Friday, July 3, 2015

Beast Wars: Transformers (1996)


It has been several centuries since the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons came to an end. Their decedents, the Maximals and Predacons have inherited Cybertron and have been more or less living in peace (albeit not a happy one in the eyes of the Predacons). One day, a Predacon fanatic, named after the legendary Megatron, leads a team of Predicon extremists to steal a ancient golden disk and flees Cybertron. A lone Maximal exploration vessel, the Axalon, captained by Optimus Primal is called in to pursue the thieves and capture them. Fighting through time and space, the two ships crash land on a primitive alien world, which is discovered to be full of raw energon (a transformer's main source of power). In order to explore the planet, and battle their enemies both Maximal and Predacon must choose a animal form in order to protect themselves from the planet's harsh environment. Will Optimus and his crew mates stop Megatron from achieving his ultimate goal, or will they be left stranded on this mysterious planet?


Transformers: Beast Wars was a CG animated series that served as the primary promotion for Hasbro's Transformers toy line. The series' story was developed by Larry DiTillio and Bob Forward and was produced by Mainframe Entertainment in Canada, who had also created another CG animated series called Reboot. This series, along with Reboot were some of the first animated programs to consist entirely of computer generated animation. It consisted of 3 seasons and ran a total of 52 episodes.

As a child of the 90s my only experience watching the Generation 1 Transformers was through old VHS tapes and the subsequent movie. While I enjoyed them, I don't believe I had the same appreciation for the story and characters as other fans did. It wasn't until Beast Wars began to air on television that I began to sit up and take notice of the franchise, to the point of looking back at the older shows with a whole new appreciation. This was due to impressive animation and a well thought out story that dared to be both fun and mature.



The first few seasons of Beast Wars are definitely more episodic and light hearted, watching the Maximals adapt to their new surroundings and trying to stay one step ahead of their hostile neighbours. Some viewers may not enjoy the slow pace and the writing can be hit or miss (there are quite a few Transformer related puns).
 However it does offer plenty of time to get to know the characters and their dynamic with the other members of the crew. A particular highlight being the vitriolic friendship between the Maximal Rattrap and the Predacon turned Maximal, Dinobot. Although both the main lead and antagonist sharing the same name as the previous series, they are by no means the same characters. Which may seem jarring at first but the differences actually make both of the character even more entertaining. Beast Wars Megatron is manically ambitious to the point of hilarity and Optimus Primal is more of a explorer than a hardened soldier. Even some of the side characters introduced later in the show have become so popular that they have had cameos in plenty of other Transformers media since, such as Blackaracnia and Waspinator.

Later seasons began to encompass a long series of arcs, leading to the discovery of the alien world's history and Megatron's ultimate goal. All of which pay plenty of references to the original Generation 1 cartoon series in a way fans were not expecting. These seasons also seemed to get a slight animation upgrade with new character designs that made character expressions and movement look a lot smoother. One of the biggest surprises to me after rewatching this show is that even though the animation definitely shows it's age, it doesn't detract from the show at all. In fact, to me at least, it seems to give the show a distinct identity. Like animating it any other way or even trying to update the animation quality would take away an integral part of what makes Beast Wars so much fun.




Despite all of the initial hate that this show received when it was first released, it has gone on to be one of the most celebrated shows in the franchises' history and for good reason. It took the idea of telling a story to advertise these toys and went one step further with it. Pushing the boundaries of not only animation but how best to entertain it's target audience in a way that could surpass generational barriers.





 
Transformers: Beast Wars is available on DVD, in both individual seasons and the complete series collection.

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