I have a terrible confession to make - I watched Power Rangers for a long, long time, well past the age when I knew better. Why couldn't I quit this obviously terrible show? The toys were just too damn cool.
Welcome to a new feature I'm calling "The Marvelous Little Toy", a tribute to the awesome toys that added to our enjoyment of science fiction - and in certain cases, like the Power Rangers toys I'm about to discuss, were pretty much the only reason for our fandom in the first place. But I'm not the only one whose childhood love of science fiction was shaped by awesome toys, so I want to hear from you. Send me your stories - and if at all possible, photos - of the childhood toys that helped make you a fan of science fiction by sending an email to email@example.com, and we'll run a collection of the best submissions in a weekend or two. And now, let me tell you my dark, disturbing - and lengthy - tale of the Megazords of my youth.
When Mighty Morphin Power Rangers first hit American TV screens in 1993, I was five years old. That's pretty much the perfect age to get into something like Power Rangers - old enough to enjoy a little mild violence without running away screaming, young enough to be completely oblivious to the cheap production values, terrible acting, and cheesy storytelling, and - most importantly - still cute enough to successfully beg your parents to buy you all those shiny, awesome toys. And oh, did I ever beg for those toys.
Every early Power Rangers home video - and believe me, I watched them all - started with the exact same three commercials. These commercials didn't show you what was coming up next season on the TV show, or even some similar shows that little kids like me might also enjoy. Nope, they were just about selling those Mighty Morphin (final g's are for nerds!) toys. Watching the TV show was a secondary concern - buying those toys was what really mattered. And from that perspective, these ads were absolutely brilliant. Let's take a look at the first one (the audio kicks in after a few seconds):
Pretty good, right? You're going to need get all those different Power Ranger action figures - each sold separately! - if you want to put that combined weapon thingy together, and how the hell else are you going to defeat Goldar? Actually, I did once try putting all the cheap plastic accessories together into the Power Blaster, which of course was what you got when you combined the Power Sword, Power Axe, Power Lance, Power Daggers, and Power Bow - if you don't get it, the Power Rangers work with a lot of power. Anyway, I know this is hard to believe, but the tiny, cheap plastic approximations of these various power weapons didn't really fit together very well, and I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to unleash its immense power in the comfort of my basement. But no matter! Because then there was the next commercial:
OK, now we're talking. Honestly, I barely ever played with the Power Rangers figures themselves. I mean, you could move their legs and arms a bit, and the original ones had this cool thing where you pressed their belt and their helmets flipped on and off...but that's about three minutes of enjoyment before I get bored and start reading, tops. But a Megazord? Five fighting machines that you can combine into one giant fighting machine? That has its own sword and can move slightly if you're really careful not to break it? Sure, they never made giant monsters to fight them, so all you could really do was put them together and take them apart, but that was enough. That's hours and hours of brainless transforming - sorry, sorry, morphin
g - fun. You'd be amazed how many times a little kid can morph and un-morph a Megazord before the fun wears off.
But wait! We're not done yet! Here was the last commercial, the one that introduced you to the most awesome, most expensive toys yet, with a little casual misogyny thrown in for flavor:
The message of these commercials was clear: buy Power Rangers merchandise and your house will be destroyed. That isn't really a good message, of course, but then Power Rangers wasn't really a good show, so it all worked out. And yet I dutifully watched the show for two years and one deeply regrettable movie, learning valuable lessons about teamwork and believing in yourself and how saber-toothed tigers were dinosaurs. And then, as I grew older and wiser - I think I was about 7 - I grew bored with Power Rangers and went back to begging my parents for Lego sets.
For the next few years, all was well. Power Rangers was a distant memory, my Megazord the only toy still fun enough to occasionally play with, even if it was already falling apart. But then one fateful morning in 1998, I happened to turn on Fox Kids at just the time to catch an episode of the latest Power Rangers incarnation: Power Rangers in Space.
