Between 1983 and 1987 one of the most iconic cartoons of my youth was in full effect. During that time, in 1986 to be specific, a movie came out that might have been the first film I went to see. It had everything – Action, Drama, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Heartbreak, Love, Fear, and some Horror. It was filled with stars new and old that were able to give performances that transcended the era that the film was released. That film, the film that changed my tiny little mind ladies and gentlemen, that film was “The Transformers: The Movie”. It is based on the TV series and the Hasbro and Takara toy range.
Brief Plot: A planet-sized transforming robot is carving a path of destruction across the universe, a war-ravaged group of friends must come together to defeat the odds and save existence.
Detailed Plot: In the year 2005 the war between Autobots and Decepticons is at boiling point. No longer restricted to their home planet of Cybertron a massive conflict occurs on Earth which takes heavy casualties on both sides, no greater than the leaders of both sides; Optimus Prime and Megatron. Worse than losing their influential leader Optimus Prime, the Autobots find out about the existnce of a planet sized transformer called Unicron, that is tearing a path of destruction across the universe consuming planets and destroying life as it goes. While some of the Decepticons are rebuilt and reborn thanks to Unicron’s power, the same cannot be said for the Autobots. However, on his deathbed, Optimus Prime foretold that one of the Autobots will rise from his rank and use the power of the Matrix of leadership to light the darkest hour of the Autobots. Until all are one, the future of the Autobots and Decepticons is uncertain.
Film Stuff: With a runtime of 85 minutes the budget for this film was $6 million. While it was not necessarily received as a box office success the film managed a massive cult following, and it was not just kids either. This animated classic was made by adults with kids in mind, but it’s every bit an adult film as it is a kids film.
Directed and co-produced by Nelson Shin who came to this off the back of directing “My Little Pony” (1984)… Ok, importantly he had worked as a producer and supervising producer on 98 episodes of the Transformers series so he was in the right place here. Shin made his name as an animator on various cartoons, including “The Dogfather“, “The Pink Panther“, “Doctor Snuggles“, “Spider-Man & His Incredible Friends“, “Dungeons and Dragons“, and various Warner Brothers cartoons too (Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, etc) – all of which are awesome FTR! With Shin being a co-producer, the other people in the production role were Joe Bacal and Tom Griffin.
The film was written by Ron Friedman, who also had a wealth of experience in his art, including “Get Smart“, “The Danny Kaye Show“, “Gilligans Island“, “Bewitched“, “I Dream of Jeanie“, “Happy Days“, “Wonder Woman“, “Charlies Angels“, “Starsky and Hutch“, “The Dukes of Hazzard“, “G.I. Joe“, and “The Fall Guy“. Despite Friedman writing for the film there were a lot of rewrites, a lot of which were inspired by the toy manufacturers who wanted to make sure their latest products were on show, and that their old range of toys were given send off’s.
The film acted as a bridge between season 2 and 3 and takes place 20 years after season 2. With Hasbro pulling the strings the film was also a way to kill off old character and bring in new ones to support the range of toys they were producing at the time. Noticable deaths included Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Ratchet, Prowl, Brawn, Wheeljack, Windcharger, Megatron, Starscream, Skywarp, Thundercracker, Shrapnel, Kickback, Bombshell, and Huffer.
Toei Animation Vice President Kozo Morishita supervised the art direction of the film. Toei Animation studios were responsible for bringing the transformin robots to life.
CAST: If you knew the TV series then a lot of the voices in this film were familiar. The production team managed to rope in existing voice actors as well as some new names, and some of them were big draws too.
- Orson Wells (Unicron) (“Citizen Kane” (1941)), it was his final film before he died in 1985 aged 70. He died months before the film was released. It was said that he didn’t enjoy the job as it was just voicing a big toy that fought smaller toys, but it is said that some of his lack of enjoyment was down to his deteriorating health.
- Robert Stack (Ultra Magnus) (“Airplane!” (1980), and a myriad of TV series appearances)
- Leonard Nimoy (Galvatron) (“Spock in “Star Trek“, like forever and ever! And of course other TV and film too)
- Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime, Ironhide) (he probably voiced your childhood – check out his body of work!)
