Transformers through the eyes of a 10 year-old…


By Shawn Robare

If there’s one thing that I try very hard to do with this site it’s to attempt to transport my perspective into the mind of my 10 year-old self so that I can try and see things (like all the old cartoons, toys, and ephemera) as I did almost 30 years ago.  This is way easier said than done as it’s next to impossible to let go of a lifetime’s worth of baggage and my pesky adult perspective that I need to have in place for most of the time.  It’s at those times when it’s proving a real struggle to get back into that childlike mindset when I wonder what it would be like to have a child of my own who I could share all of the stuff that I grew up with and watch their reaction firsthand.  Having children just hasn’t been something that was in the cards for me up to this point, and most of my friends who have had children did so later in life and so most of them are still too young to share this kind of stuff with.

Well this past week I had the opportunity to babysit a friend’s 10 year-old son Alex for a few afternoons, and after spending the last decade literally reclaiming my childhood in the form of comics, toys, and a mountain of cartoons on DVD I figured I’d be in the perfect person to watch and entertain the kid for a few afternoons.  Well, even though I feel like I had a pretty good shot at relating to him and the stuff he’s into, I do remember what it was like being a kid and being babysat by someone who was trying their damnedest but failing to relate to me.  That was probably my biggest concern going in, that I’d attempt to be hip by knowing about stuff like current cartoons or cool for having a huge collection of toys, yet still failing to make a connection. I mean, I have a wall full of Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe toys still mint on card.  Would Alex think I was crazy for not opening them?  Basically all I knew for certain was that he was a huge Transformers fan who thinks that the Decepticons are jerks and that his favorite characters are all of the Autobots.  All of them.

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I knew I’d be watching him for three days and on the first it was pretty much just as awkward as I’d expected.  Being really into Transformers Alex brought his copy of the War for Cybertron XBox game so that we could play it.  Well, if I haven’t already mentioned it on the site before, when it comes to modern video games I suck.  I’ll be honest, I very happily peaced out after the Nintendo 64/Playstaion era of gaming and never really had any interest in picking it back up.  I’d much rather play Galaga than Skyrim, and I’m totally fine with that.  I’m just not a gamer and if you hand me a controller that has more than 4 buttons and a D-pad I’m totally lost.

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So when Alex busted out his copy of War for Cybertron I was actually nervous about having to try and play co-op with him.  Luckily he didn’t understand what the co-op option meant, so I just played dumb when there was no option for the second player to join after he launched the single-player campaign.  At that point I was fine just watching him blast a bunch of Transformers to rubble.  Actually, watching him play the game was kind of hilariously interesting because regardless of the fact that I mentioned to him that I was well versed in the lore of the Transformers he took it upon himself to tell me all about the characters and the world.  I decided to just play dumb and learn from the master.  “Whoa, that guy is named Jetfire?  What does he transform into?  A jet?  Whoa!”  Mind you, I wasn’t being sarcastic or patronizing, just trying to let him take the reigns of the discussion.  He played the game non-stop for 5 hours straight while I watched and asked about all the characters and locations.

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Actually, this was kind interesting for me on another level since I’d never played the game before and have very distinct tastes when it comes to the Transformers.  The game is an amalgamation of visual design and continuity from all iterations of the mythology and universes.  So you have dialogue directly lifted from the 1986 Transformers movie mixed with references to the Bayformer movies, and character designs that are somewhere in between those live action films and the Classics toy versions of the characters that were released about a decade ago.  Mix that with dialogue from Frank Welker and Peter Cullen and it makes for a very trippy experience.  There are even nods to the original Marvel comics, specifically the smelting pits.

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This also underlined something for me that I was well aware of, but never really out much thought into which is that a brand like the Transformers has a longevity that is kind of amazing.  I mean, I feel kind of old thinking about it, but having been around before they were originally designed and released, enough time has passed that there are almost three generations worth of folks who can lay claim to a variation of the characters.  In another decade we’ll being seeing families where the grandparents were into the original G1 versions of the characters, parents who grew up on the later 90s, early 2000s cartoons and the Bayformers, and there will be a new generation of kids whose reference point for the characters will be the new video games and the latest trilogy of Bayformer movies that are on deck to be released over the next few years.  We’re already seeing that with brands like G.I. Joe, but I find it fascinating that something that was developed and launched when I was a kid will have that sort of generational longevity soon.

