Credit: Original article can be found here
TVNZ described it as groundbreaking television. An answer to the seemingly endless diet of animated shows (and ancient repeats) that made up weekday after school television in the early 1990s.
Having already captured the attention of children all around the world, the state broadcaster believed it offered “positive role models” and demonstrated important values such as self-esteem, courage, responsibility, teamwork and respect for individual differences. Not only that, it inspired imagination-sparking “creative play” and “encouraged their natural exuberance and energy”.
However, it didn’t take along after Mighty Morphin Power Rangers debuted here on May 9, 1994 (eight months after its North American bow) for the complaints to start rolling in.
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Initially combining stock footage from Japanese TV series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger (Dinosaur Squadron Beast Ranger) with material filmed in California, the show focused on a team of teenagers who are recruited to save the town of Angel Grove from evil witch Rita Repulsa (and later other villains) and her horde of monsters. But while its goodies and baddies offered a classic kids TV dynamic, this was no Stingray or Secret Valley.
Parents, teachers and child care workers watched in horror as the show’s seemingly endless fight scenes (essentially what the Japanese footage consisted of) were replayed in the bedrooms, lounges, backyards, school playgrounds and sandpits of Aotearoa.
“The series is a danger to every child in New Zealand, whether they watched it or not,” lobby group Children’s Media Watch believed, alarmed that TVNZ was showcasing a programme that could contain more than 50 violent, aggressive acts in a typical 25-minute episode five days a week.
Even worse, the violence, rather than any storyline or dialogue, seemed to be the driver for the show. “The programme appeared to provide an opportunity for every kind of fighting,” they wrote in their submission to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), adding that it also seemed to be the only form of conflict resolution promoted by the series.
Amongst the many others who formally complained to TVNZ, Patricia Waugh expressed concern that the consequences of the violence were extremely unrealistic. What sparked her fears, she wrote, was observing the effect of three-year-old grandson’s behaviour after watching the show, when he “jumped in the air and gave his brother a kung fu kick”.
Whether it was because of the show’s popularity, or the amount of money it had invested in getting the rights to screen it, TVNZ initially appeared to dismiss the complaints. The broadcaster expressed surprise at the negative reaction among local parents and teachers, noting that there had been no such reaction in other countries where the series had been screened, while also claiming to have received many letters supporting the series.
But although it was seemingly steadfastly convinced the show didn’t contravene any broadcasting standards, it eventually decided to attempt to placate those who were upset by trimming the sparring scenes and picking up public service announcements from the cast about “the differences between fantasy and reality” and “the dangers of violent play” which it intended to play before and/or during each episode.
However, the complaints persisted and when the BSA sat on September 18 to hear the combined concerns of Bayfield and Mosgiel Central kindergartens, Children’s Media Watch and other individuals, A a panel of four determined that the show breached four standards. Advised of the decision before it became public, TVNZ decided to pull the show.
Two months later, almost exactly the same scenario played out in Canada with children’s channel YTV taking the Rangers off their schedule after a damning decision by the Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Association’s Standards.
But while it might have been forced from our screens, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a concept that refused to disappear. Two movies arrived in Kiwi cinemas in 1995 and 1998 to PG classifications and minimal opposition, before perhaps the ultimate irony. After the original production company had been sold to Disney, they decided the home for the 11th series – Power Rangers Ninja Storm – should be Auckland, New Zealand.
Yes, forget Hercules, Spartacus and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, we’ve played host to the Rangers in various guises on a far more consistent basis. They’ve been providing Kiwi actors and crew with opportunities to learn skills and showcase their talents for much of the last two decades. Amongst the household names who have appeared on the show – either in person, or just providing vocals – are Miriama Smith, Katrina Devine, Peter Rowley, Anna Hutchinson, Rene Naufahu, Rose McIver, Antonia Prebble, Oliver Driver, Kim Crossman and Mark Mitchinson.
Now some of the cast of that original, controversial show have been given the chance to visit the country that once “banned” their antics. David Yost’s Billy and Walter Jones’ Zach are part of the one-hour special Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always which debuts on Netflix tonight, April 19.
Directed by Rangers regular, Kiwi Charlie Haskell (Toke, The Gulf), it sees the Rangers come face-to-face with a familiar threat from the past. This time, I’d say it’s unlikely to be outraged New Zealand parents.
Mighty Morphin Power Ranges: Once and Always debuts on Netflix tonight (Wednesday, April 19) at 7pm. The original, once controversial, four-season first series is also available to stream on Netflix.