People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
  DVD Review: Transformers - Season 1
To celebrate the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, it's Transformers week here at the Captivate movie blog. Today I'm sitting down with the new DVD release of the first season of the original 1980s cartoon, and on Friday I'll be reviewing Revenge of the Fallen. So kick back and enjoy my ramblings about giant robots who turn into trucks and jet planes.


Ah, nostalgia. I’m guiltier than most of looking back on beloved things from my childhood with rose-colored glasses, except I usually find that when I revisit those things as an adult, they’re actually pretty bad (see The Neverending Story). Such is the case with most children’s entertainment; it typically just doesn’t hold up to adult scrutiny. There are obviously some exceptions to this – I love the original Star Wars movies as much today as I did as a kid – but my expectations going into reviewing the spiffy new 25th anniversary DVD collection of the first season of the original Transformers cartoon were guarded at best (also: I am old). While I was pleasantly surprised by the show – which has the same basic story of the blockbuster movies, following a war between sentient alien robots taking place on Earth – I still can’t really discern how much of my being entertained was due to nostalgia (but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say “quite a bit”).

The original Transformers, for context’s sake, was probably the one thing (or “property,” in the more cynical parlance of our times) I loved more than Star Wars when I was a kid. That changed as I got older, somewhat predictably, but back in the day before I was a geek who watched cartoons and collected toys (as I write this I’m looking at Japanese import figurines of the ‘80s-era Megatron and Starscream I picked up a few months ago sitting among the menagerie of toys on my desk), I was a kid who watched cartoons and collected toys, and Transformers was as good as it got. I distinctly remember watching all 16 episodes from this DVD set sitting on my living room floor as part of my weekday Transformers/G.I. Joe afterschool double-bill. While Transformers is obviously a show intended for children, and one with the primary objective of selling toys (a box full of old plastic doodads at my parents’ place proves it was quite effective), the storytelling is more complex than I remember it being. Storylines and plots go across several episodes, and because the characters are giant robots, the creators seem surprisingly free to show the Autobots and Decepticons get violent with each other. The animation ranges from decent to sort of sketchy, but it’s nowhere near as crude as some of the other cartoons of the era. Overall the show holds up pretty well considering it’s a quarter-century old.

The new DVDs are clearly intended to capitalize on the new movies and if you were a fan of the original show like I was, the new Season 1 set is fun little blast of nostalgia. If you’ve got kids of your own and they’re into the new movies, then I’m sure they’ll appreciate the classic cartoon.



The bonus features on this new Transformers DVD set is aimed squarely at the nostalgia crowd. The main attraction is a featurette on the origin and evolution of the Transformers brand through toys and cartoons and comic books, featuring interviews with Hasbro execs and comic writers and such. It’s really interesting stuff for an old fan like myself, especially learning that Transformers started when American toy executives tried to market Japanese transforming-robot toys (which were all the rage overseas) to North American audiences by attaching a story to it – the now-familiar tale of Cybertron and the war between the Autobots and Decepticons – and that was the spark that ignited the whole phenomenon. Considering it was dreamed up by a bunch of marketing people at a toy company (aided by comics writers), the storyline at the core of Transformers really has stood the test of time to a rather remarkable degree. It’s probably tied to my childhood attachment to the Transformers franchise, but I actually found myself wishing the featurette ran beyond its 15 minutes.

There’s a handful of vintage toy commercials from when the toy line launched in the ‘80s, and even more than the show itself, it prompted a flood of old memories. But even better is a rarely-seen (I don’t remember it and I watched this show religiously) PSA with Bumblebee in the mold of the classic G.I. Joe “knowing is half the battle” spots. Running away from home, apparently, is a bad idea. Thanks Transformers!

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