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Well, on the second day I was only watching Alex for a couple of hours and honestly I still had a headache from the constant barrage of crap blowing up in ultra HD in that game the day before, so I decided instead of firing the XBox back up, instead we’d watch a movie.  Knowing he loved the Transformers and since I’ve never been able to share some of my childhood favorite flicks with a kid of my own I decided that I’d take a chance and screen the 1986 Transformers movie for him.  I knew he’d never seen it and honestly I was dying to know if the flick still held up for today’s kids who have their own, way more kinetic versions of the characters than the ones I grew up loving.  I always felt the movie was ahead of its time in terms of the violence, the sort of crazy level of action and a plot that basically moves at the speed of light.  So what would a modern 10 year-old make of this film I love so dearly?

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Well, I’m pleased to say that it held up pretty damn good, though there are some scenes where it was painfully obvious that Alex was getting bored.  All of the jokes seemed to hit him in just the right place (we both turned to each other and laughed during the scene where Grimlock is begging Kup to tell his war stories), and for the most part the fast-moving plot seemed to keep his attention.  The opening scene with the Lithonian’s planet getting eaten by Unicron seemed to bore him, and any scene that was devoted to back and forth bickering between Unicron and Galvatron also made him snooze.  But throughout the rest of the film there was definitely a mix of him literally being on the edge of his seat and standing up cheering.  It was really interesting seeing him react to the vehicle character of Daniel, one that most fans who grew up with the film tend to deride and mock, but Alex was all in.  Whenever Daniel was in peril I’d hear audible gasps from Alex, even in early scenes where he busts his hoover-board.

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Probably the most gratifying experience was watching Alex react to a couple of key scenes in the movie, namely the death of Optimus Prime and the psuedo-death of Ultra Magnus before the final siege on Unicron.  There were no tears during Prime’s death, but this was probably the moment when Alex became fully invested in the story (at least judging from his body language.)  You could tell he was heavily focused on the characters and really wanted the Autobots to survive and to defeat the Decepticons.

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He also really seemed to get behind the idea of the Matrix of Leadership because when it came around to the scene where Galvatron has Ultra Magnus ripped apart to get at it, Alex was really bummed out.  He actually screamed out “No!” when Magnus fell.  So even though at the outset he had that sort of disinterest because the movie seemed so old, three quarters of the way in he was hooked.  I attempted to ask him some questions afterwards, but being a sort of shy 10 year-old who never really spent all that much time around me, he was pretty tight lipped.  I was really curious if he noticed that some of the lines in this movie were also in the game he loved (“One shall stand, one shall fall”, “Bah Weep Grah Na Weep Ninibon”, “First we crack the shell, then we crack the nuts inside…”, etc.), but he didn’t seem to notice.  Granted, I’ve seen that ’86 movie over two hundred times, so the dialogue is permanently etched into my brain.

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I was also curious about the infamous scene where Spike utters the word “Shit” when they try and blow up Unicron with Moon Base Two.  Again, he didn’t seem to notice during the actual film, and I wasn’t going to ask him a point question about curse words afterwards.  The final little bit of a litmus test to gauge his enjoyment with the older G1 versions of the characters, my girlfriend and I picked up a six-inch vinyl Optimus Prime figure (that is strikingly accurate in terms of the depiction from the original cartoon) as a gift for Alex.  I gave it to him right before we watched the movie and all throughout he was clutching it and posing it towards the screen. On the third day when he came back, he still had the toy with him, so I’m taking that as a sign that he enjoyed that 1986 film.

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All in all, it was really fascinating to get a glimpse into what it would be like to share my nostalgia with a kid, and it gives me hope that if I do decide that the time is right to have a child of my own soon, that I’ll be able to pass down a love for some of my favorite 80s era stuff.  That actually gives me a lot of hope for the future and it reminds me that I might get a lot of use out of the overflowing shelves of cartoons I own on DVD some day.

  • Retromash

    Very interesting article Shawn. Thanks for posting. My son is nearly four and I’m already thinking about when to give him my He-Man and Skeletor MOTUC figures I secretly bought for him a few years back, and when to watch the Star Wars movies with him (and in what order) etc. And Transformers is an interesting one because he will probably grow up with the overly complex Bayformers style. I’ll try to feed some G1 designs to him early to mix that in there too so he doesn’t think later on that Daddy’s old ones are too boring!

    • Thanks! Yeah, the whole question about when to show certain things to kids is something I wonder about a lot, even without any kids of my own. I think back to when I was 10 and I was watching stuff like the Friday the 13th films and Robocop (in the theater). I may have been a little advanced at my age, at least in terms of being able to process dark films like that.

