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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.