POWER RANGERS: Thirty years of Dinozords

“IT’S MORPHING TIME!” [epic background music]

If there are two things that children will never stop liking, they are dinosaurs and giant robots. Now combine them and you have the ultimate piece of pop culture, something so tacky that it instantly becomes a cult, we’re clearly talking about dinob… DINOZORDS!

The dinozords are the perfect union between past and future and the fact that they can combine to form an even larger and more powerful humanoid warrior robot is just the icing on the cake to make them an indelible memory in the minds of all those who have seen at least one episode from the original Power Rangers season.

Thirty years have passed since the first episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR) aired in 1993, and since then various seasons have followed with ever-new casts of heroes and enemies and obviously ever-changing zords. But the popularity of the dinosaur-machine has meant that mechas inspired by prehistoric animals have emerged several times.

Rather than making a list of all the zords inspired by a dinosaur or a prehistoric animal, perhaps in the future, the purpose of this article is to analyze how their appearance has changed in these thirty years, reflecting the parallel paleoartistic evolution that happened in this period of time.

Unfortunately, the boundless number of prehistoric species has meant that not all have been reused from one season to another, but as usual we can rely on the KING par excellence. Tyrannosaurus is an essential constant in all seasons dedicated even remotely to prehistory and consequently it is by far the dinosaur to which the most zords have been dedicated. The ideal candidate for our goal.

Tyrannosaurus dinozord

Tyrannosaurus Dinozord Power!

The first zord ever, as well as the one that will inaugurate the Tyrannosaurus/red ranger combination. What is most striking about this design is that it is anchored in the popular image of T. rex that predates the paradigm inaugurated by Jurassic Park. Because even if in the academic environment the image of the theropod with the kangaroo pose and the tail crawling on the ground had long been outdated, the same cannot be said for the general public. Just take another film released in the same year “Carnosaur” to confirm this. Furthermore, the zord has arms that are too long and with three fingers, a legacy of the very first reconstructions. In short, more than a tyrannosaurus it looks like a generic large theropod from the first half of the 20th century. It is necessary to add that this design dates back to before 1992. In fact, Power Rangers is the result of a re-adaptation of Super Sentai, a Japanese series that literally provides the material for the scenes of action. Since the first season of MMPR is based on Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, broadcast for the first time in 1992, its production is necessarily older. Among other things, in the theme song of the Sentai series you can see a live reconstruction of a tyrannosaurus, or rather, its head.

Quantasaurus rex

We had to wait nine seasons to have a new dinosaur-shaped zord and finally in Power Rangers Time Force, where the cornerstone of the plot are time travels, the Q-rex appears. The robot, like a good tyrannosaurus, is the most powerful in the heroes’ arsenal, it is recovered in prehistory (long story) and is combined with the red rengers on duty. The appearance is definitely a step forward compared to its predecessor: the posture is less upright, almost horizontal to the ground, the head is larger and the arms smaller, even if they also have three fingers. The fact that it is not called Tyrannosaurus in any way in the series, however, raises the doubt that this the mecha is inspired by a Giganotosaurus. The fairly triangular shape of the head, the chin and the arms would fit much better. Unfortunately there’s no prehistoric counterpart to the huge cannons on his back yet, but never say never. Fun Fact, in the sentai counterpart show the robot is called V-rex, yes, like King Kong’s Vastasaurus. Also in this series a real T. rex appears and he too has a somewhat retro look even if not as old as in the first season.

In Power Rangers Super Megaforce, an updated version of the Q-rex called Q-Rex Dinozord also appears, but it is a homage to the Dragonzord from the first series, consequently it deliberately has an appearance that is more reminiscent of MechaGodzilla.

Tyrannozord

The twelfth season of Power Rangers is finally dedicated to dinosaurs again. Obviously the protagonist’s main zord could only be a red Tyrannosaurus. And this time there is no doubt that it is a T. rex in mecha style. The original Sentai series dates back to 2003 and in that period the default appearance of this animal for the general public is what we see in Jurassic Park. In fact, this zord not only has body proportions and a posture that reflect those of its “film counterpart” but also resambles it for details such as the crests on the eyes, the pronated hands or the cry. Furthermore, in the first episode appears also a non-mechanical looking dinosaur, unfortunately the CGI is decidedly poorer and the appearance much less refined.

T-Rex Zord

Dino Charger, Ready! Summon T-Rex Zord!

Fast forward ten years and we arrive at Power Ranger Dino Charger. And this time too, the passage of time has added a piece that you would never have expected to see in a product like this: feathers! Yes, unbelievable but true, this robotic Tyrannosaurus has very noticeable feathers on its head. It may seem like a formality for fans, but it is surprising that in Power Rangers there is a detail that many still struggle to swallow both in documentaries and in entertainment products. Among other things, it is also possible to see here a non-mechanical counterpart of the zord and it is clearly a feathered version the T. rex from Jurassic Park. In short, they anticipated the look you see in the prologue of Jurassic World Dominion by a decade. The robot is more massive than the other zords analyzed so far, these were the years of the “dinosaur renaissance” after all, and personally I consider it the best compromise between “paleontological reconstruction” and mech design.

T-Rex Battle Zord

In 2017, a film remake of the first series was released on the big screen. The dinozords, obviously with a renewed appearance, could not be missing. Curiously this is the only zord on this list that does not come from a Sentai series and consequently is the only one fully ideated in the USA. In the feature film they opted for a stylistic choice that was not particularly successful with the public, which was to give insectoid elements to the basic prehistoric animals to make them more alien-like. Furthermore, they’ ve focused more on the mechanical side, simplifying or eliminating many animalistic elements. Among the five, the T. rex is the one that has undergone fewer changes from its prehistoric counterpart. Shape, proportions, posture are in line with modern reconstructions. Sure, it has four front legs that act as cannons, but it could have been much worse and it’s kind of cool.

T-Rex Champion Zord

We have reached the last stop. Yes, another red tyrannosaurus. You can see it is a robot inspired by how this dinosaur is imagined today. This zord is also in a horizontal pose, it is large and massive, the head is square and the front legs are tiny. Unfortunately the design is very simplified and stylised, so I think it’s a step down from the T-Rex Zord, but ultimately this is also a sign of modern times. Instead, applause should be given to whoever created the logo of the series. The stylized T. rex head peeking out is put in frontal view and shows the stereoscopic vision that is always talked about when the incredible visual abilities of this dinosaur are praised.

EXTRA

Finally, special mention for these three mecha that only appeared in “sentai” series. The last one, JuranTyranno, is a reference to “Zenkaigers”, the original series from which very first season of Power Rangers was based.

Thirty years in paleontology is a long time, just look at how many new genera have been discovered from 1993 to today and how the reconstructions of already known animals have changed. Unfortunately, these changes often seem to struggle to take root in the popular imagination, but if even a giant robotic dinosaur that fights against foam rubber monsters by shooting laser beams can keep up with the news, I think we can all do it.

POWER DOWN!

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