The new Power Rangers movie will be released on March 24, and it looks like a hit. A trailer at last year’s Comic Con was packed, the five teens from Angel Grove, CA never looked cooler, and the action was the fast, furious kind fueled by kids weaned on The Matrix. It’s been Morphin time since 1993, when a visionary named Haim Saban introduced the show to Americans. There were the five Rangers (and a few Megazords) battling Lord Zedd, Rita Repulsa and plenty of other villains. Most likely, you had a Ranger figure. The franchise went a bit south when Disney bought them, and righted itself when Saban bought the brand back in 2010. Even so, the low-tech battles and cheesy FX kept Power Rangers fans firmly anchored in nostalgia, and the newer shows and figures were mostly for die-hard fans. (One of the most die-hard is James van der Beek: check out his astonishingly great Rangers short).
But there are thousands of fans who stayed country when the country wasn’t cool. Every other year, thousands of Power Ranger fans flock to Pasadena to the Power Morphicon, a comic con just for PR fans started by a fan named Scott Zillner. Actors from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were there, of course, along with those from the dozen or so different series, like Wild Force and Zeo. Eka Darville was there because he was Red Ranger on RPM and now plays Malcolm on Jessica Jones. Many of the Japanese stars of Rangers series like Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger also came to Pasadena. Toy sellers from around the world, including the legendary CS Toys from Japan, sold classic and new figures. There were reps from Bandai, the company that makes the Rangers toys. They even debuted new figures and a helmet, to hordes of adoring fans.
One fan, a sweetheart named Diego, 14, came to the Morphicon from Minnesota as a birthday present. Why does he like Power Rangers so much? “I live a boring life in a small town. They have extravagant adventures. It makes me feel like I’m in a different world. Everything else just disappears.” He’d brought an autograph book and planned to meet every Ranger there. Diego nearly fainted when he saw his biggest hero: Bruno.
Every kid at the Morphicon—and there were hundreds of them—was on the lookout for a baseball-hat wearing vlogger named Bruno. Bruno helped pioneer the art of unboxing videos, where a fan opens a new figure and discusses its relative merits. Bruno makes videos for his site, MMPRtoys, where he appears at least a few times a week with his new wife, Mia. Bruno is the authority on Rangers figures, toys, releases, movie spoilers, trivia, and where to find rare figures, and he gives good tips, like storing the Ranger keys on a nail polish display rack. After Bruno visits Image Anime in New York City, fans flock there just to get the stickers that he leaves behind with his signature catchphrase: “I think I need that!”
If every superhero has an origin story, then every superfan does too. So who is Bruno?
Bruno is Bernard Friedland, a nice Jewish boy from South Orange, New Jersey, who went to Columbia High School and then Pratt Institute. He is also the world’s most successful Power Rangers vlogger; his videos at MMPRtoys have been viewed more than 310 million times on YouTube. He has 240,000+ subscribers and a crazy-cat-lady number of Power Rangers toys, and is the owner of possibly the most overstuffed garage in SoCal. His house is a mélange of shrines to different obsessions: Ninja Turtles on one wall, Rangers filling an entire room, floor to ceiling, dinosaurs in the living room, and the dining room is now where he films using one of many cameras. The kitchen looks exactly like a classic Jersey diner (his favorites are the Ritz and Florham Park), complete with ceramic doughnuts covered in real sprinkles. The Jetsons-style sofa is covered in teddy bear fur. His whole life is a staging area.
Bruno and Mia started their animations in 2008 with what they call a happy accident: they put a Ranger figure on eBay and added a little video and narration with it. The posting proved so popular that they continued making videos, and began to make a profit in 2014. Now they live with Jerry, a friend from Pratt, and travel to conventions, consult with Saban and Bandai, and film Rangers videos full-time.
Bruno – no need to call him Bernard, he hasn’t been called that in years – started collecting when he was three. First, it was trains, then Ninja Turtles, an interest he kept hidden. Then, Power Rangers came out. “I was just oblivious to it at first. All the same kids that you’d be terrified of knowing that you had Turtles, they were flipping off the desks, and screaming, “It’s Morphin time,” to the entire school. Then, in season two, I got that red dragon, when I saw that thing on the show, it was just the coolest.” If you’re wondering, Bruno still has that dragon.
Power Rangers soon became the focus of his collecting obsession. “The one thing that I always loved about it was all the different forms of art that they used on the show, with the miniature sets, the animatronics, the costumes, the props, the weapons—it being a live action show, rather than cartoon, that was using all these different things. The special effects were primitive, but it was still amazing.”
He started animating at age 8, and began using the Rangers in his projects as he got older. “We had a VHS camera from 1984, and eventually I got a really fancy mixer from Sharper Image that allowed me to connect two VCRs to each other, so I could go three or four generations down, I can do my editing for VHS-VHS, then made a solid copy of that, then bring it back into the VCR and I had a little CD mixer.” Naturally, he soon added pyrotechnics.
“When I was 12 years old, I couldn’t do fire and explosions on the computer. I had to do real fire and explosions. I’d go either in Chinatown, in New York, or at South of the Border, when we got to Florida, and load up on fireworks. I used smoke bombs for the smoke. I could light these little tea light candles, and take like WD40 or a cleaning spray and spray it, and it would make this massive fireball.”
While other kids in high school were out partying and getting into trouble, Bruno was in his basement building cities and mountains and animating. After Pratt, he got a job on the set of Wild Force. He continued collecting Rangers toys and building his own sets. The collecting never stops. Every new season on the Power Rangers show means new figures. The upcoming film has spawned exclusives at Toys R Us, Target, and sets found only at Walmart. Bruno needs them all.
“It’s not about being satisfied by the collection, “ Bruno explains. “It’s just the excitement of new stuff. It has to be something that you love. You know, we all have our ’93 Megazord and then they came up with 2010 Megazord and then they came out with the same Megazord from 2010 with a chrome sword and metal legs and metallic paint so now I have three of them. That’s enough, right? So how about a $500 nontransforming vinyl figure that is too big for your house? Yeah, I think I need that.”
What is his ten-year plan? Will it still be Rangers? Bruno is pensive. “I certainly hope I can do this for as long as possible. But I always worry about what happens if YouTube goes away tomorrow …. until then, we look for the happy accidents.”