As I wait patiently for G.I. Joe to take another shot at a cartoon series after the uninspired slice of Americanime that was Sigma 6, I was anticipating the debut of the ninth incarnation of a Transformers television show since the turn of the century. And I have been a sucker for the franchise since I was a kid, so as long as they don’t try Beast Wars ever again, I’ll always be open for another rendition. After the Prime series rocked my socks off, Robots in Disguise (the second show to bear that title.) has a mighty hill to climb. I won’t hold any basis for that by simply looking over a pilot episode, time will tell. Created by the same team of Transformers Prime (minus Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci), Disguise takes place within the same universe, a long time after the events of the aforementioned. Right off the bat, it looks like this will not be as dark a story that Prime told, for parents who feel the themes were probably way too serious for a young audience. I personally don’t believe in sugarcoating things for kids, but I was a 90’s child and I don’t have any of my own, I’ll just say if you thought Transformers Prime was too scary and Rescue Bots too fluffy and adorable, then this show will hit the right magic number to appease both audiences.
STORY: One of the advantages of having a successive title that is linked so closely with its predecessor is it almost negates the need to tell yet another origin story. Young audiences familiar with the previous work should already have a solid foundation on what to expect. I don’t anticipate any heavy-laden themes to run rampant throughout Robots in Disguise, the subtitle already tells anything you need to know about Transformers. Bumblebee returns as the central leader of this show, which I’m all in favor, he has always been one of the most progressive Autobots throughout history and giving him the mantle of a young upstart learning what it takes to be leader is a great story to tell…….much better than just HANDING THE MATRIX TO HOT ROD!!! 26 years later, and nothing will piss me off more than that!! You are still one of my most hated fictional characters, I will talk about Transformers on this sight, and many others, just to come up with an excuse to tell the populace how much I hate you!!!!
Bumblebee is great in this role. His devout loyalty and nobility were shown by how well he cared for and protected Raph. (I promise to shed my thoughts on the final season of Prime and Predacons Rising, I had so much to say, but got swamped in work). While in pursuit of Sideswipe (famous from the third movie, Transformers: Damn I’m Good [Actual title] [[no, it isn’t]] [[[but it should’ve been]]], Bumblebee sees a reflection/hologram/ghost of Optimus Prime, telling him to go to earth. His reasoning is vague, but seeing that Optimus “died” last we saw him, Bumblebee looks to hop on the nearest space bridge immediately. Relunctantly accompanied by his rookie cadet, Strongarm, and Sideswipe in tow, the trio arrive on Outskirts, USA, looking to uncover the mystery behind Optimus’ cryptic message. Yeah, best put them in the middle of nowhere, since placing Robots In Disguise in a populated area only results in them blowing up Los Angeles. This is a promising opening scenario that establishes familiar faces and introducing new ones.
Bumblebee: So far the only returning character from Prime and the leader of a new team of Autobots. Bumblebee is probably the second most popular Autobots ever (a debatable third, factoring Grimlock), so I actually like this change of pace. While Optimus Prime is my favorite fictional character of all time, I’m going to call it like I see it; he has really been a monolog machine in recent years, simply talking at great length in his super cool Peter Cullen voice. With Bumblebee, it’s a fresh start, and I hope this series doesn’t pull some kind of bait and switch and rip the rug from underneath him. Optimus Prime is very awesome, and we know what we are going to get. Why not try something different? A younger team of Autobots with a young, valiant leader could be pretty cool. Will Friedle reprises the role and is decent. I haven’t been the biggest fan of his, but he did really well as a young Liono in that wrongly cancelled Thundercats cartoon (#SaveThundercats) and that essentially his same role here. His transformation is his slick Camero from the movies.
StrongArm: An elite cadet and seemingly by-the-books novice, I think I’m going to be a big fan of hers. She may not be the kickass pile of awesome that Arcee was, but StrongArm (who reminds me of Small Foot from GoBots for some reason) has a charming naïve nature about her that could lead to some entertaining paths for her character development. She comes off like a peppy teenager who really wants to impress her boss in her first job, and is completely well-meaning, but comes off slightly overbearing. Constance Zimmer voices her and I thought she sounded very much like Joan Cusack. She transforms into a Humvee.