      • bringjoy

        Do you guys plan on buying the 30th anniversary Blu-ray? The 4K resolution is “visually out of this world” and the sound is getting a total upgrade from its own “original audio source.” :)

        • I am, have wanted this on Blu-Ray for awhile. I’m hoping the majority of the special features and aspect ratios were kept from that 20th anniversary DVD though. I haven’t looked up any reviews yet. But it’s on the wishlist for sure. :)

          • bringjoy

            I have purchased this film 4-times so far on DVD. You know, the whole buying it until “you get it right” and getting the “latest upgrade” deal.

            To tell you the truth, I am very curious about anyone who has seen this film on a 3-D Samsung or LG television. I’ve seen “Avatar” on a 3-D TV, but it wasn’t exactly my own choice to watch that one that way at a relatives’ house. Now, I truly believe that films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Transformers: The Movie” would truly benefit from such an “all-immersive experience.”

            I myself have been to rock concerts in my life, and believe me, “The Transformers: The Movie” (1986) replicates in my own mind and being the closest it gets to replicating “all of the riveting energy and goosebumps you feel” being there at those actual rock concerts. No, simply watching a video of a rock concert “only pleases the ears, and then the eyes,” but this 1986 animated film — at least for me — replicates pretty much all of the thrills and sensations of being at those actual rock concerts. It really helps this animated movie in the fact that it was produced at the height of “The MTV Generation,” and I am sure films like “Robocop” also benefitted from a similar kinetic visual style, action, and energy.

            Again, movies like “Head,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Transformers: The Movie,” “Tron,” “Robocop,” etc. where there is a lot of experimenting and creative risks involved are virtually all gone in today’s cinema, where studio executives zone-in way too much on demographics, PC, and global ticket sales to produce anything that really pushes the envelope like this one.

            Talking about this film, yeah it totally has the very definition of “cult classic status” written all over it, with a few of its very, dedicated loyal fanbase discussing the merits of it and how it influenced our lives as if we are a bunch of religious refugees hiding out in caves in ancient Rome, or something.

            Nelson Shin’s South Korean production company and their staff at AKOM really “cut their teeth” on the TV show and on this film, which is why their subsequent productions such as “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” truly shined around the world.

            Everyone from Nelson Shin, Ron Friedman, Wally Burr, Stan Bush, Vince DiCola, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Leonard Nimoy, Orson Welles, all of the creative staff, etc. deserve every praise they get for producing a revolutionary film like this while all of their plates were full in their very-busy production schedules.

            When you look at it, and really think about it here for a good moment.:

            “Independence Day”
            “Boogie Nights”
            “The Matrix Trilogy”
            “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy”(2001)
            “Spider-Man Trilogy”(2002, 2004, 2007)
            “The Bourne 5-parters”(2002, 2004, 2007, 2012, 2016)
            “Treasure Planet”
            “Casino Royale”(2006)
            “Transformers”(2007)
            “Quantum of Solace”(2008)
            “Star Trek”(2009)
            “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”
            “Avatar”(2009)
            “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”(2009)
            “Thor”(2011)
            “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (2011)
            “Captain America: The First Avenger”(2011)
            “The Avengers”(2012)
            “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”
            “Star Trek Into Darkness”(2013)
            “Man of Steel”(2013)
            “Thor: The Dark World”(2013)
            “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”(2014)
            “Guardians of the Galaxy”(2014)
            “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
            “Deadpool”(2016)
            “Batman vs. Superman”(2016)
            “Captain America: Civil War”(2016)
            “Independence Day: Resurgence”
            “Star Trek Beyond”
            Etc.

            …All owe a great deal of thanks to “the over-all contributions” of Nelson Shin’s “The Transformers: The Movie”(1986)! You can totally see it in their “cinematic-DNA.” ;)

          • If only the backlash from this film by parents hadn’t been so harsh, I wonder what we could have seen Shin and Sunbow do with their other properties. I know they made G.I. Joe the movie and it is awesome, but not nearly as much as Transformers. I would have loved to have seen a Jem movie though…

          • bringjoy

            It reminds me of what happened to the Islamic world back in the 800~1100 AD, where they were revolutionary in advances in mathematics, science, and technology and eventualy influenced Europe, only for some “religious, conservative prude” named Abu Hamid Al Ghazali to come along and “snuffed-out” all of that progress and innovation. What “could have been for our own planet Earth” had that level of innovation continued without being impeded by religion of all things.
            “Religion” is death to “free thought.” If it works for you, that’s great and all. But, there are others like Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking “whose thoughts would have been severely-impeded” had religion hand-cuffed them to “an extremely narrow-level-of thinking in this grand, and ever topsy-turvy world. Much like Unicron trying to control Galvatron.
            Who wants that when free-thought is “much more liberating to the mind?!”

