Frank, known to Power Rangers fans the world over as the Green Ranger and a breakout favorite of the show, said in a recent interview that he is “talking to Saban”* about the possibility of making a spin-off film focusing on his character. It would supposedly be PG-13, implying a somewhat darker tone than Power Rangers generally has, and he spoke of making the Green Ranger “the Wolverine of Power Rangers”.
[*And let’s be very clear here: “talking” could mean anything from “we are actually having official meetings about this as a serious potential movie” to “I mentioned the idea to one guy and he said ‘yeah, we’ll talk later’”. At this point, the whole prospect of this project ever getting off the ground doesn’t seem terribly likely. I’m not upset about this news because I’m afraid I’ll ever actually see the damn thing. I’m upset because the idea is so symptomatic of a larger, prevalent attitude.]
With all respect to my childhood hero, none of this sounds anywhere close to a good idea. Put aside for a moment the fact that the entire point of Power Rangers is teamwork: complimentary skills, powers, and equipment always succeeding where the efforts of one always fail. So a solo Power Ranger anything is about as un-Power Rangers a concept as you can get. Spin-offs and/or stronger focuses on characters who become unexpectedly popular almost never end well and lead to overexposure. The aforementioned Wolverine is a prime example of this. But beyond that, the idea that such a film would need to be PG-13 just depresses me, because it’s demonstrative of a prevailing attitude with regard to reviving nostalgic properties: the idea that they need to be darker.
For some reason, while nostalgia is something we all share, often openly, it’s also something we have this bizarre need to distance ourselves from. Going back and watching your favorite episodes of Transformers is okay, but only if you do so “ironically”. After all, Transformers was a kid’s show, and you’re not a kid anymore. So to maintain your vacuous misunderstanding of “maturity”, you can only experience nostalgia in a sarcastic, detached fashion. “Harr dee harr! Look at how silly these cartoons are! Can you believe I used to love this shit!? Stupid childlike awe! Harr dee harr!”
So as a result, when said shows get modern updates, fans, having long since grown up, like to think that their beloved childhood classics have somehow grown up with them. They want something that they can appreciate with the same sincere wonder that they had when they were younger. But since they now feel accessing their inner child is somehow beneath them, the answer is to dress those old “kiddie” shows in the hollow trappings of what current you thinks of as “maturity”: darker colors, gritty realism, grayer moralities, and brooding self-importance. “Superman’s not just for kids anymore! He just snapped a guy’s neck! So it’s totally okay for me to still be into him!”
Look, I understand the mindset. I’ve been there. The inception of the name “Joshua the Anarchist” was entirely due to my being a miserably mopey teen way too obsessed with Heath Ledger’s Joker for all the wrong reasons. Not five years ago, I too was craving something exactly like what Jason David Frank is proposing: a dark, gritty vision of Power Rangers. I know about taking yourself too seriously, about mistaking pessimism for realism**. So I say this with the greatest sympathy: Get the fuck over yourself.
[** To once again borrow the phrase from Flex Mentallo that just never stops being relevant.]
Have you forgotten what attracted you to these things in the first place? It wasn’t that they were “edgy” or “dark” or “mature”, it was they were fun and lighthearted. Is not the whole point of nostalgia to remind yourself of happier times, when the world was less complicated and you were less cynical? Are you really going to continue to let your obsession with the trappings of maturity to the exclusion of its substance continue to pollute and distort your childhood memories? Growing up isn’t about leaving the things you love behind. It’s about expanding your mind and taking responsibility for your actions.
Do not misunderstand me to mean that stories and franchises should never change or evolve. Batman has been swinging back and forth between comedy and seriousness for the better part of a century now. Stagnation is the enemy of any franchise, and adaptability its cure. So by all means, rethink and reevaluate your favorite childhood stories. But don’t ever lose sight of what made that story worth telling a second time to begin with.