Hasbro is apparently working on “reinventing” the product line. The sophistication of the robots has become too complicated for some. And the new toys will be hitting the market to coincide with the new Transformers movie release as this story reveals: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/01/20/business/media/hasbro-gives-its-transformers-toys-a-new-look.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20140120&_r=0&referrer=
So what about this revisionist work of Hasbro and the movie franchise? I asked a Transformer fan and user to share his thoughts in an exclusive interview. If you are, or know of, a fan of Transformers, you’ll relate.
Meet my son, and tech world genius, Marshall Elfstrand, guest critic. I play the part of the interviewer.
What were your favorite Transformers growing up?
I think the favorite of almost every kid—including me—was Optimus Prime. I never had the original toy, but wanted it. And since Megatron was Optimus Prime’s arch-enemy, that was also a desirable toy to have. As characters, I also liked Hot Rod / Rodimus Prime, Wheeljack, the Dinobots, Kup, and I’m sure various others. I still have the Rodimus Prime toy today. While the villains (the Decepticons) weren’t admirable characters, the most memorable ones were Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave, and later Galvatron (Megatron reconstructed).
What did you like about them?
Here I have to distinguish between the toys and the cartoon:
• The toys were fascinating because of the ability to turn them from one thing to another, and that kind of thing has just had a general appeal for some reason: with Voltron, the lions change to combine; with Mask, the cars change into planes and boats; and even Transformers featured combinations of some concepts with toys like Devastator, where the individual Transformers—each with their own vehicle and robot forms—combine with each other to form an even bigger one.
• The cartoon, of course, was made to sell the toys by giving them character, and it did it well: the characters and supporting backstory were what made the show so enjoyable. There was a whole origin story with the creation of the Transformers that was revealed over the course of the show.
Optimus Prime was everything a heroic leader should be: wise, brave, self-sacrificial, caring for those who followed him, willing to fight for what’s right no matter the personal cost. The Dinobots were bumbling but lovable, kind of like talking pets. Soundwave was loyal to the scheming villain Megatron, which contrasted directly with Starscream, who was constantly trying to undermine him but never succeeded. When Optimus Prime died in the 1986 movie, there were kids who were traumatized by it, because he was such an admirable character and even a kind of father figure for those who didn’t have one. The backlash was so strong that it actually caused the makers of the show to bring back the character at the end of the next season.
What was your take on the Transformers movie?
What was your take on the Transformers movie?
The new movies focus primarily on human characters reacting to the Transformers rather than the Transformer characters themselves, with a heavy focus on American military involvement. They are more like alien invasion disaster movies, and not particularly good ones at that. As such, I don’t really care for them. Nearly all character has been stripped away from the robots; reportedly Michael Bay didn’t even want them to talk at all (and one of the primary robots, Bumblebee, still doesn’t, despite being a memorable talking character in the show). They got Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, to do that character’s voice in the movie, but he is no longer the noble model leader: he's angry, moody, and in one scene, stumbles around a yard clumsily stepping on things, muttering inane dialog like, "my bad." The second movie was particularly awful, featuring robots with stereotypically racist characteristics, unfunny drug-related jokes, and a human character dying and going to Transformer heaven before being sent back to save everyone.
What did you think of the commitment to make the new toys easier to use?
I never found the original toys to be too difficult; my complaint was more that they often didn’t resemble their characters from the show, and there were vast size differences between toys that should have been around the same size. This mainly stems from the makers of the toys mixing together Japanese toys from a couple different lines and then writing the show later on. There were some simplified Transformers later in the line; these felt too simplistic to me and took some of the fun away. While I’m all for making technology in general easier to use, part of the enjoyment of Transformers was working them out, like a kind of game or puzzle.
Will you go see the new Transformers movie? Is this only for kids today?
Again, since it’s not really about the Transformers anymore, and is more of a military action movie, I wouldn’t say it’s just for kids. In fact, each of the movies has been PG-13, and each contains substantial content not suitable for kids the age I was when I was enjoying Transformers in the '80s. I haven’t gone out of my way to see the movies since being so disappointed by the first one, and I won’t go out of my way to see this one. But if friends are going, or if I’m bored sometime and it’s available for streaming on Netflix, I might watch it.
So there you have it, Transformers fans, a critique from a 30-something toy robot aficionado.
I’m a big fan of another kind of Transformer. He is the one who takes a broken life and transforms it into one of great Kingdom value. In just three years, Jesus transformed thousands of sick and hopeless into followers and lovers of God. He’s still doing these amazing works today.
Read The Book. It’s a classic. Just watch out for the Decepticon. He’s a nasty one.
Connect with me on Facebook: facebook.com/markjelfstrand.