  • bringjoy

    Back in the 1980’s, film franchises like “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future” did not go overboard with merchandising along with their popular films to the point where they thought they had to sell action figures and playsets at launch. They had them, when the originals were successful and when the sequels were launched, but by then they knew they had a hard time competing with “Star Wars,” “Hasbro,” and “Mattel.”
    It’s very fascinating that Nelson Shin’s “The Transformers: The Movie” (1986) can still lure us in, not-so-much as to get us to purchase more Hasbro toys as adults now, but the sheer fact that this film is the very essence of what today’s successful and entertaining summer blockbusters are all about. Back then, animation and live-action were firmly split between “kids vs. grown-ups camps,” so a movie of this animated-caliber did not get the respect it deserved back in the day from the masses, but us kids back in the 80’s knew a lot better. Leonard Maltin gave this film a “BOMB” in his movie review, but this is at least a 3-star or a 4-star film for us all the way. No motion picture soundtrack that has come-out since this film’s release has ever done it for me quite like this film did. It’s one of those all-encompassing cinematic experiences much like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which simply blows your mind with Joseph Campbell’s tropes presented here in all its cinematic glory.

    • It really does stick out in terms of how ahead of its time it was. It’s so fast-paced, in your face, violent, action-packed, and full of so much story that it really is bursting at the seams. It’s just so damn good.

      • bringjoy

        I couldn’t get any of my non-fan (‘biased’)friends and family members who dismiss watching “all cartoons” outside of “Disney animated features” to check-out “The Transformers: The Movie” until AFTER Michael Bay’s own INFERIOR (And, “UNCHARISMATIC”) 2007 “Transformers” film came-out.
        Again, my former-asshole (hence, the word: ‘assholes’) friends used to give me the “You’ve got to be kidding me look” when I recommended it twice for movie night, but they kept their mouths shut and went with it AFTER “Bayformers” came-out in 2007. Yeah, my former, asshole-friends were the “jump-on-the-bandwagon-types,” anyways. If something isn’t extremely popular and accepted by the mainstream, they simply would not check it out. Sad, but true, which is why they have no patience sitting down to watch one of Akira Kurosawa’s films or a classic from the Alfred Hitchcock collection. Again, those “judgemental and narrowminded individuals” are no longer my friends.
        Some people say that “2001: A Space Odyssey” was influential. Others say that it was “Apocalypse Now.” I place Nelson Shin’s “The Transformers: The Movie” from 1986 up there with them. It’s like when those stage play aficionados rave about “The Phantom of the Opera” and how revolutionary it was with its presentation and its music soundtrack. Well, I feel exactly the same way about “The Transformers: The Movie” today, because it really is a one-of-a-kind. To borrow from Orson Welles’s own “Citizen Kane,” THIS IS OUR ROSEBUD! If you were a boy who grew-up in 1980’s America (and my hats off to you Brits, too, who I have met quite a number of “colorful bunch,” in my travels overseas…), you know exactly what I am speaking of here when this film came-out at the exact right time in the 1980’s to fill that void “Return of the Jedi” left behind in offering us fans another “Star Wars-type film,” and this film delivered it all in spades. The energy. The excitement. The emotion behind it. Mere words cannot describe the experience of watching the film. You have to see it to “believe it.” :)

      • bringjoy

        I myself have personally found “The Transformers: The Movie” to be a great litmus test when it comes to “friendship.” Those who are open-minded to check it out are the ones who remain my friends until the end, while those who all gave me that peculiar “You’ve got to be kidding me here” look my way when recommending this film on movie night “are no longer my friends.”
        Now, it’s not a rule set in stone, but it is a 100% fact that all of my heavily-biased, close-minded, narrow-minded former-friends are no longer my friends, but they moronically watched Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies in droves WHEN it came-out in 2007, when they were all admonishing me constantly for being a big fan of the 1986 animated film, so I just couldn’t stand any of those shallow individuals any longer who are always the “jump on the bandwagon types.” They wouldn’t re-watch “Transformers” from their childhoods, unless Steven Spielberg gave his own “stamp of approval” on it, which is pretty sad man. I am sure you know exactly what I mean here.
        Close-minded people generally are not into films of this nature. “It’s a cartoon!” “Transformers, I am not watching that, unless Michael Bay directed it.” Yup, they are not my kind of people there, but were people who were unfortunately stuck with me as my friends way back in middle school and high school, and into my 20’s. But, thankfully, that was a very long time ago in my own precious life here in a more comfortable present. You are way better-off befriending “open-minded” individuals in life, and I learned that the hard way knowing what my likes and dislikes are now, firmly in my adulthood years.
        You should like “whatever you like,” regardless of what anyone else thinks. Again, I am glad I have personally left “all of those narrow-minded nothings” for good here. They were the exact opposite of what this very film’s message preached to its, hopefully “more open-minded, young viewers” back in its day: “‘Till all are one.”

