Note: This article contains light spoilers for Power Rangers.
We are naturally divided as a society, and our tendency to branch out into different social classes becomes particularly apparent in high school. "Schoolyard factions" exist, from the jocks to the band geeks, all with their different levels of acceptability and popularity. Unfortunately, those divisions can open the doors for intolerant behavior and bullying.
In recent years, we've seen attempts by the writers and filmmakers to unite these groups in TV shows and movies, as in the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mean Girls and the 21 Jump Street reboot. But as with any cause, there was an unsung pioneer that made progress in this area before it became a priority topic. In this case it was the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Not only did the series offer a diverse cast to represent all of its fanbase, but it also gave us an example of unity among radically different individuals.
Now, the legend of the Putty-fighting heroes is coming to life once again with the upcoming #PowerRangersMovie, and the reimagined film plans to deliver that same message of unity to fans. But just what kind of approach did the franchise take in the past? Let's take a look.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' Approach To Unity
With its main focus being to entertain children, it might be easy to dismiss Mighty Morphin as just another superhero series, but that would be a complete undermining of the show's inclusion of underlying themes about acceptance. It gave us a representation of the most common school cliques through its initial five main characters:
- Jocks: Jason/Red Ranger
- Popular girls: Kimberly/Pink Ranger
- Nerds: Billy/Blue Ranger
- Artist types: Zack/Black Ranger
- Intellectuals: Trini/Yellow Ranger
The show managed to bring those groups together — groups that, in real life, would most likely have been as far apart as possible from each other — with a simple yet incredibly effective premise in who they were as people. Billy's character, for example, was the embodiment of a "nerd." But even he, with his "uncool" status, was a Power Ranger. He showed shy kids who identified with him that they too could be powerful action heroes.
That's why the phrase "five teenagers with attitude" carries so much weight, despite its surface cheesiness. It illustrated the series stripping off the labels that the rangers wore in their everyday lives and bringing them together without any prejudice. And to the surprise of the characters, they found friends in what initially to them seemed like the unlikeliest group of allies.
#TV shows can be a big part of a child's upbringing. Whether we like it or not, their values are influenced by what they watch and the fictional characters that become their heroes. Through their portrayal of unity, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series showed children how to not judge a person by their tastes or their preferred activities, but to accept them for who they were, teaching them to be tolerant and open-minded. It's a message that was all the more powerful and groundbreaking if we consider that, at the time, issues like racism and homophobia were not at the forefront of most of society's collective awareness.
That's certainly a tough act to follow. But modern generations still need new role models that resonate with them. Fortunately, #Lionsgate is giving them just that with this year's Power Rangers.
The Modern Approach Power Rangers Is Taking To Unity
Power Rangers comes 20 years after its source material. Naturally, it has to deal with a modern audience, with different mindsets and experiences than audiences had in the '90s. So it needs to tackle the subject of unity in a slightly different way.
The new approach is evidenced by the characterization of our new protagonists and the problems plaguing them. They're not squeaky-clean versions of teenagers, but psychologically conflicted individuals.
For example — from what we can discern based on message board rumors and the film's marketing — Jason is grappling with the loss of his athletic future due to a high school prank gone wrong, Trini struggles with moving schools frequently and her sexual orientation, Zack is a daredevil with an inferiority complex due to his living situation, Billy is very socially awkward, and Kimberly is the subject of mockery and mean-spirited gossip in school. As it's stated in the film:
"We are all screw-ups."
The updated version presents not so much a set of stereotypical cliques, but rather, individuals struggling with relatable and relevant issues. It's something that audiences will appreciate, as those issues will be all-too familiar.
The great thing is that, through accepting their vastly different problems, the five teenagers with attitude (and sweet fighting moves) manage to connect with one another and form a team, one that we know will eventually become a family. So in a way, the film is not only giving fans a group of characters that will resonate with them, it's also showing those fans a better possible outcome for any similarly difficult situation in which they might find themselves.
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The Power Rangers franchise, through the various generations it has existed, has taught its audiences to embrace who they are, drop confining labels, and accept others as people. It's rare to find a franchise that can do that. Punches and special effects are no rarity in the entertainment business, but a project that manages to entertain its audience while at the same time teaching a valuable life lesson is.
If you want to see just how Power Rangers manages to give modern audiences a new set of butt-kicking role models while also delivering a powerful message of acceptance and unity, then check it out when it hits theaters on March 24.
Do you think Power Rangers is exploring the concept of unity in the right way? What's the best lesson the show taught you? Let me know in the comments!