Chances are if you were anywhere between three and 10 years old during the summer of 1993, you remember when you first met Jason, Zack, Kimberly, Trini and Billy.
The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers first aired on Fox Kids and is still somehow on TV, albeit with a totally new cast and storyline. And in case you don’t remember, MMPR followed five athletic and martial-arts-trained teenagers who were chosen to protect the world from aliens by Zordon — the hologram sage — and his robot assistant Alpha 5.
In the show's opening segment, Zordon instructs Alpha 5 to teleport “the most dangerous group of ruthless, underhanded, overbearing, self absorbed and over-emotional humans in the area,” to which Alpha 5 replies, “No! Not teenagers!” Of course, in the universe of the show, it makes sense to involve teens in the fight against an alien invasion led by the meanest, most annoyingly voiced villain on TV, Rita Repulsa.
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As the legend of the show goes, Zordon then gave his recruited teenagers morphing abilities, assigning each a dino-monster called a “Zord” into which they could morph. Given these powers, if the teens find themselves in deep trouble, they can morph their Zords together and become… yup - a Megazord.
Close re-examination of these classic episodes yields a few revelations. Did you ever notice, for instance, that all the morphing footage looked ridiculously familiar? Like, every episode had the same series of Zord-morphing and the team would always have to come together to form Megazord in order to destroy the villain? Why didn’t they just go straight to Megazord instead of wasting time as individual Zords?
Well, you were onto something. Most of the footage from the first couple seasons of MMPR came from stock footage from the original Japanese show on which Power Rangers was based, Super Sentai. The original show dated from the 1970s and boasted over 30 seasons; the 16th season of Super Sentai is what inspired the first couple seasons of Power Rangers.
It proved a genius idea. Bring a low-budget (but super successful) Japanese ninja show to the U.S. and just reshoot half the episodes with young American actors. The show was an instant hit and the five young actors who played the Rangers became 1990s pop culture icons.
David Yost, who played the Blue Ranger, says Super Sentai was much darker than the Power Rangers that we all grew up with.
“We definitely made it more animated and cartoon-y. There was even talk when we started filming Power Rangers that they wanted us to wear the same outfit for every episode. Not the Ranger outfit, but our civilian clothes,” he recalled, laughing. “They wanted it to be the same for every episode so it would have that cartoon feel. I’m really grateful they didn’t do that because it would’ve been really weird, like these teenagers that don’t change their clothes or shower!”
There were other pre-production changes. The original Yellow Ranger was a Hispanic-American actress named Audri Dubois who quit after shooting the original pilot when producers said she was asking for too much money. Thuy Trang was brought in to replace her. That triggered some racial accusations, according to Walter Jones who played the Black Ranger.
"Nobody really talked about me playing the Black Ranger at first," he said. "But after Trang was hired everyone was like 'Wait a minute! The Yellow Ranger is Asian and you're the Black Ranger and you're a Black guy.' They were going to replace Audri Dubois with another girl either way, but she just happened to be Asian."
The initial casting was a cattle call, remembered Austin St. John who played the Red Ranger. "There was an advertisement in the newspaper. I heard it was thousands of people who auditioned, it was epic."
St. John, like most of the other actors, showed up to the casting call without really knowing what the show was about since most of the footage was in Japanese. "I knew I was reading for the 'Red Ranger’ but I had no idea what that meant," he said. "They gave me lines and had me do tons of martial arts. Tons." The auditions prioritized physicality over acting ability.
“The producers came up with Hip Hop Kido, but I was already trained in martial arts and I learned gymnastics in the streets of Detroit," says Jones.
Even the show’s "nerd," Blue Ranger Billy Cranston, had to have some moves. “You were either a martial artist or a gymnast and I was a gymnast,” said Yost. “I had competed nationally for a while in my youth so that’s how I got the role. There’s one episode where Billy doesn’t know how to dance and they’re all trying to teach him and at the end of the episode I “breakdance”, which was actually a gymnast move.”
Most of the actors' martial arts moves were only used when the characters were in normal teenage outfits. “We didn’t do a lot of the stunts you saw in the suits because we could’ve been hurt and couldn’t go to work the next day,” says Jones. “We started shooting our own stunts later on.”
So basically, whenever you saw the Rangers in full gear, it was most likely a stunt double or old Japanese footage. Well, except for Austin St. John, who insisted on always doing his own stunts.
“We used stock footage for the first 30, 40 episodes but then we started filming the episodes in the States and I tried to do my own stunts whenever I had the opportunity,” St. John said. “You can tell if the Red Ranger is old footage or me when you’re watching an episode if the hooded Red Ranger is a skinny little guy that doesn’t look like he’d come from America, or if you see a guy with shoulders and some thighs on him, that was probably me.”
Whenever they did use stunt doubles or old footage, the five actors would go to ADR afterward and dub all the hooded Rangers scenes. Jones says a lot of the time they’d be goofing off in the studio and somewhere deep in the vaults of Power Rangers dubbed files there’s some great audio of the Black Ranger morphing into a Zord while Jones dubs, “Zack here! Shouldn’t have ate that burrito!”
Oh how we wish we had access to the MMPR vault.
At the end of the day they were five young actors with great physical ability asked to play superheroes and become every 1990s kid's favorite Halloween costume. Not a bad gig.
“I was 18 at the time and I remember doing our first live show at Universal Studios,” St. John remembered. “We were originally going to do five shows in a small theater that seated hundreds, and all of a sudden people were camped out all night just to see us! We broke the Universal attendance records and had to add more shows and move to a bigger theater that seated thousands. Tom Brokaw even did a story on it! It was national news! That’s when it hit me, this is huge. There were figurines. I was like, ‘I’m holding me, in my own hand!’”
Jones also remembered his Power Ranger days fondly. “Power Rangers were really cool. Not many people get to be a superhero or a role model, and that’s what was so cool about being a Power Ranger," he said. "Every episode had a message about friendship or bullying or cleaning up the environment.”
Even after 21 years since its debut, you might still wish you were a Power Ranger. And with the recent announcement of a Power Rangers new movie, it isn’t too late. When are the auditions?
Romina Puga is a pop culture reporter and producer for Fusion. You can find her on "Fusion Now," Fusion's daily TV updates, going over new movies, music, apps, and why D'Angelo is still sexy.