Monday, July 8, 2013

Transformers Animated - Transform and Roll Out

During the Summer, there usually aren't that many new episodes of shows to watch during weekdays, except in my case for new Adventure Time episodes and the rare new episode of Gravity Falls (which, as of this writing, is still in its first season after a little over a year). In this time, my family and I for the last few years have been watching other shows on DVD (one suggestion each) so we have something to watch, most of the time being shows we have not seen. This time I decided to go back and have us watch an older Transformers cartoon, partially so I could confuse my parents more with Transformers continuity and partially so I could have a valid excuse to review today's item, the Transform and Roll Out premiere feature for the 2007-09 cartoon Transformers Animated (originally announced as Transformers: Heroes), the brain-child of Derrick J. Wyatt (who is currently behind Ben 10: Omniverse) and Marty Isenberg (of Beast Machines fame). First airing just after Christmas (on what we call "Movie Day"), Transform and Roll Out was the start of the Transformers Animated series on Cartoon Network, running for three seasons before rushing its conclusion in time for the much reviled second live-action flick. This series has also spawned a short-lived tie-in comic from IDW, a video game published by Activision, and two AllSpark Almanac books expanding on the series both in-universe and behind the scenes, and has recently continued beyond its cancellation for a brief time in fiction exclusive to BotCon 2011 and the Transformers Collectors' Club. With all that said, let us take a look at the feature that started something that remains popular to this day.

While working on a Spacebridge on an asteroid, the Autobot crew made up of Optimus Prime (David Kaye), Ratchet (Corey Burton), Bumblebee (Bumper Robinson), Bulkhead (Bill Fagerbakke), and Prowl (Jeff Bennett) stumble upon a strange artifact, which had just been sent through the suddenly-active Spacebridge. The Autobots bring it on board their ship for safe-keeping, where Ratchet tells the others that what they had managed to pick up is the legendary AllSpark. Unsure of what to do when a Decepticon warship is suddenly on their tail, Optimus Prime calls for backup, first having to go through Sentinel Prime (Townsend Coleman) before contacting Ultra Magnus (also Jeff Bennett), who assures them that they have sent reinforcements. However, Optimus takes things into his own hands and tries to escape the Decepticons.

Meanwhile onboard the Decepticon vessel, the team made up of Starscream (Tom Kenny), Lugnut (also David Kaye), Blitzwing (also Bumper Robinson), and Blackarachnia (Cree Summer) have an argument before it is broken up by the presence of Megatron (also Corey Burton), who decides to go after the Autobots themselves in order to retrieve the AllSpark. Unbeknownst to him, Starscream plants a bomb on his leader's back, with obvious intentions. The bomb goes off once Megatron lands on the Autobot vessel, blasting off his arm, but that doesn't stop him from going after the crew inside to get at the relic they now carry. As the Autobots fight off their enemy, the AllSpark activates the Spacebridge just long enough for the ship to get through before exploding; while Starscream declares himself leader, the other Decepticons escape their own ship as the lone backstabber gets caught in the blast. As Optimus Prime and Megatron continue to fight in the cargo bay of the Autobot vessel, Optimus sends his foe flying outside as they make a crash course for Earth, controlling the ship so it splashes into Lake Erie as they go into an emergency stasis lock. From here the feature cuts to 50 Years Later to a future where Detroit, Michigan is the leading capital of robotics technology, made possible by the successful Sumdac Systems. However, trouble begins to start at the robot factory, big enough to cause the Autobots to emerge from stasis.

The Autobots before landing on Earth (from left to right): Bulkhead, Prowl,
Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Bumblebee
The story of Transform and Roll Out, penned by Marty Isenberg, works fairly well for a feature, but is best viewed as more of a pilot movie. Regardless, I think it's written pretty well, as it does its job to establish the universe this series takes place in, but primarily focuses on setting up the underlying Autobot/Decepticon conflict as well as the relationships between the robots and the humans/each other. The premiere also does a nice job setting up each bot's unique personality, including ones that show up for only one scene before they come back in later episodes; this is why it should best be seen as a pilot, since as a stand-alone movie you'd be wondering what the point was of establishing those characters if they were never going to show up again. Based on this feature alone, I thought the human characters were fairly written for the amount of screen time they got, and at least they didn't overshadow the primary conflict between the warring robot factions. There are also some funny moments here and there, as well as some well-placed references to previous Transformers series, most of them being Generation 1 (a rather hilarious one is using original cartoon footage as historical records at the beginning).

The animation, provided by Mook, is actually pretty good, if a little slow at times. However, things flow more smoothly more often than not, especially when there's more action going on (a few transformation sequences end up being the smoothest due to their nature as stock footage, but these only show up once each). The general designs, especially the robots, is interesting and unique, and the bots look different from each other so you can more easily tell who's who. The voice acting is also good, with David Kaye notably portraying Optimus Prime here, whereas in previous Transformers series he provided the voice for several Megatrons (he is also the voice of Clank); when a new face shows up from a previous generation, everyone does a good job doing their own unique take on the character, with Corey Burton and Tom Kenny doing nice takes on Megatron and Starscream respectively on the Decepticon side. Special mention should also go to Tara Strong providing the voice for the human girl Sari Sumdac, who I found to be a much more tolerable human protagonist than in some previous continuities. 

Transformers Animated - Transform and Roll Out is a well-produced start to an animated series, one that represents the 25th anniversary of the Transformers brand. It has a well-paced plot, good animation, and does a good job establishing its universe. Seeing this feature again, it seems better to me than when I remembered seeing it last, if only because it was around that time that I wasn't keeping very much of an open mind and fan reactions influenced my own. Now that I consider myself a fan of the Animated cartoon, I began looking at this premiere differently (as I'm sure to as I re-watch the series) and now I don't think of it to be all that bad. For those who have not yet experienced this series and wish to do so (so long as you don't think Transformers has to only be Generation 1), then I would encourage you to try and start here if you can, then try to watch the rest of the series if you end up liking it. The DVD's are out of print right now, and the third and final season of the cartoon never made it to DVD outside of the Japanese dub, but try and find Transform and Roll Out if you can, along with the rest of the cartoon that follows; I assure you that you will not be disappointed.

This feature is also much more worth your time than Equestria Girls.

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