Sideswipe: The renegade hotshot (different Autobot) of Robots In Disguise, Sideswipe seems to be every prima donna Autobot sports car in Transformers history rolled into one. Traxx, Smokescreen, SunStreaker…I’m surprised he hasn’t said, “Hey, watch the finish!”. Speaking of finish, it looks like he’s rocking a bitchin pompadour like Space Dandy!! I love it!!
Since he can’t use his catchphrase, he settles for mildly going against the grain, though you can easily see a heart of gold beneath the brash snobbery and smooth tongue. Darren Criss plays the voice. It doesn’t stand out as much as Daran Norris’ role as Knockout, and since the party-boy, fun-loving Autobot schtick has been done before, there’s not much new, but he’s the perfect Yin to Strongarm’s Yang and I look forward to seeing that play out. He transforms into a fast, red car. Lambourgini, I think. I don’t know cars…
Grimlock: I’m not sure how I allowed Transformers Prime to get away without including the Dinobots, Grimlock is definitely back on TV!! Just as massive as he is clueless, Grimlock rules!! He was held captive for reasons undisclosed and broke free upon crash landing. This leads almost immediately into a fight with Underbite. He’s played by Khary Payton, who is showing more versatility (except during the incredibly obnoxious Teen Titans GO!) in each show. He isn’t Kevin Michael Richardson yet, but he’s good at playing Grimlock’s meathead persona and seems slightly more open to reason than past incarnations of the character. His Tyrannosaurus mode looks sweet, slightly inspired by the War of Cybertron games, it seems. He is also bearing a Deceptacon logo, I’m sure more will be discussed of that in coming episodes.
Fixit: Since it seems that Perceptor will miss out on yet another Tranformers TV show, Fixit looks to serve as this series’ mechanic and genius. He’s a minicon, a callback to the Armada series, and looks to have all the answers for any given problem, perhaps. His color scheme made me think of Wheelie and that’s what I don’t need! I think he’s actually kind of adorable, especially when standing next to Russell. He’s human size, but has this massive head and face, it’s pretty cute. Mitchell Whitfield provides the voice and ironically it put me in the mind of Perceptor, so this is a win.
Human Characters: Our central human character for this series is Russell, a spunky, yet relatively reserved child who lives with his dad, Derry (?), Denny…one of those. Either way, it’s an odd name. They work in a junk yard. I’m sure Russell will probably wind up bonding closely with Sideswipe much the same way Raph and Bee did in Prime. It’s super early to get a peg on their personalities, but they seem to have an estranged relationship, given their body language. Russell is voiced by Stuart Clay and Denny is played by Ted McGinley.
Optimus Prime: Optimus will play some capacity in this show, but that seems to be determined. Perhaps he will be some kind of spiritual guidance for Bumblebee, all I know is that he didn’t really offer too much of a reason for Bumblebee to come to Earth even while getting there. Time is available to properly explain things, but to me, Prime showed up because Transformers, and what would be a first episode without the identity of the franchise? I might have come off dismissive towards him earlier, but after the movies felt they could get away by just having Optimus Prime “do” awesome things (decapitating Deceptacons, parachuting out of airplanes, and spouting catchphrases from a 2o year old movie to appease the hardcores) , but not understanding what makes the character so amazing. Transformers Prime had a much better grasp of him, but the origin of the Primes and Orion Pax…almost made his selfless heroism and valor feel more inherited and bestowed from heaven rather than just having him be that.
ANIMATION: Robots in Disguise is rendered mostly in CG cel shade, but also has some hand drawn animation as well. It creates a very unique look and provides a contrast to the darkened atmosphere of Transformers Prime while boasting the vibrant colors of Transformers Animated. The style looks to come off a little jerky, but during action sequences, it move rather smoothly. The other thing to note is, much like several series prior to, it uses anime speed lines for certain sequences. I bring this up because I remember a time when I didn’t see this in American cartoons. After the collapse of Central Park Media, networks were looking for excuses to kick anime off its programming block. Sci-Fi’s AniMondays came and went several times and Toonami was on and off, yet when kicking anime off their time slots and blackballing shows in the mid 2000’s, cartoons like Totally Spies, Teen Titans, and Nick’s TMNT completely use a lot of physical gags and comedic timing. I’ve always found that hilarious.
IN CLOSING: I like this pilot episode, I’ve probably talked way too long about a pilot than I should, but seems pretty promising. I can guarantee I will talk more about it. Until then, I hope to see what this series has to offer and I look forward to more episodes.