I was initially rather skeptical about Transformers: Animated when it first was announced. Coming off the disgust I had for the first movie, I didn’t have much faith that the cartoon that Cartoon Network was fielding would be any better. For one thing, it used that same overly-exaggerated aesthetic that every show they had used so far, and it was obviously targeted towards a very young market. Happily, the series turned out really great, and I ended up liking it immensely. So much that I collected nearly all the figures from the show (or at least as many as were available locally).
When Transformers: Prime was announced, I again had my doubts that it would be worthy of the franchise I loved. This time, they’d dropped the Japanimation look and went back to the computer generated images that they’d used in Transformers: Beast Wars. While I love Pixar as much as the next guy, it’s not because they use CGI to make their cartoons. It’s because they write unbelievably good stories that are entertaining and heart-wrenching, and because they are awesome animators. Most shows that have used CGI for TV series have neither good stories, nor good animators.
Transformers: Prime has both.
In fact, I was surprised at how well both the story and the animation were done. The series takes a decidedly darker approach to the Transformers mythos than any of the previous series, borrowing on the Transformers: War for Cybertron (the third-person shooter video game released last year) continuity after the fall of Cybertron.
I could just stop there, since the fact that this follows such a well-received game should be reason enough for you to take a weekend off and watch the shit out of the series, but that’s just the come on. The series is so much more than that. For one, it borrows the same formula that made the original cartoon and Transformers: Beast Wars so good. A small band of Autobots stuck on Earth, facing incalculable odds. The core group of good guys allows us to live in the characters a bit, getting to know each, before new characters are added later on. It also takes a page from the book of Transformers: Animated (as well as the original series, again) by including a cast of humans. This time it’s a set of 3 multi-cultural kids who get caught up in the Autobot’s secret war and need to be protected. And unlike Shia the Doof, they’re not completely annoying. The relationship between the big robots and the kids is a lot more like big brother/ little brother (or sister) than anything else and was supposedly inspired by The Iron Giant.
For the adults though, the thing that sets Transformers: Prime above the rest of the cartoons is the quality of the animation and the level of the violence. If you’re letting your kids watch this, be sure you have no problem with them watching indiscriminate murder, dismemberment, guns, knives, and torture. Although most of the violence is inflicted on fictional robotic lifeforms, strapping a guy to a table and drilling out his eyeball while he’s awake is not something I’d let a 5-year old watch.
The premier mini-series consists of 5 episodes that start with the Autobots already on Earth, watching for the return of the Decepticons. When one of their number mysteriously disappears, they know that their 3-year reprieve is over. Megatron returns and is again using the powers of dark energon to further his plans at conquering the galaxy. He discovers that the element can raise dead Cybertronians’ bodies as mindless drones that will attack anything in their sight. By infecting himself with the “blood of Unicron”, Megatron can control this army of the undead.
You heard that right. Motherfucken’ robot zombies.
The rest of the season includes some filler material where we get to know the other Autobots a bit, and get a feel for their relationships with their respective human charges. There’s also a whole lot of Starscream, who retains his chicken-hearted personality, but gets a makeover. He no longer has the bad-ass body he used to have, but one that is skinny and frail looking. It works thematically, but it took me a while before I could get used to the series’ aesthetic.
With the amazing animation (the fight scenes are eons past the old stuff from Reboot or Starship Troopers: I’d say they’re even better than the live-action movie’s) and the stellar voice cast (which includes Peter Cullen, Jeffrey Combs, Frank Welker, Ernie Hudson, Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) it’s not a hard thing to do, though.
Honestly, they had me at robot zombies.