DVD Review: “Transformers Animated: Season Two”

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Transformers Animated: Season 2 (Hasbro, 2009)
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I’ve never really been a big Transformers fan, even back in my childhood. I’ve never understood the cultural fascination with them, or how said fascination has lasted so long. They’re robots who turn into cars…wow. And when that hideous live action abortion by Michael Bay stomped its way into movie theaters back in ’07, based on its stupefying success, I figured maybe I was the one taking crazy pills. And so it was with some trepidation that I chose to review the Transformers Animated Season 2 DVD, which compiles all the episodes which recently aired on Cartoon Network.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Not so much that now I’m going to buy stock in Hasbro, the company which produces the toy line which incestuously pairs itself in a 69 position with this series. But I have to say that for a kids’ show that pretty much does nothing but have giant robots fighting each other and doing a lot of property damage, it’s really a quaint bit of fun.

The absolutely best thing that Hasbro did when they reinvented this series (the origins of these characters and their arc are significantly different from the show which ran from 1984-1987) is that they detached it almost completely from Michael Bay’s film–the only true connection being that the heroic Autobots and their nemeses, the Decepticons, are both searching for fragments of the Allspark, the mysterious power source which gave life to all inhabitants of their distant home world, Cybertron.

While on Earth, the Autobots–leader Optimus Prime, Ratchet the medi-bot, Bumblebee the speedy rookie, Prowl the ninja-bot and Bulkhead the construction-bot–befriend young Sari Sumdac, precocious daughter of genius inventor Isaac Sumdac, and work to protect the planet from the machinations of the Decepticons and other evil forces.

The second season comes with 13 episodes (in standard format rather than letterbox) divided onto two discs. The disc episode listings are as follows:

Disc 1
The Elite Guard
The Return of the Headmaster
Mission Accomplished
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Velocity
Rise of the Constructicons

Disc 2
A Fistful of Energon
S.U.V. – Society of Ultimate Villainy
Autoboot Camp
Black Friday
Sari, No One’s Home
A Bridge Too Close, Part One
A Bridge Too Close, Part Two

The first disc also contains a photo gallery of various Transformers, along with key info on each one. There are two animated shorts (each barely a minute long) which are very cute and meant purely for entertainment and have nothing to do with the regular story continuity. Also on disc one, the episodes Mission Accomplished and Garbage In, Garbage Out come with audio commentary by Matt Youngberg (Supervising Director), Eric Siebenaler (Lead Product Designer for Hasbro Toys), Derrick Wyatt (Art Director) and Marty Isenberg (Story Editor/Head Writer).

I found it odd that a disc primarily intended for younger children (Transformers Animated has plenty of smash-’em-up, but it’s primarily a bloodless–or in this case, oil-less–type) would include a commentary, and in fact the dialogue consists mainly of the creators conversing among themselves about what they like or wanted to do within the Transformers universe and how to make the storyline tie in with the toy line and vice-versa. The only time the commentary is truly effectual is when they discuss the guest appearance of “Weird Al” Yankovic as Wreckgar, a type of Bizarro Transformer given accidental life by an Allspark fragment, or the running gag of having the vengeful Starscream being deactivated over and over again each time he attempts to attack his former boss Megatron.

I also have to wonder what exactly goes on inside the brain of head writer Isenberg, as there are two distinctly subtle kid-toucher moments within Transformers Animated. In the episode The Elite Guard, when the primary peacekeepers of Cybertron arrive on Earth, one of the robots believes that humans are a bacterial contaminant that could infect their bio-organic bodies, and wants to set up a force shield to protect themselves. Another of the robots gets a glimpse of Sari–who’s no more than 8 years old, mind you–and insists that he’d like to “get a closer look.” Ugh.

To make matters worse, on disc two, in the episode S.U.V. – Society of Ultimate Villainy, the Autobots are facing off against a group of four human supervillains, one of whom is an adult called Nanosec, and another called Professor Princess (a young child villainess). During the battle, the villains are tossed off a roof and fall to the ground below, all atop one another. Nanosec is the first to fall, and Professor Princess falls butt-first onto his face. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who goes looking for odd shit in kids’ films, but obviously I was paying close attention to each episode in order to give a thorough review of the material. If you watch the scene in slo-mo (you’ll find the weirdest things in slo-mo…just ask fans of the smiling face between Claire Redfield’s legs in Playstation’s Resident Evil: Nemesis), you’ll clearly see an upskirt shot of Professor Princess as she falls, followed by a look on her face as if she’s just discovered something unexpectedly interesting as she lands on Nanosec’s face. Ummm….

These…oddities…aside, Transformers Animated is actually an entertaining and highly creative series. Velocity has a very cool homage to the classic Speed Racer cartoon series, and when the racer is finally revealed in the two-part A Bridge Too Close, the character speaks in that rapid fire mannerism of Speed and his old allies. In order to not wear out the story arc of the Decepticon war, the writers insert some very interesting characters–the aforementioned human supervillains–into the mix, and it’ll bring a smile to even the most jaded comic geek to watch them team up in S.U.V., as a type of ersatz Injustice Society. The A Bridge Too Close two-parter gives dramatic and moving closure to Megatron’s attempt to initiate a surprise attack on Cybertron, and the loss of a hero who perishes to bring an end to the Decepticon threat. Also in the final moments of part two, there was a startling revelation about Sari that even I didn’t see coming, so you can bet the little ones will have to pick their jaws up off the floor.

So all in all, the two-disc Transformers Animated Season Two is worth owning as kid-friendly entertainment for the wee ones…just don’t let them watch it alone with Creepy Uncle Chester.