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The Top Five Disconcerting Things About the New Transformers Animated Cartoon

I did it. I sat through the televised The Transformers: Animated movie. Well… “movie.” It’s the first three episodes of the series, strung together to tell the origin story.

Now, I’ve sat through a perfectly good animated Transformers movie once before, back in ’85. So why would I risk tarnishing that experience with a newfangled, contemporary telling of the story?

For the same reason I sat through the second Star Wars trilogy. Pure foolhardiness.

Not that “different” necessarily means “bad.” In the case of The Transformers: Animated, “different” merely means “slightly better than mediocre.”

Here’s the short of it: The series is set hundreds of years after the Great War we know and love from the 1980s series, in which the Autobots supposedly destroyed the Decepticon forces. Today, Optimus Prime and his band of space-bound, Autobot, glorified maintenance bots–including Rachet, Bumblebee, Prowl, and Bulkhead–flee to Earth to protect the all-powerful Allspark from the resurgent Decepticons. They land in a futuristic Detroit. Yes, Detroit. [Shrug]

5) The Weapons

As you might imagine, the Autobot Sanitation and Maintenance Corps (as I imagine it’s called), doesn’t hand out weapons, per se, to its members. So Optimus and his buddies have to make do with the on-the-job equipment they used in the commission of their tidying-up-outer-space duties.

Fortunately for them, things like Optimus’s humongous electro-axe, Prowl’s manhole-cover-size throwing stars, and Bumblebee’s arm-mounted extensible blades are all considered standard-issue tools of the trade. In fact, we get to see them using these tools to service the area of a small moon surrounding a space bridge (aka manufactured worm hole). Just be glad that construction crews in your neighborhood use pneumatic drills–and not throwing stars–to shatter concrete. Anyway, it’s a cartoon, so I can forgive the lazy contrivance.

The Decepticons, on the other hand, come fully armed. Megatron’s fusion canon is back in all its glory. And there’s no 1980s-style exchange of blaster fire with no bot getting more than a scratch. When Starscream shoots at Optimus Prime, the blast leaves a gaping wound, showing Prime’s robo-guts. Wowza.

4) The Allspark

“Characters getting shot? In a cartoon? What are we teaching the children!?”

Well, for one we’re teaching children that “dumb and whorish” is a perfectly acceptable modus operandi… but that’s not really the issue here. Just a side note.

Blaster wounds are meaningless, thanks to the Allspark, which literally fixes everything. Even death. Prime dies in the third episode, only to be resurrected by the wannabe-Matrix-of-Leadership device.

So, the Decepticons can blast away. The Autobots are like Doritos. “Crunch all you want… we’ll make more.”

To sum up: critical injuries and even death can be escaped with the help of a glowing, magic toaster oven.

What are we teaching the children?

3) Acrobatics

Gone are the stiff movements and clanging of classic Transformers grappling with each other. No more satisfying sound of tons of metal-bumping-into-metal as giant robots walk across the deck of the Arc.

These new Transformers run, jump, flip and generally present themselves like quippy robotic acrobats. Takes a little something away from the ‘giant robotness’ of it all.

2) Characterization

Um, where’s the noble, wise, and respected Optimus Prime that I know, love, and mourned when he died in Transformers: The Movie? Who’s this youthful and earnest graduate of the Autobot equivalent of Starfleet Academy who appears to have a robo-goatee?

At one point, the new Prime actually elicits eye-rolling and a “not this speech again” from his troops. The old Prime never would have had to deal with shit like that.

No longer is Prowl the affable police car. Now he’s the uptight Jeremy-Irons-as-a-transforming-motorcycle of the group.

And Ratchet is old, gruff, and crotchety? Did he steal the now-absent Ironhide’s personality chip?

Here’s a good one: Ultra Magnus is Supreme Commander of the Autobot forces. That basically makes Optimus Prime his bitch’s bitch’s bitch’s bitch’s maintenance man. Insulting.

1) The Humans

In this series, the Transformers characters look like slightly-more-cartoonish variants of the forms with with we’re familiar. A few minutes into the show, I had pretty much gotten accustomed to the new look… even Megatron’s tiny face swimming-in-a-huge-bucket-helmet visage.

And then the human characters showed up.