        • bringjoy

          Now, my wife and I have watched this film numerous times together, so you know I have found a winner here. She usually leaves the room whenever I watch a film she is not into, but with this one, she’s sat through it numerous times, and really enjoys listening to its rocking musical score. Again, it truly is a “one of a kind film” here, man. :)

          • She sounds awesome, and the exact kind of partner one should look for in life. One who is willing to share their life and find interest in the things you dig (and vice versa for sure.)

        • I can certainly say this about the flick, either you “get it” and love it, or you don’t and, not hate it, but could take or leave it. I think the folks that tend to fall in the latter camp have a hard time following the film because of its frenetic pacing and are taken by surprise by the deeper storylines in the flick that they thought would be all surface. I have run into some folks over the years that judge flicks like this sight unseen or as something they haven’t seen in 30 years as just kid’s crap, but I think these people lack a little bit of that joy in their heart that they has AS a kid. It’s a hard thing to hold onto, but that is sort of the whole point of this site, trying to look at all the stuff we grew up with so that people can rediscover that joy.

  • bringjoy

    As we “TransFans” celebrate the 30th anniversary of “The Transformers: The Movie” around the world this year with a brand new 4K Blu-ray, check-out my “30th Anniversary – Compendium” of this spectacular, 1986 animated-film, right here:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092106/board/thread/260951035

  • bringjoy

    Would Matthew Broderick have made a better vocal-portrayal of “Hot Rod?”

    For that matter, any one of the following “young, Hollywood-name-actors” in 1985?

    Including Matthew Broderick, also for your consideration:

    Matthew Modine
    Matt Dillon
    Michael J. Fox
    Michael Jackson
    Michael Pare
    John Schneider
    Emilio Estevez
    Rob Lowe
    Ralph Macchio
    Nicolas Cage
    Sean Penn
    Eric Stolz
    C. Thomas Howell
    Anthony Michael Hall
    Anthony Edwards
    Andrew McCarthy
    Leif Garrett
    Scott Baio
    Willie Aames
    Judge Reinhold
    Val Kilmer
    Eddie Murphy

    Unfortunately, someone like “box-office poison” George Clooney would not make this list, because even though he was a featured player on “The Facts of Life” at the time as the young handyman “George Burnett,” he didn’t become famous until 1994 with NBC’s “ER.” Same goes for actors like Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Robert Downey Jr., Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, Ian Ziering, Billy Zane, James Spader, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Christian Slater, and Jon Cryer who were in the business, but didn’t become famous until “after” 1985.

    Tom Cruise filmed Top Gun in the summer of 1985, and The Color of Money in early-1986 starring Hollywood legend Paul Newman with Martin Scorsese directing, so he already knew his Hollywood future-career was set to be in “the stratospheres.”

    … Obviously, Charlie Sheen (“Carlos Estevez”) would have made quite a “peculiar” Hot Rod, if you ask me!! 

    Now, I am serious here, because Broderick just sounded so smooth and was able to grab the audience right away when he calmly voiced the adult Simba in 1995’s The Lion King. Judd Nelson, to be honest, brought a lot of enthusiasm to the role of Hot Rod, but his voice was heavily-robotically-modified in post-production to get rid of “the whole gruff with an attitude, John Bender” out of him. With Broderick, no such heavy post-production would have been necessary to make his voice “sound-believable” as the youthful Hot Rod.

    Just look at it this way: Leonard Nimoy still sounds like an “older-version of Leonard Nimoy,” here. Robert Stack displays the same ominous voice he used narrating “Unsolved Mysteries.” Yup, there is no mistaking that that’s Lionel Stander voicing Kup, if you’ve ever seen an episode of “Hart to Hart.” Eric Idle is recognizable to the ears for his masterful-comic-timing from “Monty Python” fame. Even, Orson Welles “whose quiet voice was turned-up in sound, and was sped-up in post-production” sounds extremely-recognizable to the discerning audience to his “larger than-life-vocal-display-of-dominance” as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941).

    The only time Nelson sounded naturally like himself in this 1986 animated film was when while he was joy-riding up in the mountains to get a better-look at the incoming Autobot shuttle, he jollyfully says: “Why settle for a peak, Daniel, when you can see everything from *Lookout Mountain?*” (That, totally sounded like “John Bender” there, unlike his heavily-robotically-modified voice for the rest of the film.)