Judge Patrick Naugle is more than meets the eye.
"Autobots, roll out!"
It's a battle among the stars as the shape shifting intergalactic heroes, the Autobots, wage an ancient war against the vile Decepticons in Transformers Animated: The Complete Series. Led by the heroic Optimus Prime (David Kaye), the intergalactic robots that can turn into vehicles—including Bumblebee (Bumper Robinson, White Men Can't Jump), Prowl (Jeff Bennett, An Extremely Goofy Movie), Ratchet (Corey Burton, Star Wars: Clone Wars), and Bulkhead (Bill Faggerbake, Coach)—have become trapped on earth and now live among the humans, battling the forces of evil. The Autobots new task is to protect not only the whole of humanity, but also the AllSpark (which is the series's MacGuffin) from the clutches of the Decepticons, including Starscream (Tom Kenny, Rocko's Modern Life), Shockwave (Burton again), and their egomaniacal leader, Megatron (Burton again). All three seasons of the show are included in this set.
Transformers. That word once had a history in electrical engineering. Then the 1980s rolled around and everything changed (har-har—pun intended). Suddenly a transformer wasn't a technical term for power grid but a name for one of the most resilient children's toy franchises ever. The Transformers started as a Japanese toy line that quickly made its way to America. In 1984 the original line of toys was rolled out to great success; children were able to take their metal and plastic robots and turn them into cars and airplanes. At the same time an animated television series was released featuring Autobot leader Optimus Prime battling the forces of the Decepticons, led by Megatron. The toys and TV show were a hit, which eventually spawned more toys, more TV shows, and a 1986 big screen movie that killed off a lot of main characters to make way for more toys (natch). After the 1980s closed down, the Transformers sort of faded away for a bit (while still retaining a presence in comics and CGI shows), until finding new life in the 2000s with a big screen adaptation by director Michael Bay (which was followed by three sequels, including this summer's Transformers: Age of Extinction). History repeated itself, and once again the Transformers are a hot commodity.
As a child of the 1980s there were a lot of toy franchises to choose from. Loyalties could make or break friendships based on which one you chose. Would it be the Thundercats? Madballs? The Go-Bots (which were the bargain basement version of the Transformers)? I split my love between two popular lines: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers. I spent many an after school afternoon watching the original series and playing with the toys (Optimus Prime was my favorite). My twin brother and I collected as many of the figures as we could, cried at the 1986 film when Optimus Prime died, and even had Transformer bed sheets because, clearly, our love of consumerism had no bounds.
Transformers Animated feels like a parallel dimension version of the original show that I grew up on. Many of the original characters are featured—Bumblebee, Ratchet, Starscream, Shockwave—but they have been tweaked slightly. I have the sneaking suspicion that the series was based on both the old '80s version and Michael Bay's newer live action films. The whole of the Autobots and Decepticons look like they were modeled after their original forms (Prime, Bumblebee) but others look like they were based on the 2007 movie (Megatron). Sadly, one of the most successful components of the original series was Peter Cullen's deep and commanding vocals as Optimus Prime, which is sorely missing here (replaced by a sub-par David Kaye, though certainly not for a lack of trying).
One of the admirable traits of Transformers Animated is that it doesn't seem interested in forgetting its roots or reinventing the wheel. While the show is its own entity—featuring new characters and plot threads that weave their way through the three seasons—it also has some nice throwbacks to the original series. The opening sequence shows Optimus Prime and Ratchet watching old documentary footage of…the original 1984 show. Rodimus Prime, the leader of "Team Athenia," is also a character in the show voiced by actor Judd Nelson, reprising his role from the 1986 film. Even the lumbering Dinobots show up, including their dimwitted leader, Grimlock (who will finally appear in this summer's sequel). A lot of top voice talent can be found here, including Star Trek: The Original Series's George Takei as martial arts Autobot master Yoketron, "Weird" Al Yankovic as the leader of the Junkicons, Wreck-Gar, and Fred Willard (Waiting for Guffman) as a greedy arms dealer.
Above all, Transformers Animated is a kid's show and as such it (mostly) reflects those sensibilities. The action is never overtly violent; although there are battles and explosions (Megatron even loses his head, although it gets a newer body as the show progresses), this isn't a terribly violent show. Surprisingly, there are some characters that die, including Starscream (voiced by Spongebob Squarepants voice over actor Tom Kenny) who kicks the bucket not once but twice in the series and spends most of the second season off-screen. There are human characters as well which, like in the original series, are here to offer viewers characters they can relate to and a gateway into the Transformers world (that aren't made of metal and glass).
I was a bit surprised to find that I enjoyed watching Transformers Animated. I was fearful that the show would dilute the original; although the 1984 iteration certainly wasn't Shakespeare, it did offer its own mythology and a vast array of memorable characters (clear, since we're still talking about the show today). I'm happy to see this entire series on DVD, which earns its place beside the series you, like me, grew up on.
Each of the 42 episodes of Transformers Animated: The Complete Series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The animation for this new version of the show is better than the original, but not by leaps and bounds. The picture quality is excellent, boasting excellent colors (lots of bright reds, blues, and greens) and dark black levels. The soundtrack for each episode is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in English. These audio mixes are well done for the medium but otherwise aren't overly exciting. There aren't any flashy surround sounds or directional effects to be found here. The good news is that the original 1984 theme song has been held over, retooled, and plays over the opening credits of this series! No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are included on this set.
The only extra feature included on this six-disc set are some optional commentary tracks with various cast and crew members on selected episodes of the show.
Transformers Animated may not be as good as the original 1984 series, but it's pretty good in its own right. This update culls both past and present versions to bring the Autobots and Decepticons back to life for a new generation. Shout Factory's work on this six-disc set is good with solid picture and audio components.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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