When Mighty Morphin Power Rangers first hit television screens in 1993 it was a big gamble for Saban. They’d taken footage from a strange Japanese franchise, Super Sentai (Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger to be exact), and cobbled it together with American actors and some awful scripts and hoped that the bright costumes, weird monsters, and giant robot fights would prove to be popular. And boy was it! The show was an instant hit, and over the next three years the series became a global phenomenon.
But when they’d exhausted all of the Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger footage, and tried forcing in footage from the next two Sentai series, it was becoming clear that this method wasn’t working anymore. So the franchise took the bold step of reinventing itself completely with Power Rangers Zeo, which featured all new costumes. This gamble worked once again, and thus the show would start a process whereby it would change dramatically every year, and soon it was even starting afresh with new characters and new stories each time, making a franchise where the show could vary wildly year to year.
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Going into its tenth year, the show became Power Rangers Wild Force, coming off the back of the hugely popular Power Rangers Time Force. Where Time Force had been a bit more mature, featuring a story of time travel, a dystopian police state future, and questions of whether people are genetically evil, Wild Force took a much more back to basics approach and chose to tell a much more simple, and dare I say, childish story.
Power Rangers Wild Force tells the story of Turtle Cove, a city that’s being attacked by strange monsters called Orgs. When a young man named Cole (Ricardo Medina Jr.), who was raised in the jungle by a native tribe after his parents died, travels to Turtle Cove to look for answers about his past, he comes across a group of heroes fighting the Orgs. These four tell him that they’re the Wild Force Rangers, and that he’s destined to join them.
Cole is taken to the floating turtle shaped island of the Animarium, a place filled with giant robotic animals and nature. Here he meets a magical princess who tells him that the Orgs are demonic spirits that can possess technology, becoming creatures that will try to destroy the natural world. Knowing that he was destined to join the Rangers, and hoping that it can help him learn about his parents, Cole becomes the Red Wild Force Ranger.
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Power Rangers Wild Force takes a very fairy tale approach to its story, with even the idea of the floating Animarium being an actual fairy tale within the universe canon. Complex narratives about if someone is truly evil or not, and whether they have the capacity to change go straight out the window as it’s established early on that the Orgs are soulless monsters that need to be fought. The result of this is a show that definitely works for kids, but feels suddenly jarring for its older viewers.
The series had been getting more mature up to this point. Rangers had gone from teens in high school to young adults, to members of a secret military group, to cops from the future. The Rangers and their worlds had become more complex and layered (as complex and layered as this franchise can be anyway). Then this show comes along and it’s very stripped down. Most of the team act like kids, despite clearly being in their twenties, and it’s never clear if they’re supposed to be young adults or teenagers. The only real exception to this is the Yellow Ranger, Taylor (Alyson Kiperman), who we learn is an Air Force pilot who was leading the team before Cole, and was even a lone Ranger for several months. Where the show about that?!
A few things I can compliment this iteration of Power Rangers for are the monsters and the team-ups. The monsters of the seasons prior to this were flat and boring. Their themes were too broad to be interesting. Demons and mutants from the future sound good on paper, but when that could mean anything it meant pretty weak and uninteresting designs most times. This series, however, does it right by having a very clear brief: monsters made out of technology. The result is a slew of brilliant designs, and fun personalities that result in some of the best monsters in the last ten years.
I cannot talk about Power Rangers Wild Force without also mentioning the team-ups. This season gets two, the first being a two part story that brings back the cast of Power Rangers Time Force for what feels like their real finale. Characters, both hero and villain, get a real resolution this time, and it feels like you can’t watch Time Force without including these great episodes to round it out. There’s also the tenth anniversary special, ‘Forever Red’, which brings together ten Red Rangers from past seasons for one huge, action packed special where they have to save the Earth. Pretty much always included in best of lists for the entire franchise, this episode is one that you’d show people who’ve never seen Power Rangers to show how cool the franchise is.
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Power Rangers Wild Force might not be perfect, in a lot of ways. The story is simplistic and silly at times, there are way too many zords, and the acting is pretty terrible; but these are things you expect from this show. But it has a lot of good stuff in it too, and the highs of the season are pretty damn cool. As an anniversary season, and the final season of the original Saban era of the show it’s pretty damn good.