You know, growing up I was the toy industry's dream child. If your show was based around a set of toys, I wanted them all and I wanted them badly. Shows like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, M.A.S.K. and so forth all hold an eternally special place in my heart. As such, if a new version of one of my favorite cartoons comes out, it gets the immediate benefit of the doubt.
Transformers: Prime, loosely based on both the novel "Exodus," and the game "War for Cybertron" is just such a show. The show appears to be a "reboot" of sorts, borrowing from segments of G1, Animated, as well as the Michael Bay films. Essentially, Megatron has been missing for three years and the Autobots patrol the Earth (which for some reason consists entirely of Jasper, Nevada) with the full knowledge of the United States Government. Due to the apparent perception that kids can no longer relate to the Transformers without giving them kid sidekicks, the human characters of Jack, Raf and Miko are slowly introduced over the course of Episode One, and are partnered with Arcee, Bumblebee, and Bulkhead respectively. Ratchet, the final member of the "Autobot Five" is not a fan of having the children around and happily tries to show them the door every chance he gets. Guess who my new favorite transformer is?
Meanwhile, the Decepticon side consists of Starscream (apparently pulled straight out of "Animated"), a mostly mute Soundwave, a returning Megatron (welcome back Frank Welker), and what appeared in episode 4 to be Laserbeak. We're also introduced to numerous random, nameless drones who I'm sure were taken from "Beast Wars." So in short, the Decepticon threat comes in the form of "The Big Three" and a whole lot of cannon fodder.
In a nutshell, the storyline here is that Megatron has returned to Earth from deep space with a cache of "Dark Energon" crystals (because nobody at Hasbro remembers Energon Cubes). Megatron's plan is to use this Dark Energon to bring the dead warriors of the Cybertronian Wars back to life, thereby creating a massive army with which to take over everything. That's right, Megatron plans to control the universe with Zombies. I kind of dig this as it may qualify as the single plan Megatron's never tried.
I have to say, frankly this is so far a well written show. Chances are, this is the result of the writing of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci who seem to have stuck with the franchise since 2007's live action film and continue to contribute all the parts people actually like. The dialogue is crisp, the jokes are well delivered, and the banter's rather enjoyable. The best thing here, as I said, is easily the writing. With the apparent creation of a "show bible," I'm hopeful that this will mean that the show goes past the five episode mini-series and flows just as well as it does here. Hell, I'm even willing to forgive (for now at least) the fact that Raf can understand Bumblebee's beeps and whistles, and nobody knows why. This has to be an Anakin/R2 thing.
Despite strangely having no plans to release an accompanying toyline, Hasbro has invested a good deal into the new series and brought in some quality voice acting talent to get it off the ground. Aside from the returns of Cullen and Welker, we have Ernie Hudson as Agent Fowler (Autobot liason to the government), Jeffrey Coombs as Ratchet and Dwayne "The Rock" (he will always be the Brahma Bull to me) Johnson with a tragically brief appearance as Cliffjumper. My lifelong passions of wrestling and Transformers have finally been combined. My inner nerd would've loved to hear Cliffjumper brag about laying the smackdown on some decepticons at least once. I mean hell, they dug up Markie Freakin' Post to play Jack's mother!! Amazingly my only problem with the voice work is with Frank Welker. He can't give us Megatron's voice until the final line of episode three, and even THEN you can barely hear it. What is the point of bringing back Megatron's original voice actor if we're not going to get Megatron's original voice? If Peter Cullen can still give us a perfect Optimus Prime, why is Megatron so damn hard?? Hell, FAMILY GUY got it right!!
So we have great writing, a quality voice cast, obviously there's gotta be a flaw somewhere. In this case, it's the animation. While the action and transformation sequences are all generally very well done, in many respects this is some of the worst computer generated animation I have ever seen. Frankly, things like "Reboot" and "Final Fantasy: Spirits Within" looked better, and those were done YEARS ago. There is absolutely no excuse for the poor quality of much of the animation, most noteably this:
If you thought Optimus having a mouth in the MOVIES was bad, I'm sorry but this is a damn crime. That mouth serves absolutely no purpose as we only see it when they're not doing fight sequences. Just plain disgusting ... to make another WWE reference, that image of Optimus Prime is like Michael Cole. I want it off my TV. NOW.
My other issue stems from the "borrowing" of elements from previous series for this "new" continuity. While those who are new to the Transformers will have no problem with it, I have a hard time believing that anyone familiar with the transformers mythos will see much of this "borrowing" as anything more than straight up theft. Some of this I don't have a problem with, such as the fact that Optimus is *clearly* the live action form with the G1 color scheme, or that Bumblebee is lifted from the live action films but with a slight modification. HOWEVER:
Ratchet, Bulkhead, and Starscream's looks are lifted, not borrowed, lifted, from "Transformers: Animated" with only Bulkhead apparently receiving any changes. In "Animated," he transformed into a military truck I believe. Here, for some reason I'm pretty sure he's a Pontiac Aztec
Every shot of Cybertron appears to be taken directly from the opening scenes of G1's "More Than Meets The Eye."
Even with the decision to remove her pink and white color scheme because it's "too girly," Arcee looks too much like her previous incarnations.
Essentially, I'm of two extremes with "Transformers: Prime." With some of it's elements, I'm impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the show, but it has other elements that I found incredibly irritating. If you're new to the Transformers Universe, this is probably not a bad jumping off point. If you grew up with it like I did, then you'd probably agree that this is a low Matinee at best. It's fun in places, and does show great potential, but there is clearly a fair bit of work to be done.