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Power Play in Anaheim : Children Get in Fighting Spirit as They Wait Hours to See Mighty Morphin Rangers

March 14, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — Kids generally only get to see the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers once a week, on television every Saturday morning. This last Saturday, for instance, the five teen-aged stars morphed into their kick-boxing super-hero alter egos to fight Rita Repulsa's forces of galactic evil at a circus, bringing in their techno-saurus transformer monsters when they really needed to kick some serious alien booty.

Ahh, but that same day several thousand lucky children and their parents in Orange County got to wait in line for hours at the Anaheim Convention Center for a second helping of the Power Rangers.

The plot this time was that spandex-clad Power Rangers Tommy and Kimberly appeared to be held captive in the convention center's spaceship-like arena, fenced off and surrounded by Repulsa's minions, who were disguised this time as burly humans wearing wind breakers marked Security . Helpless to escape, except for 10-minute rest breaks every 20 or 30 minutes, all Tommy and Kimberly could do was kick-box the air and wave to their young supporters who were being paraded by them, as if to witness the totality of their defeat.

It was a sad tableau. It sort of made one want to grab a bullhorn and shout: "Oh, but who will help these Power Rangers? Arise, children, and set your heroes free!"

A more mundane, if accurate, scenario is that actors Jason Frank and Amy Jo Johnson, playing the pair of Power Rangers, were appearing at the convention center as part of the sixth annual Kids Stuff Expo. Originally their appearance was to have been incorporated into the body of the event, which was taking place two buildings away, in Hall D. But after a Power Rangers show last month at Universal Studios drew 35,000 people and jammed the neighboring freeways, expo organizers moved the Rangers into the arena and tripled security.

It wasn't unwarranted. By the time the doors opened at 10 a.m. Saturday, several thousand restless kids and parents were lined up around the facility, snaking back for nearly a block down the not-entirely-hospitable asphalt truck lane behind the exhibition halls. Many had been in line for more than two hours, and any number of kids were amusing themselves by battling on the grass.

These kids, of course, never would rise up to threaten the shins of the security guards, because--even though Rangers episodes are two-thirds sword fights and robot fisticuffs--a representative of the show recently told The Times that it engenders "teamwork, self-discipline and self-esteem" in kids.

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Talking to several kids, one indeed did get the feeling that the show encourages them to share certain ideals:

Asked why he likes the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Gabriel Vega, 6, of El Monte said: "They fight."

Sasha Morales, 7, of Garden Grove said she likes them "because they fight, and they're heroes."

Felicia Fielden, 5, of Long Beach said: "The Power Rangers fight all the bad guys. I like the green one best: Tommy. He's got the cool dinosaur."

John Madrid, 10, of Santa Ana likes 'em "because they fight all kinds of people" while Jimmy Ramirez, 9, of Fullerton, is more particular: "I like them because they fight evil villains that want to destroy the Earth."

Not everyone likes them because they fight. "I like them because they do karate and transform," said Scott Alvarado, 5, of Orange. Travis Eaves, 7, of Riverside, said he likes Ranger Tommy especially "because he does more martial arts."

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Over in Hall D, handfuls of kids were attending creative exhibits on science, bicycle safety and interactive computers. Meanwhile, the thousands who had waited to see the Power Rangers eventually were ushered into the unadorned Spartan confines of the arena. There, the heavy metal Power Ranger theme repeated on an endless tape loop. "Let's go, Power Rangers! Go go, Power Rangers!" it enthused, and enthused and enthused.

The two Rangers gamely were go go-ing, doing their acrobatics and karate moves, pressing the flesh and posing briefly with the kids: Families got about 10 seconds each of quality time with the heroes. "He talked to me!" Alvarado gushed after meeting Frank/Tommy. "He said: 'Hi, it was nice meeting you.' "

After the first hour, though, the setup was changed so that fans no longer had direct contact. Barriers were brought in to keep the lines away from the low platform where the Rangers performed, though the ever-cheerful Frank and Johnson did sometimes run up to speed-squeeze a few hands. The line then was rushed past them, and the security was so busy yelling "keep moving" that if the Rangers had happened to shout "Hooray for teamwork and self-discipline!" in mid-kick, no one would have heard them.

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