No this isn’t the turdy Bayformer trash, this is the original animated movie from 1986. The original cartoon series that was based on the Hasbro toy franchise (before that a Japanese toy franchise from Takara) appeared on TV back in 1984 with a three-part miniseries introduction and then followed by the first season. After much success a second season followed that debuted in 1985. Once that had wrapped up along came ‘Transformers: The Movie’ which would lead into the third season.
Believe it or not but I have only recently managed to watch all of the first two seasons of the cartoon franchise (giving me insight into the story leading into said movie). The reason for this simply being, back when I was a kid I’d watch the cartoon but obviously I’d miss them from time to time. And being a kid you didn’t really know about seasons/series or follow the stories that closely. You’d just watch the cartoon when you could and enjoy whatever you got, simple.
So basically, this movie takes place 20 years after the second TV series ended in the distant future of 2005 where the Decepticons have taken Cybertron. In the following battle on Earth the Autobots are virtually wiped out after a large-scale battle where they actually lose Optimus Prime. From there Autobot leadership passes on to Ultra Magnus as the Autobots try to regroup and hold off the Decepticons. In the meantime, a massive planet-sized being is making its way through space devouring planets. Eventually both Autobots and Decepticons must stand together (or try to) in order to stop the mighty Unicron from destroying their homeworld of Cybertron.
So despite the fact I hadn’t watched half the cartoon series before seeing this movie it was still obvious that there were dramatic changes afoot. In the first battle on board a space shuttle, many of the regular Autobots that we had grown up with got wiped out! Yep that’s right, Autobots Brawn, Prowl, Ratchet, and Ironhide all got blown away. Now this was shocking on many levels. Firstly it was shocking because we had been following these guys for what seemed like eons. We knew these guys, they were old school, we cared about them, sorta. To see them get shot down was quite astonishing frankly. Secondly, the fact that these guys got taken down with a few laser bolts was really really odd. Why? Because up to now all Transformers took laser blasts on a regular basis and either shook them off there and then or went to Ratchet for some medicare. Bottom line, up to this point Transformer warriors didn’t die.
So we now had one-shot kills, plus Megatron mercilessly blew Ironhide’s head off (gulp!), but another obvious change for this movie was the blatant introduction of various new characters. For two seasons we had a small selection of warriors that we had grown accustomed to. Admittedly I do recall it being a little boring just seeing the same old characters cartoon after cartoon and the obvious fact that I hadn’t seen all episodes meant continuity was out of the window. Nevertheless, the introduction of new characters out of the blue was still welcome if somewhat confusing at times. Of course we all know now it was simply a cheap tactic to introduce a new line of toys. Ka-ching!
Of course, you can’t help but ask where a multitude of old characters were and why they didn’t show up in this movie. Where did the Protectorbots go to? What about the Combaticons? How about the Aerialbots? Where did Jetfire go? How about the Stunticons? Etc…Obviously it would be impossible to fit everyone in but it’s also impossible not to wonder where the hell all these guys were. And I have to ask, why did Wheeljack and Ratchet make the Dinobots stupid? I never understood that. Dinosaurs were probably dumb creatures, but why make the Dinobots dumb also? Literally made no sense and served no real purpose to the Autobots.
Speaking of new characters, I never actually liked the new guys. The regular guys had a more angular look with traditional colours and vehicle modes. So apart from the odd cameo in various episodes (Dinobots, Insecticons etc…) many of the new characters we see on Cybertron have more futuristic vehicle modes with more outrageous colours schemes. Characters such as Arcee, Kup, Springer, Blurr, Hot Rod etc…all were visually unappealing to me then and still are today. The only new guy who seemed to keep a more retro appearance was Ultra Magnus and he was easily the best looking of the bunch, Things didn’t get any better for all the other various robot characters we meet throughout. The Junkions weren’t too bad but I have always hated the spikes thing they had going all over themselves. Looked a bit too Mad Max-esque to me.
I really hated (and still do) the Quintessons design as it just looks impractical on every level. Why the need for multiple faces?? The Sharkticons didn’t look like sharks, just fat bulbous robots with dinosaur-like club tails. And finally, the new robotic forms that the Decepticons got from Unicron were ugly in my personal opinion. Again they were all crappy looking futuristic designs with too many silly additions like bat-like wings and facial hair. Why would robots have metallic facial hair?? Many of these designs didn’t look like they could transform into the vehicles they should be. With the original guys you could almost see how they transformed, that’s why they were so cool because they actually looked like they could actually work. The new guys just became outlandish in shape and totally unrealistic, if you get me.
Another aspect of this robotic universe I still can’t get my head around is the apparent cannibalism and the fact that every lifeform seems to be robotic. So yeah, since when do robots need to eat other robots? Why would a robot need to eat anything? We know they need energon for ‘food’ or fuel so why do certain robots appear to eat each other? The Sharkticons seem to enjoy eating other robot lifeforms (at the behest of the Quintessons), but why?? Just for fun? For devilish pleasure? A fetish? Also, are the Sharkticons individual sentient beings or do they have some kind of mindless hive mentality? Unicron floats through space and eats entire planets, but why? Surely he only needs specific materials for food/fuel, not entire planets! Then there is the fact that every lifeform we see across multiple planets appears to be robotic, odd. Hell we even see a robotic Earth-like squid in one sequence.
Unicron himself was probably the most unique and impressive creation within this movie’s new roster of characters. An entire planet sized transformer is pretty mindbloggling and the design was hella cool it can’t be denied. Was kinda interesting in a perverse way to see that his innards was akin to a robotic hell of sorts. Obviously all sorts of mechanisms and whatnot but also lifeforms being executed in a huge vat of some bubbling erosive liquid was pretty disturbing. By this point the plot had gone somewhat awry truth be told and the ease at which the Autobots managed to destroy Unicron did seem rushed but hey. Have to point out that the death of Starscream was pretty epic here too. Again disturbing but also a real game-changer, much like the death of Prime, but we all know about that (it never bothered me).
Whilst I will gladly take this animated feature over any Michael Bay trash any day of the week, this was still a mediocre offering truth be told. Looking back there are many cool elements here, the animation is actually really sweet, and the fact that it is dark throughout does boost my overall rating. Add to that the stellar cast for voice work (Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles!) alongside the stoic regulars and really this should and could have been a genuine classic. Alas things didn’t really work out that way.
The plot is essentially nonsense and feels like 100% filler after the initial battle. Many characters are killed off for a new toy range…and that’s it! They clearly struggled for ideas. Unicron should have killed everyone in the blink of an eye. Most extra characters are rubbish. The whole Quintessons part wasn’t even needed really, that added nothing to the story. And to add insult to injury the soundtrack, despite being cool, felt completely out of place. Nostalgia is a curious thing isn’t it. Don’t get me wrong it’s still a guilty pleasure of sorts and it’s still better than anything Bay came up with. And when this movie kicks off to that rockin’ 80’s track over the opening credits, you’ll swear to yourself that it’s gonna be amazeballs. For some it will still be of course, but for me it doesn’t quite hold up…on its own. Within the cartoon series it fairs a bit better, ahem, if you ignore continuity errors.