- Frank Welker (Megatron, Soundwave, Frenzy, Rumble, Wheelie) (he also probably voiced your childhood!)
- Michael Bell (Prowl, Scrapper, Swoop, Junkion) (another that probably voiced your childhood!)
- Neil Ross (Slag, Bonecrusher, Hook) (he voiced your childhood too!)
- Judd Nelson (Hot Rod/ Rodimus Prime) (“The Breakfast Club” (1985))
- Lionel Stander (Kup) (“Hart to Hart” (1979-1984))
- Eric Idle (Wreck-Gar) (“Monty Python“)
- Scatman Crothers (Jazz) (“The Shining (1980)), it was also his final film, he died aged 76 months after the release of this.
There were lots more voice actors on this film, the above list isn’t at all exhausted, but I’m trying to keep within a word limit for this review. Check out the cast for the film and I’m sure you’ll find some actors who may surprise you to have been credited.
Music: The musical score for the film was arranged by Vince DiCola, the soundtrack which supported and accompanied it featured various rock bands and artists.
The main Transformers song for the film was performed by Lion. Also included in the film was Stan Bush’s song “The Touch” which was inspired by a line in “Iron Eagle” (1986) and was originally written for “Cobra” (1986). Stan Bush also had the song “Dare” included, and Spectre General had “Nothin’s gonna stand in our way” and “Hunger” included (Spectre General was a made up name because the Canadian Heavy Metal band’s regular name of Kick Axe was deemed a little too violent for kids). “Weird Al” Yankovic also got a song in the film, “Dare to be stupid”. The soundtrack to the film became a sought-after item, and even to this day CD copies of it are a desired item.
Wrap-up: OK, so this is not everybodies cup of tea, and yes, it might have been a whopping great big commercial for a toy range – but come on, it was awesome. Like all films there are issues; some continuation problems; animated transformers in the wrong place at the wrong time due to rejigging things around; some minor plot holes; some repeated animation cells – but all this can be forgive.
Transformers the movie has some paralells to the “G.I. Joe” animated movie in the same year (the way Duke is killed off early for example), and strangely enough some parallels to, of all films, “The Godfather” (1972) (The big boss is gunned down early in the film, power is passed to the next in line but he’s not quite ready for the responsibility. It’s the young whipper snapper that ends up running the show). This film had plenty of emotions for its audiences, highs, lows, humour, and tears. Yes, it could be considered violent with characters going to war, others dying, and threats to humanity and universal life – but by today’s standards it isn’t out of place and the themes aren’t too dark at all. Is this film any scarier than any of the following films “Watership Down” (1978), “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial” (1982), “Toy Story 3” (2010), “The Lord of the Rings” (The animated 1978 version), “Home Alone” (1990), “Fantasia” (1940), “Pinocchio” (1940), “Bambi” (1942), “All dogs go to heaven” (1989), “Dumbo” (1941), “The Dark Crystal” (1982), “The Neverending Story” (1984)… the list could go on. The point is, yes “Transformers” may have looked violent and dark, but it’s no worse than films that came before it and films that came after it’s release. Films should not be to blame for the failing of parenting or discipline. This film never turned me into a thug, and I can’t recall reading any court cases where witnesses have cited this film as inspiring them to go on a murderous rampage.
I love this film, it is still in my collection. Despite being a 40-something year old this is a go-to film for a good time. Perhaps it’s nostalgia that drives my love for this film, but I don’t care, it makes me happy. I’ve recently introduced my nephew to this film, and he sat through the entire film and was unusually quiet as he enjoyed every minute of the film. Awesome soundtrack, great plot, lovely animation, imagination, creative, and acting talent that managed to deliver fine performances – and even had some character arcs to work with too. This may not be Shakespeare, but hands down this beats the Michael Bay live action films any day. If you want to watch a great animation that works as well today as it did in it’s heyday you could do a lot worse than this beauty.