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?
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.
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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