With their disproportionate and oddly-shaped heads, shocks of hair, lamely-affected accents, super-exaggerated facial expressions, and general ham-handedness, the humans made me feel like I was watching the bum end of a generic, tween-targeted, Japanese toon. Like Pokemon.

You heard me. Pokemon. Vomit.

What’s Familiar and Reassuring

In addition to the familiar, classic ‘transforming’ sound effect?

Good ol’ Starscream. With the same look and the same voice and his duplicitous, “Megatron, my leige!” and “Brilliant strategy, oh, wise and great leader!”

In a scene strongly reminiscent of the original animated movie, Starscream–believing that Megatron has died in a battle with Prime–takes the crown and begins his arrogant ascendancy speech to the remaining tatters of the Decepticons, only to be promptly (and temporarily) destroyed… by accidentally driving his space ship into a star. Whoops. Where’s that Allspark when you need it?

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9 comments… add one
  • Nima January 11, 2008, 8:05 am

    This explains the look.

    I refuse to watch this. I’ll get rock out to my 80s glam rock Transformers the Movie soundtrack and forget all about it.

  • paul January 11, 2008, 8:47 am

    I was at the Transformers panel at comic con and they said that it was undeniably meant for children and not for adults.

  • Great White Snark January 11, 2008, 12:31 pm

    The original was intended for children, too, so I think it’s fair to make the comparison. I didn’t want to review it so much as I wanted to judge it, you know?

  • Paul January 11, 2008, 5:25 pm

    I understand. I get mad when people (not you) go on a rant about how awful this series is and how they’ll never ever watch it when it’s a children’s show. It’s like getting mad that Barney doesn’t appeal to you.

  • Great White Snark January 11, 2008, 6:25 pm

    God, I hate that Barney show. I just don’t get it.

  • Kenny January 12, 2008, 3:07 am

    I love you, you love me, we are one big family… Oops. Sorry.

  • Sky Gary October 8, 2008, 6:08 am

    Thank god someone speaks the truth!

    I’m getting sick of all the people being won over by this trash..
    It’s like invasion of the body snatchers.. one minute they are up in arms, the next they are going on about how great the storylines & characterization are..

    All the points you mention are true, it’s just standard cartoon network fare & has nothing to do with giant robots battling for the earths precious resources..
    I especially hate how acrobatic the robots are, it’s just not right..
    There are some good points that you mentioned but they are far outweighed by the bad..

    Seeing as all Transformers series (toys & cartoon alike) have just been a dilution of ideas from the original, why not make a high quality G1 series with animation by a respectable Japanese studio like Sunrise or Toei & have the original voice cast..
    It wouldn’t even need to be a long series just something like 10 half hour episodes..

    The Japanese create really amazing work with other mecha franchises so why not with Transformers?

    I would think that idea would be a double win for Hasbro/Takara..
    The show would be a big hit & they could also increase sales of their expensive G1 reissue line..

  • Hoop October 26, 2008, 7:02 am

    Yeah, uh, about that – You’re hilariously and sadly mistaken. Best Transformers product since Beast Wars (although that isn’t a high hurdle to clear). You’ve got big dumb Dinobots, a badass muscle car bounty hunter, fucking OMEGA SUPREME – it’s wacky and zany and anime enough that your 10 year old nephew can dig it, but full of enough awesome throwbacks (Weird Al Yankovic as Wreck-Gar? Delivering the line “I dare to be stupid”?) that anyone who remembers the original stuff can readily enjoy it, assuming they shut down that WAAAAH WHY ISN’T THIS JUST LIKE 1984 BUT WITH MORE MURDERS AND EXPLOSIONS FOR MY NEWLY ACQUIRED GROWNUPNESS?!?!??!?!?! part of their brain.

    (and if that IS what you want, go pick up the “All Hail Megatron” comic, because that’s ALL it is.)

  • Sky Gary October 26, 2008, 11:17 am

    I Still think my idea about the high quality Japanese animation was good & built on sound reasoning..

    I always felt that at it’s heart Transformers was a good sci-fi idea, it’s just weighed down by being a toy franchise & having to release new product every year..
    I still think most if not all the ideas that are in the recent shows are just a dilution of things that were pretty much already covered in the 80’s..

    So i’m not really on about making Transformers more violent, but i am on about making it more mature in the writing department, so that the great science fiction idea that is at the core of the original Transformers would be done justice for once..

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