When Transformers first aired in 1984, anyone who was watching surely had their interests piqued once that theme song said, “more than meets the eye…robots in disguise”. When the show proved to be as fun as the song, though, viewers became hooked.
Although there have been knockoffs and competitors over the years, the Transformers was really a novel idea when it first appeared. Alien robots living on Earth disguised as vehicles was a remarkable idea at that time. Even though the series, and toy line, had its origins in similar Japanese shows like Microman and Diaclone by Takara, the concepts were new here in the States. The issue Hasbro ran into, though, is that they had toys but no storyline to turn those toys into a show.
As the company did with GI Joe, they approached Marvel to provide that story. Marvel’s editor-in-chief at the time, Jim Shooter, developed the concept of warring alien factions of the Transformers, which became the eternal struggle of the Autobots versus the Decepticons. Since it’s Marvel, they also created an accompanying comic book as well.
Since that first launch, the Transformers have never been out of the limelight for long. The original series was extremely popular, ran 98 episodes over four seasons, and spawned a theatrically-released animated movie in 1986. There have been numerous relaunch Transformers cartoon series since. Then, Michael Bay brought the characters once again to the big screen with his 2007 Transformers live-action movie. That movie turned into a movie franchise which currently spans 6 movies and has, altogether, made almost $5 billion!
In the show, the noble Autobots and evil Decepticons were in a near stalemate in their war against each other on their homeworld of Cybertron. The leaders of each faction, Optimus Prime and Megatron, went off-planet to secure additional energy sources that could help them turn the tides of their war. The only issue with that plan is that they both end up crashing on Earth where they remain shutdown and inactive for four million years. During the course of this quasi-hibernation, humanity developed. So, when both sides wake up, they convert their transformed states into vehicles that will allow them to blend and go unnoticed by humans. Megatron, leading the Decepticons, resumes his mission to find energy not caring at all what happens to humans or the Earth. Optimus and his Autobots, meanwhile, choose to protect the people of Earth from Megatron.
It was a great show with a fantastic concept. Sure, the writing was repetitive with the Autobots always fighting the Decepticons, very similar plots over and over, but that didn’t matter. People tuned in daily regardless. Action cartoons were a staple of after school programming in the 80s. Most had toy lines for which the show was meant both as entertainment as well as advertisement for toy sales. Throwing a really cool sci-fi hook into that premise just made it all the better. The art was decent for an 80s cartoon. You would often see characters or backgrounds colored incorrectly, but that was rather typical of older cartoons. Also, Transformers didn’t often fall prey to the cartoon tropes so prevalent back then. While other shows had to always have the dumb character who operated as comic relief as with GI Joe’s Gung Ho or Thundercats’ Snarf, Transformers didn’t really have that. Sure, they had Grimlock who was always slow on the uptake, but he was a dinosaur, so that’s to be expected.
In between season 2 and 3 the repetitiveness of the show’s writing came to an end, temporarily at least. The 1986 movie, The Transformers, hit theaters and changed up everything about the show, including most of the lineup. When fans of the show sat in their theater seats and saw most of the fan favorite characters killed at the beginning of the movie, they had to have been quite surprised if not disappointed. However, for me, I kept an open mind and watched the rest of the movie. Of course, I came to see it as the amazing movie that it was. Interesting new characters, killer music soundtrack, and an incredible, very well-written story line.
It was depressing to see the deaths of beloved characters, but it moved the plot away from that repetitive rut the show had gotten into. When the show returned for season 3, it picked up right where the movie left off. The surviving original characters were back as were all the new characters from the movie. Whereas the first two season had been landlocked on Earth, the movie took viewers back into space, and the remaining seasons of the show kept that variety. The variety of characters and the expansive universe kept the show very interesting. Also, it didn’t hurt that the showrunners at least brought Optimus back.
Having watched the show and loved it along with the movie, there were a couple of questions that I always had where the Transformers were concerned. First and foremost, the Earthbound Autobots and Decepticons were missing from the Cybertron war for 4 billion years. Yet, when they pop up all that time later, the Cybertron war is still going, nothing at all seems to have changed. Megatron’s second-in-command left back on Cybertron, Shockwave, didn’t even seem overly surprised to hear from Megatron upon his reawakening.
Also, while the concept of the alien robots disguising themselves as cars and planes is cool, both the good guys and the bad guys revealed themselves as giant alien robots to virtually every human that they ran across. So, what’s the point of the subterfuge? Everyone knows who and what they are after just a few episodes, so why remain “robots in disguise” except for the gimmick of the toy?
Lastly, why did some of the characters change size? Megatron becomes gun size and fits in the hands of other Decepticons. Soundwave turns into a normal size boombox-style radio. They’re supposed to be Transformers not Ant Man! I know, it’s a cartoon and we’re not supposed to look too deeply into it. However, I had these questions even as a kid, so I feel the writers could have worked on these two aspects just a little more.
Regardless of the lingering questions and need for suspension of disbelief, The Transformers was a fantastic show. It was full of action and, for an 80s show, managed to veer away from being too campy. The creative sci-fi concept was so well-received and, for the most part, well-written that it launched a seemingly undying franchise.
Transformers: The Titan of 80’s Cartoons that Still Thrives Today
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
Acting - 8.5/108.5/10
Music - 9.5/109.5/10
Production - 8.5/108.5/10
User Review( vote)