BotCon Prep: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye
Oh yeah, BotCon weekend! Let's take it back to the beginning with 1984's 3-part pilot, The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. Similar to G.I. Joe, Transformers hit the market with a three prong attack: toys, comics and cartoons. Toy maker Hasbro licensed rights to two Japanese lines of transforming toys, Diaclone and Microman, then enlisted American writers to create an overarching storyline with animation to be done by Japan's Toei. Millions of years ago on the planet of Cybertron, a civil war rages between the peaceful Autobots and the destructively evil Decepticons. Resources run low and the Autobots flee Cybertron in search of replenishment, followed by the Decepticons, they crash on earth and lie dormant in the side of a volcano for another couple million years. An eruption wakes the ship which activates the machines as they take the form of earth friendly subjects like cars, trucks, jets, cassette players, dogs and eagles.
The Decepticons realize earth is ripe with resources and convert oil, hydroelectric electricity, crystals and rocket fuel into Energon. Noble Optimus Prime leads the Autobots while the maniacal Megatron heads the Decepticons as they try to wipe each other out and collect enough energy to return to Cybertron and win the civil war. Along for the ride are franchise staples like Prime's right hand robot Jazz, sparky scrapper Cliff Jumper and the optimistic yet undersized Bumble Bee. Megatron is assisted by the likes of wannabe leader Starscream and tape player Soundwave. It was interesting to see how many characters were in the first episodes. One scene there only seems to be a half dozen, in the next there's a dozen new cars and jets hanging out like Wheel Jack, Hound, Side Swipe, Sun Streaker, Iron Hide, Ratchet, etc. Each has a certain personality with Cliff Jumper in particular cracking me up with his hot head, ready to mix it up attitude. When Cliff is sent to see what Megatron and his cronies are up to, homeboy decides to take a potshot with a frigging bazooka! Then you have evil Starscream vocally challenging Megatron's leadership at every turn but never actually being able to take command. The Autobots are soon assisted by human roughneck Sparkplug Witwicky and his son Spike, who thinks Prime would make a great president.
The animation is quite good with detailed backgrounds, fluid action and transformations throughout. The unmistakable electronic clacking of the machines changing form is probably branded into many an 80's and 90's kid's head. Actors playing the voices are also part of the nostalgia as Peter Cullen and Frank Welker do terrific jobs as Prime and Megatron with Cullen sounding a bit like a robot John Wayne to me. Then you have The Shining and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's Scatman Crothers as the cool as shit Jazz, Casey Kasem (Voice In Peace) as pint sized badass Cliff Jumper then G.I. Joe regulars Michael Bell and Jack Angel as multiple characters throughout. Things are goofy and convenient with hands becoming axes, ball and chains, grappling hooks, extending paws, etc. The Autobots are written as peaceful, non warrior types so Prime gets to drop life lessons like conquering fear and there being a thin line between being a hero and a memory as Iron Hide gets all amped up and goes after 20 Decepticons himself and gets that ass whupped. After all these years Transformers still holds up as a mix of action, laughs and good VS evil robots in disguise shenanigans.