Judge Dylan Charles! More than meets the eye!
Transformers! More than meets the eye!
Transformers Animated: Season One is the latest in a long line of animated Transformers cartoon, following the walking trash heap that was Transformers Cybertron. Taking its cues largely from the Michael Bay movie (The AllSpark, Megatron crash-landed on Earth, big explosions) Transformers Animated has changed pretty much everything about the mythology of the series except for the bare essentials.
Facts of the Case
Optimus Prime (David Kaye), Ratchet (Corey Burton), Bumblebee (Bumper Robinson), Prowl (Jeff Bennett), and Bulkhead (Bill Fagerbakke) have taken refuge on Earth with the AllSpark, waiting for reinforcements that will hopefully arrive someday. In the meantime, they're doing everything they can to keep the AllSpark out of Decepticon hands. Unfortunately, the Decepticons aren't the only ones that they have to contend with as bounty hunters, rogue dinobots, and super-powered humans do their best to send the Autobots to the junkyard.
Luckily, as in every Transformer series since the dawn of time, the Autobots have made friends with a human kid, this time named Sari (Tara Strong), the daughter of technological wonder Dr. Sumdac. Dr. Sumdac, by the way, is keeping the head of Megatron in his attic.
This set includes most of Season 1, with the bizarre exception of the first episode, which got its own DVD release earlier in the year (Transformers Animated: Transform and Roll Out). So if you want the whole season, you're going to have to shell out money for that, too.
Transformers Animated has renewed my faith in cartoons. Over the last few months, I've been witness to some animated atrocities that have caused me great worry: cartoons that dumb it down, stupid it up, and crank out low-quality animation for the kiddies. Transformers Animated is bright and colorful, well-designed and well-written.
Every character gets a chance to shine, with each getting at least one episode focused around them: Bulkhead and his girth, Prowl and his desire to kill Bumblebee, Prime and his role of inexperienced leader. Prime has withstood some of the biggest changes from previous shows and movies. Rather than a battle-hardened and fire-tested warrior, he's an academy dropout, whose only experience leading come from working with his fellow construction workers. This is even shown in his voice, which has gone from a John Wayne growl to that of a young man. Mistakes in his past have led to the almost-death of friends and he still makes mistakes in the present, which makes him a little more interesting than the never-do-wrong Prime of previous incarnations.
The Decepticons are also less frequently used, appearing every few episodes, rather than being the main villains. When the Decepticons do take the stage though, they always put their predecessors to shame. Blitzwing is three-faced, with a different voice and personality for each face—which explains why he transforms into both a tank and a jet. Starscream is as vicious and conniving as he ever was. Megatron has gone from loud and maniacal to a more thoughtful, quiet evil whose voice oozes malevolence.
When the Decepticons aren't around, a cast of more human villains take the stage. It adds a great deal of variety to the show and keeps it from falling it into the rut of "Decepticons want to steal energy/planet keys/minicons. Autobots stop them from stealing energy/planet keys/minicons." However, this also has a tendency to change the Autobots from soldiers in an intergalactic war to crime-fighting superheroes. It changes the flavor of the show somewhat, and some people might have a problem with the adjustment.
The human rogue gallery has faces like Meltdown (Peter Stormare, The Big Lebowski), a scientist who basically becomes a blob of walking, talking acid in a nice suit, or Nanosec (Brian Posehn), who is so fast that he can even outrun Bumblebee. When it's not people, the villains are still memorable, like Lockdown (Lance Henriksen, The Terminator). Lockdown's episode was also a good moment for Ratchet, touching on some uncomfortable subject matter like the horrors of war and the memories left behind, which was a little heavy considering the age group the show seems to be targeting.
Transformers Animated is geared toward the younger crowd, which would explain Sari's age. Since she's 8, it's a little odd that the Autobots let her pal around with them for as long as they did. But at least that issue is addressed from time to time. In that, Prime forbids her to come along and she ignores him. Moreover, Sari's personality is lively enough that when the action moves from the giant robots with huge guns to the 8-year-old girl, things don't really slow down.
Perhaps the thing that warmed my cynical heart the most was the huge number of references to the first show. Like the Dinobots. Their introduction made me squeal like a little girl, because, to date, science has shown nothing is cooler than robots that turn into dinosaurs. And there's the Headmaster, one of the human villains, who is a reference to a questionable decision way back when to replace the heads of some of the Transformers with a tiny robot that transforms into a head—for what reason, I shall never fathom.
The voice actors do a lot of double duty as both the Autobots and Decepticons, a fact I did not know until I looked it up on IMDb. This is a good sign, and kudos to the lot of them—and a hug.
With this rave review of the series itself, an almost overbearingly nice review, what possible problems could this reviewer have with the disc? Why, the disappointing lack of extras and the annoying demand that you spend more money to get the first three episodes.
The first disc they released at least had some nifty extras in the form of two shorts. This one has some pictures. Some still pictures that don't move. Speaking as someone with the attention span of a child, I can tell you right now this won't cut it.
And then there's the fact they didn't include Transform and Roll Out (Parts One through Three) on here. Who does that? Who releases a whole season, but leaves out the first three episodes? I would use vulgarity if this wasn't a review for children's entertainment. Shame on you, Paramount and Hasbro. Shame on you both.
Transformers Animated is a great kid's show that improves on shows before it. Geared toward younger audiences (let's say 8 and up), it's fun, entertaining and has a memorable cast of characters. Plus I really like the theme song. On the downside, Paramount and its good buddy Hasbro have dropped the ball with the set. I still shame them and hope in the future that they'll improve.
Judge Charles fines Hasbro and Paramount for contempt of court and sentences them both to multiple life sentences. Transformers Animated is free to go.
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