BotCon is the biggest (only? I’m not sure) Transformers convention in the US, and Hasbro and other companies affiliated with Transformers make most of their biggest announcements there. Another BotCon concluded this weekend, and Hasbro has cemented another round of disappointing news about its Transformers Animated cartoon and toy line.
It looks like what they are basically doing is shuffling aside this fantastic cartoon series and toy line to make room for the toys based on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the movie sequel coming out this summer. From a financial standpoint, I suppose they can’t be faulted for wanting to make ROTF their premiere Transformers line for at least the next year. The live action movies reach outside the normal demographic of kids and adult collectors. Teenagers and even average adults pick up these toys after seeing the film. Prior to the release of the 2007 film, Hasbro vastly underestimated the demand for the movie toys, and it was near-impossible to find the more high-demand characters for months afterward as the company frantically rushed to produce more and more of them. Obviously they learned their lesson and are making plenty of room on toy shelves in anticipation of similar demand this time around.
The problem for some collectors, myself included, is that the movie line provides very little that we’re interested in. The main characters—Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, et. al., are only moderately retooled versions of the last movie’s toys. Gimmicks like including small figures of the film’s human characters aren’t a convincing reason to purchase a toy so similar to one you already have. Frankly, I’ve always found the movie toys aesthetically unimpressive. The movie robot designs are too complex to translate accurately into toys with moving parts that actually convert from one mode to another. They’re also so intricate that they are prone to a good bit of breakage and malfunction.
The bright spot in 2007’s movie line were the “Real Gear” robots that turned into (relatively) accurately sized replicas of common electronics like video game controllers, cell phones and digital cameras. This line was a great throwback to 80s toys like Soundwave the tape deck and Perceptor the microscope—realistically sized toys that kids could interact with on a different level. There are plans for new Real Gear Transformers this year as well, so I guess I can’t say that there are NO movie toys that interest me.
But whether you love or hate the movie lines, the whole transition has left a bad taste in many a TransFan’s mouth because of the complete abandonment of the Animated line. The three seasons of Transformers Animated represent the best TF series since the original show in 1984 (yes, I’ll even argue that it’s a superior show to Beast Wars). In addition to being a huge hit with kids, most of the adult fan community has eagerly embraced it thanks to dozens of homage characters and references. Seeing classic characters like Blurr and Ultra Magnus reconceived in the once controversial animated style has been a real treat. Animated had long-running story arcs and human characters that, for once, didn’t annoy the hell out of the fandom. It really had everything a Transfan could want from a TF series.
Likewise, the toy line was nothing short of a crowd-pleaser. Whereas I felt that the movie characters were unsuccessful as toys, the animated toys are incredibly accurate replicas of their TV show counterparts. With all the poseability and special features that we’ve come to expect from modern TFs, plus the personality inherent in the expressions and designs of the toys, the animated line was a joy to collect.
To have all that cast aside for the sake of the film is a terrible letdown. There are still a big helping of Animated characters that haven’t been realized in toy form, most notably Omega Supreme, a toy that would surely have been the crown jewel of the line as a Supreme Class robot. Even worse, toys that have actually been designed and readied for mass production have been canceled. Nothing’s more frustrating in TF collecting than seeing pictures of a ready-to-go toy mold, knowing you’ll never hold one in your hands. Adding insult to injury, the only planned releases for the Universe line are three repaints of Classics 2.0 characters.
I don’t get the logic here. The Transformers brand has been able to support multiple lines on toy shelves for years. At one point, figures for the Alternators, Titanium, Classics, Universe and movie lines could all be found in your local Target at once. So why the need to cancel the Animated line? The toys are selling well with both kids and collectors. It makes even less sense not to renew the show for a fourth season. Sure, Revenge of the Fallen will be gracing theaters this summer, but even so, why would Hasbro want to remove Transformers’ presence on Saturday morning television?
If there’s one upshot for me, it’s that I probably won’t be sinking a lot of money into Transformers toys for the next year or so. I’ve got one or two Animated figures I still need to track down, but I can’t see a single movie figure I want to own, Real Gear line notwithstanding. I look forward to seeing what Hasbro has planned after the movie line, but I regret the wasted opportunity to continue a crowd-pleasing line like Animated for reasons I simply can’t discern.