Jurassic World wasn’t the only major project to resurrect the bones of a monstrous ‘90s pop culture phenomenon this year. Launched last February, Power Rangers Dino Charge marks the 22nd season of a live-action show that features unreasonably pleasant teenagers fighting guys in rubber costumes with neon weapons and giant robots. To reiterate: the show began in 1993 and the majority of its first viewers have aged into their 30s.
Power Ranger’s bizarre production tricks makes its breakout success even more notable. Since its inception, the series has used overdubbed action footage from Super Sentai, a Japanese superhero show that was in its 18th season when Rangers first graced the small screen. Spliced between Power Ranger’s borrowed fight sequences, original footage featuring western actors adds sparkling teenage subplots between the bombast. And the action is bombastic; theatrical hand-to-hand skirmishes elevate as each Ranger helms a robot that forms into a humanoid Voltron-esque mech. Sparks fly. Bad guys in G-rated GWAR outfits groan and retreat. It’s a sensory assault of color and fury that sends children into adrenaline-fueled splendor and adults into epileptic seizures.
This formula occupies a new theme each season—save the first three—along such motifs as Lightspeed Rescue, Jungle Fury, Cowboy Implosion and Lost Galaxy. (Paste only made one of those up. Guess which.)
This longevity and cultural edge may explain the current renaissance of the property. Last February, Dredd producer Adi Shankar and Joseph Kahn presented a “bootleg universe” film starring James Van Der Beek that traded after-school lessons for a post-apocalyptic descent into flask hits and head shots. (Original Green Ranger Jason David Frank wasn’t a fan.) A formal Power Rangers blockbuster is in the works for 2017, with Thor and X-Men: First Class screenwriters Zack Stentz and Ashley Miller on tap alongside producers Allison Shearer and Brian Casentini. Publisher BOOM! even acquired the license to release Power Ranger comics based on the first three seasons of the show.
The latest show iteration, Power Rangers Dino Charge, revolves around a set of restaurant workers at a Dinosaur museum who discover gems that help them combat a hilarious bounty hunter named Sledge. The second half of the season kicks off tomorrow at noon on Nickelodeon. Paste sat down with the cast—Red Dino Charge Ranger Brennan Mejia, Pink Ranger Camille Hyde, Blue Ranger/ex-Caveman Yoshi Sudarso, Green Ranger Michael Taber, Black Ranger James Davies and probably-future-Ranger/scientist-manager Claire Blackwelder— during San Diego Comic Con to discuss the show, fantasy violence and The Land Before Time.
Paste: The amazing thing about the Power Rangers is that it incorporates older Japanese footage from Super Sentai, which is such a diversifying factor. Why do you think that approach has continued to succeed?
Yoshi Sudarso: It’s been such a formula that works.
Michael Taber: If it’s not broke don’t fix it. Try to get better and better. They found a niche that worked for them at the very beginning, and it was very popular. The Toei and Saban brands work very closely together, and they go back and forth. They have a very good partnership, and they’re able to collaborate on ideas for the new suits and licensing and jazz that’s benefitted both franchises. I think that symbiotic relationship helps everybody.
Claire Blackwelder: Yesterday there was this half and hour or so when [former director/writer, current Power Rangers executive producer] Chip [Lynn] was put in charge of the Power Rangers Twitter to answer a bunch of questions and I thought it was kind of fun, so I tweeted a question at him. And I asked him what the biggest change has been since preproduction in 1992 to today. The way he answered it was, I think the biggest change is I’m charge now. But he went on to say the biggest difference is that the stories are a lot more complex now. I think that’s absolutely true. There’s just so much more depth to everything. Stories are interwoven, you can bring things back that were introduced at the beginning of the season, there’s actual time put into each character. And we still do have—like Michael was saying—a symbiotic relationship, and the interesting factor of the Japanese footage being used. We still have everything that makes Power Rangers Power Rangers, but we have these elements that make it a real TV show with character and heart, and just personality.
Yoshi Sudarso: The tricky thing I think for the writers is instead of being bound by the Japanese footage, it’s to use the Japanese footage to their advantage, and tell their story—not the story that the Japanese have already written. So it’s to make it their own, which you will see later on in the season. There were a couple things, when I was reading it, I went whoa—this is a whole new twist on how things are happening. You guys should look forward to those things.
Paste: You’re at this point where you have kids watching Power Rangers and also a fanbase in its 30s….
Yoshi Sudarso: Or older. We’ve probably met some 60 or older fans. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Paste: Even looking at the dark fan-made Power Rangers film, you can see how the property has evolved with its first audience. Is it daunting dealing with this legacy when so many people may be expecting so many different things?