While the original Mighty Morphin incarnation was a little too simple for my more refined ten year old palette, Power Rangers in Space had slightly better acting, slightly better writing, slightly better everything. (There's still a vague belief among longtime Rangers fans that this was the one time the show verged on being genuinely good. This is not an argument I feel comfortable making in public.) But really, only one thing really mattered to me - the show still had Zords.
I can't even tell you how many stores I dragged my parents to in a fruitless search for the Delta Megazord. (My parents, on the other hand, would be more than happy to tell you.) But I was able to get my hands on the other three Megazords - yes, at this point, every Power Rangers show was required to have at least a half dozen overpriced Megazord sets. I was hooked again, and I dealt with my rekindled obsession the same way I always do - by amassing encyclopedic knowledge about the entire series. Do you know the name of the Black Turbo Ranger? I wish I didn't! (Besides, it's a trick question - the fifth Ranger's uniform color was green, not black.)
Then Power Rangers in Space ended with a finale that's been compared to DC Comics's Crisis on Infinite Earths - I don't even know where to begin unpacking the craziness of that statement - and my interest soon waned once again with the new incarnation, Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy. At the time, I remember being very upset Skull was left on Earth. I don't even know why they bother letting kids have emotions at that age, if that's the sort of thing I was wasting them on. That said, I still bought all the Lost Galaxy Zords.
And yet, a year later, I was drawn back for last torrid tryst with the Power Rangers franchise. I was twelve now, old enough to realize Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue had wooden acting, horrendous special effects, and plots that were silly beyond belief. The internet revealed to me the show's great secret - that almost all the Megazord footage was repurposed from the Japanese Super Sentai franchise, and that's why the film stock always changed whenever the show went to a Megazord fight. I was also old enough to notice the series insisted on always using "destroy" as a euphemism for "kill", which made sense when talking about gigantic monsters but seemed a little weird when a gun-toting criminal hijacked a bus. Even at twelve, that just seemed weird.
All in all, I knew full well Lightspeed Rescue was a cheesy, crappy show, and yet...and yet...I couldn't stop watching. Why? Because the show didn't have just any Megazords...it had a Megazord that was also a train:
What kid wouldn't want a massive two-foot-tall replica of that thing? Hell, you could even hide the other, tinier Megazords inside the train Megazord. That's the sort of fearless innovation I was looking for. I may or may not have demanded my family take the entire Lightspeed Zord collection with us on a week-long trip to New England. (Hint: I did demand this. I regret nothing.)
But finally, I realized puberty and Power Rangers just didn't mix, and I kicked the habit for good. Well...except for the time a few years later when, via eBay, I finally got my hands on the original Megazord and Dragonzord (I had become a fan too late to get them the first time around, and so originally got the second-generation Thunder Megazord instead). Although I never did track down that damn Delta Megazord. It's pretty much my white whale, except my obsession is slightly less reasonable than Ahab's. Oh, and there was the time I watched the tenth anniversary episode that reunited almost all of the Red Rangers. That was definitely...something.
A couple months back, I did something I had been meaning to do for a while and donated most of my old childhood toys. I'd like to think some new kids have gotten their hands on all my old Megazords - I think I had more than a dozen when all was said and done - and are now happily whiling away the hours clicking all the different Zords together, then taking them apart again. I just hope they can forgive me for misplacing the Mega Voyager's head. That loss haunts me to this day.
Look, Power Rangers was never a good show, and I won't defend it even as some sort of ironic guilty pleasure. It was at its absolute best a silly waste of time, and I sincerely hope it doesn't get a Transformers-style revitalization in five to ten years. But still, those Megazord toys. They were just too much fun to ever completely put away, and I honestly think I owe part of my love for science fiction - and, by extension, my job today - to those chunks of cheap plastic. Hey, there's a reason I didn't give all of my Megazords away...even if some of them have definitely seen better days.
That was the first installment of "The Marvelous Little Toy." Again, we're looking for your stories - hopefully a bit more concise than mine - about your favorite science fiction toys for our next post. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Wondering why I called this thing "The Marvelous Little Toy"? This is why.
[Top photo from here; bottom photo by Bob Wilkins. Thanks Dad!]