Nostalgia is frequently a funny thing. Revisiting past pop cultural flames can underscore just how much of a warping influence something like the innate catchiness (or sheer volume) of a commercial jingle had in shaping the rallying affection of adolescent identification and embrace. Weirder still, though, are second-generation rebirths of trends, toy lines and the like, as when something like Cabbage Patch Kids get rebooted. “Didn’t the popularity of this game/item run its course for a reason?” one can’t help but wonder.
The latter comes to mind with Transformers Animated, new to DVD. With the fanboy-fueled heat over last summer’s action extravaganza Transformers still not fully abated, and its live-action sequel already in full swing, the toys which ruled a decent part of the 1980s as a hugely popular line of toys, comic books and accompanying “lifestyle” gear and whats-its for young boys — picking up the action figure mantle from the Star Wars franchise and giving it a tech-age, presto-chango kick in the pants — are back. This animated series, launched on the Cartoon Network late last year, re-hashes a lot of the same basic story points as the original animated series from the ’80s; the most remarkable thing, though, may be that here revival means not radical reinvention, but streamlining.
Eschewing the more artistically involved animé style of previous small screen efforts, this series trades in big, grabby, colorful 2-D animation, and the angles, joints and movements of its star subjects come across less as those of transforming big rigs and airplanes and more as giant hunks of weaponized metal. The main story is still familiar, though it’s a weird marriage of past series lore and Bay’s film: led by Optimus Prime (voiced by David Kaye), the Autobots take to defending both the Allspark and their new adopted home (that would be Earth), as well as 8-year-old Sari Sumdac (voiced by Tara Strong, who also voiced Princess Clara on Drawn Together). Sari not only becomes an honorary Autobot, but a vital component of the team and the keeper of a key which serves as an emergency power supply and source of healing for the Autobots. Naturally, the evil Decepticons want the key and Allspark for themselves. Much noisy grappling ensues.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Transformers Animated seems like a downgrade in almost every conceivable way. This is brand-name, space-filling entertainment, pure and simple. However ridiculous its main conceit (space-traveling robots who happen to take the form of human forms of transportation) might have once been, there was a sense of forward-leaning imaginativeness to it all back in the ’80s. Now, with a cross-platform re-launching designed to bring in nostalgic Gen-Xers and their little kids, the seams show. And I yawn.
Transformers Animated: Season One is spread out over two discs, comes housed in a regular plastic Amray case, and is presented in 1.33:1 full screen, with English and Spanish language Dolby digital stereo audio tracks, each of which capably capture all those whirring sounds (yeah… technical description) that fans of the original series will remember. Apart from a photo gallery sneak peek at two dozen character design sketches from the forthcoming second season release, there are no supplemental bonus features. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C- (Series) D+ (Disc)