Brennan Mejia: Just in the same way that you’re saying there’s a legacy that we have to live up to, and the fact this legacy has existed for 22 seasons and counting, there’s a massive loving fanbase that supports this legacy. And they’re there for us in a way that, yes, we want to be there and we want to do our best. They’re already so supportive of the effort we put into the first eight episodes, they’re supporting us in such a way that they understand we’re doing everything we can to make this the best season we can. Yoshi and I were big fans of Power Rangers even before this.
Going from fan to Ranger, we understand the angst that can go with making something that we’re so invested with even before we were truly a part of it. And hopefully take it to the next level.
Camille Hyde: And part of it is that our show has to be appropriate for young children, and be enjoyed for adults at the same time. The superfans understand that we have to make the show appropriate, and respect and support it in a way that they appreciate the content, but they also know that we don’t escalate violence, we aren’t confrontational and most of our action comes from being defensive.
Paste: Right, but Power Rangers is an escapist mechanical dinosaur fantasy. It’s so far removed from reality.
Michael Taber: The word that we hear, and we’ve been hearing all weekend, is there’s this legend that comes with Power Rangers, and what makes the legend are the fans. Part of that legend is that mystical, fantasy angle of it. In terms of how seriously it’s taken, with violence, it’s a very stylized form of action. I would say all of the style aside, the real thing that the show promotes at the end of the day is working together. We’ll have episodes where he and I will fight, or there’ll be a disagreement between other characters, but it’s about coming together and being a part of something bigger than yourself.
James Davies: It’s about learning every step of the way. It’s not just about having a problem and then solving it, it’s always about learning your morals and your ethics.
Brennan Mejia: We’re not portraying prefect characters. We have our flaws just as anyone else does. We believe our season is very relatable, because Chip is an amazing executive producer and writer, and he’s given us a lot of depth that we were able to build off of, and we tailored our characters to us as we continue throughout the seasons.
Claire Blackwelder: I think you can get into a bit of hot water saying because it’s larger than life and fantastical, you are allowed to portray violence, or maybe anything that’s a little questionable. But I don’t think that’s what we do at all. It is larger than life. It is a completely different reality. Like Michael said, at the end of the day it’s about working together. When we fight, it’s because we’re defending our friends and defending our world. It’s on a completely different playing field, it’s on a completely different plane—we would never encounter these problems in everyday life. But what if that monster was the bully down the street? What would you do? We’re trying to approach this in a way that teaches kids, if that bully down the street is picking on your friends, what do you do? What we do is we band together and defend our friends.
Michael Taber: It’s a show abut team work. It’s really what it comes down to. The theme of every episode is teamwork.
Paste: What do you think Power Rangers offers the youth demographic that nobody else does right now?
Yoshi Sudarso: We actually have the emPower program, which promotes fitness and a healthy lifestyle that we ourselves try to partake in, so that we can show these kids how a healthy lifestyle can be fun. We’ve got Rangers going out there showing these kids Ranger Movements you could do to stay fit and to have fun while being healthy.
Camille Hyde: We’re also one of the most diverse casts, not only in the Ranger legacy, but we’re one of the most diverse casts on air right now in general. It’s a really big thing to show kids that there’s beauty in being different, and beauty in being ethnic.
Michael Taber: This is something with big, long franchises, but I think it’s something that’s made Power Rangers transcendent, and I always tell my Mom this: Power Rangers with its toys, with its costumes and with all of these opportunities that allow kids to play, it encourages creativity. That’s really what got me excited about acting. From the time I can remember, I was dressed up as something, I was making some movie with all of my action figures and I had hundreds sprawled out. That’s what gets me excited about creating it. It gets me thinking. That’s one thing that I think has led to fan films.
All this helps fans who have been watching this since they were yay high invest in it. And I they feel that they own a piece in it. That helps it transcend and become the iconic Power Rangers name that it is today.
Paste: OK. Now what’s your favorite dinosaur?
Michael Taber: This is actually a hard question for me. It’s a three-way tie between a T-Rex, a pterodactyl because it’s a pretty epic bird and then the raptors are pretty vicious. I don’t know if I’d rather want a group of raptors on my team or a T-Rex.
Claire Blackwelder: It’s fully pterodactyl for me.
Camille Hyde: I like the brontosaurus. I love The Land Before Time. I love Littlefoot.
Paste: Not Ducky?
Camille Hyde: Ducky was cute. But…she was a little whiny?
James Davies: That’s my dinosaur! Mine’s just the bigger version of that.
Camille Hyde: Put a picture of James next to Ducky.
Claire Blackwelder: Spitting image.
Brennan Mejia: The T-Rex. He’s the iconic entity when you look at anything Power Rangers.
Yoshi Sudarso: I think for me, aside from the raptor, it would be the Spinosaurus. They’re the biggest predator dinosaur that they’ve found. Probably the biggest.