Sunday, 6 July 2014

Transformers Marathon: After 30 years, how is this franchise still alive and popular?

I have one last part of the Transformers Marathon. It’s not a review this time (though I’ll need a break from those as I said in my Transformers: Prime review), it’s a editorial. One of the things that crossed my mind as I’ve been going through the franchise is this, “How has the series survived this long and is still going strong?” There were series of the franchise that I didn’t look at in this marathon, I barely scratched the surface when it comes to the games and I haven’t even looked at its other mediums including the comics and the toys themselves, and even with those, the question still stands, how did the Transformers survive the test of time?

It would be too easy for me to say that the fan base kept it alive, and as such I won’t mention it until the end of this piece. There are other elements that kept this tale alive, one of which I mentioned in my first review for this marathon. One of the reasons I think that it survived is its overall simple plot. The classic Good vs. Evil stories have been around since the creation of the story. However, as time has gone on, the classic plot has developed, very few stories nowadays have that clear distinction of good and evil, the line has been blurred as there is always another side to the story, it’s a reflection of the world today. There’s no longer a clear villain in society as everyone could have dark intentions and it’s actually because of that, the classic tales of good and evil have kept alive. People want to believe that it’s just black and white, that there’s always a clear villain, so they cling to the stories that have that clear distinction. It’s a reason why the Harry Potter books became so successful (not the only reason, just a reason) and why they would likely survive the test of time and why some reinterpretations of older stories won’t. At the same time though, the story has to have differences to the concept and the way the Transformers franchise has done this is by moral choices, the reason why the plots of the episodes are more complicated then what they seem. Do you sacrifice a world, a civilisation, a race of sentient creatures just to save yours?  Do you protect creatures you’ve never met, that are probably afraid of you and will kill you just to protect themselves and risk the safety of your own race, or do you destroy them so that your race can thrive?  When is something going too far? These and other questions kids wouldn’t pay attention to when they first see the show, its something for the parents to see and the kids to notice when they are older and can understand the concepts and the consequences of the actions. The story that has always been a part of the Transformers Lore (not including Rescue Bots...) is a story that will be told in some form for years to come, because it’s a story that everyone will hear somehow. It’s a story that will never be dated due to human nature.

Every story needs its characters and while I might not agree with the decisions made with some of them, the personalities of each of the characters are distinct and memorable, even if sometimes they were poorly written. You remember Gears, Ironhide, Wheeljack, Bumblebee, Perceptor, Cyclonus, Demolisher, Override and many more. You even remember the Human characters: Spike, Rad, Alexis, Kicker and Coby, and I’m only mentioning the humans from the seasons I’ve reviewed here. And its actually for that reason why I hate the direction the Bay films are going. While I will openly admit that I like the first one (see review for why people wouldn’t like it) but from Revenge of the Fallen onwards, this includes what I’ve heard of Age of Extinction, the characters are turning into more emotional versions of the character in a M. Night Shyamalan film, bland and boring to watch.

The cartoons have always been a promotion for the toys, and the toys have helped in the popularity of the show and the franchise as a whole. The Transformers toys have been, and always will be, the fusion of a puzzle and a action figure. As time’s gone on, the toys have developed, become more complicated, harder to transform but does more in both vehicle and robot mode while still maintaining the core design of the character (some more obvious then others). I could show you 3 different versions of the Optimus Prime figure and you would be able to tell that they were all Optimus Prime because they always keep the core features of the original (they always have a red truck transformation, the head design is always the same and when the trailer is included, the trailer always has a transformation of its own (this isn’t including his Beast wars design but some of these also apply to Optimus Primal)) Megatron would be harder to distinguish but all of his designs have been offensive (a gun, to a cannon, a tank, a fighterplane, a batmobile esque car along with a plane ect), Starscream has always been some sort of fighter plane, Red Alert and Ratchet have always been ambulances as just a few other examples but over time, they’ve become more complicated. It would take less time for anyone to transform Optimus’s Generation 1 design then it would to transform his Evasion mode from the new Age of Extinction line of toys, even though they’re the same truck. As a result, kids still love playing with the toys and they watch the show to add to the experience, to use their imagination to make new stories for the characters.

The Michael bay films might be making more money in a week then most people will ever see in their lives, but its the cartoons and the toys that will keep Transformers going. It’s the Generation 1’s, the Unicron trilogies’, the Animated’s and the Prime’s that will keep the franchise alive long after the movies have finished. On top of that, it’s the fans that have grown up with the franchise since Generation 1 exposing their kids to the newer seasons and playing with their kids’s Transformers toys that keeps the name alive. It’s the lessons it teaches with characters that you want to be. It’s been 40 years, and let’s hope it lives for 40 more, or until all are one.

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