Ask director Michael Bay just how passionate Transformers fans are and he will surely tell you about the negative early feedback he got during production of this year’s biggest movie hit.? Seems there was much ado about flames on Autobot leader Optimus Prime’s torso.
Flames?? Well, several months later it’s probably something he can laugh about now, but back then he actually had to justify adding flames to Optimus Prime.? Such is the passion of Transformers fans.
And like that mini-controversy every time a new animated version hits networks, fans grumble until the cows come home.? Nothing will ever quite live up to “G1,” not Beast Wars, not Transformers: Armada not any of the different incarnations.
Marty Isenberg is hoping this time around that’s not the case.? The story editor for Cartoon Networks Transformers: Animated, which debuts on Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. eastern just hopes fans give his series a chance, changes be damned.
And changes there are.? Lots of them.? This might be the most radical departure from Transformers canon to date.
Produced by Sam Register, the former CN exec who helped create shows such as Teen Titans and Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi and, most recently, Ben 10: Race Against Time, the show bears many of Register?s trademarks. The animation mixes anime and domestic animation techniques quite familiar to Teen Titans fans.
?Well, Sam is our executive producer and handpicked me, Matt (Youngberg, Supervising Director) and Derrick (Wyatt, Art Director) to run the show, so on some level it?s going to reflect his taste,? Isenberg responded. ?The character design is pretty much Derrick?s department and I think it?s fantastic! Derrick?s designs are what sold me on doing the show. The faces are expressive, you can tell who?s who, merely by the silhouettes, and most importantly, they?re fun!?
Then there?s the story. In T:A, Optimus Prime (voiced by David Kaye) isn?t the ultimate Autobot we first met back in 1984. He?s actually a lot younger, greener and leading a repair team that includes Bumblebee (Bumper Robinson), Prowl (Jeff Glen Bennett), Ratchet (Cory Burton) and Bulkhead (Bill Fagerbakke). The leaders of the Autobots are named Ultra Magnus (Bennett) and Sentinel Prime (Townsend Coleman) and he?s busy ruling on a Decepticon-free Cyberton.
Of course, that doesn?t mean the Decepticon?s are anything but gone. This time they were just defeated in the ?Great War.?
Just when Prime and crew discover the hiding place of the AllSpark; Megatron (Burton), Starscream (Tom Kenny) and a war cruiser of bad ?bots appear. Thanks to some of the expected inept sabotage of Starscream, everyone ends up going in three directions. Megatron and the Autobots go through a gate and crash land on Earth; Megatron on a farm where a young boy named Sumdac (Kenny) finds his wrecked parts, the Autobots on the bottom of Lake Erie, just outside of Detroit. Starscream and the war cruiser find themselves falling into a local sun. The rest of the Decepticons, among them a certain Black Arachnia (Cree Summer) leave their self-declared new leader for points unknown in escape pods.
A half-century later Sumdac has rebuilt Detroit into the robot manufacturing capital of the world. It shouldn?t take much to figure out how the now mustachioed, befuddled inventor had become the ?Bill Gates of robotics.? Heck, he keeps Megatron?s giant head in a secret room. This now introduces us to one last key character, Sari (the apparently tireless Tara Strong), Sumdac?s daughter and soon-to-be, well, you know?
As one might guess, Isenberg took some liberties with the series. Anyone who?s followed the tales of the Prime and pals will see bits and pieces from just about every other series and movie referenced in this pilot.
?Some of this was already part of the development that I was handed before I started on the series,? he explains. ?The live action movie references were largely coincidence, since I never saw a script or knew anything about the movie until I saw it a week before it opened. The only thing that I knew for sure about the movie was that the AllSpark was going to be really important. Some of it was merely taking things that work well, story-wise, that have worked well in previous incarnations of Transformers. Having a small crew allows us to focus on individual characters and develop them and let the audience really get to know them. Of course, we like to throw in lots of nods to G1 for the fans, but mostly for ourselves.?
?Bumblebee was originally Hotshot in the development,? he admits, but we were told that Bumblebee was going to be a breakout character in the live action movie, so we happily swapped that one out. Ratchet was originally Red Alert, and believe it or not, was female! Bulkhead at one point was going to be the crusty veteran, but we shifted his role when we changed Red Alert to Ratchet.?
Based on early clips and not full episodes, the animation looks odd and not at Transformersy, but a lot of that can be overlooked depending on the scope and intelligence of the storytelling. ? I’m intrigued, but with bated breath, over the shift from hardened, battle-tested warriors into making them essentially rookies, teenage versions of these iconic characters.
Could even make for a cool toy line.