Transformers Turn 25 - Robots-in-Celebration

Transformers Turn 25!

The heat for the second (live-action) Transformers movie is starting to build. Sure, seeing Megan Fox straddle a motorcycle the way she does is going to cause some kind of excitement, and can make the average fanboy forget the value of an original Megatron action figure in a box. Still, in the next few months the Transformers will see another important event in their history. This September marks the 25th Anniversary of the Autobots’ and Decepticons’ debut. It was in the five-part syndicated television mini-series “More Than Meets the Eye” on September 11, 1984. And as the new DVD release from Shout Factory! readily shows, the show had all the ingredients to be a hit from the get-go.

Most self-respecting Transformers fans know the concept started as several different lines of toys in Japan. As explained in the extras of the just-released DVD set, American toy giant Hasbro caught wind of them and saw the immediate commercial potential. Hasbro just had an incredible amount of success with the rejuvenation of its G.I. Joe action figures. This was in part due to the likes of Denny O’Neil and Jim Shooter at Marvel Comics, who created a highly successful comic book line around Hawk, Lady J, and the rest of the Joes. It also didn’t hurt that a syndicated animation mini-series was produced by Sunbow Studios in 1983, and was an immediate hit.

So if marketing scheme like that could bring a series of super-soldier dolls back from the dead, think what it could do for robots who could turn into all manner of card, trucks, planes, and other cool stuff!

Another feature on this DVD collection is look at the various early incarnations of Optimus Prime, Megatron and many of the other Autobots and Decepticons. The extra content is great for fans, if a little thing. It’s way too short at only 15 minutes. Some interviews with the surviving voice talent, whether it was Peter Cullen (Optimus), the legendary Frank Welker (Megatron) or then young bucks like Corey Burton (Spike Witwicky) would also have been a nice touch.

Actually, the voice talent throughout the gigantic cast was truly exceptional. Besides those listed above, you had Welker’s longtime colleagues Don Messick, Casey Kasem and Scatman Caruthers in the mix with up-and-comers like Charlie Adler, Gregg Burger and Susan Blu. True, the designs of the various robots were highly distinctive, but the voices were what truly gave them personality. To this day, it’s darn near impossible not to think of Optimus without hearing Cullen’s James Arness/Marshall Dillon intonations in the mix.

There are probably two other story elements that made the Transformers a hit.

One was the warring factions of robots continuing battle for “Energon,” their life-giving fuel. It wasn’t that long before Transformers premiered that America had been brought to its knees through a series of oil embargoes by the then powerful OPEC. Seeing these gigantic, super-powered metal men warring over something remarkably similar, on Earth no less, struck an amazingly resounding chord to fans.

The other is, thanks to the Transformers being both robots and the show a syndicated as opposed to network program, many of the characters could do things that just couldn’t be done on Saturday morning network cartoons at the time. As the battles were usually metal man versus metal man, when one through a punch on the other, it connected with a mighty clang. Compare this to the then-popular The Super Friends, in which no hero or villain could ever punch one another. The best they could do is trap the villain of the week. But for some reasons the censors had no issue with an Autobot pounding a Decepticon into scrap. Sure, the initial concept of robots crash landing on Earth, waking up millions of years later, and then tearing up the countryside for an imaginary fuel did sound a bit far-fetched. But seeing the robots slagging each other sure felt much more believable than that neutered, kiddie version of the Justice League.

No matter what, what you’re going to get here is the complete first season of what historians are now calling the “G1” (Generations 1) Transformers. It’s great to have it back in circulation no matter how you look at it.

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