A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this animated series, which ran for four seasons in the mid-1980s, is the show that kicked off so many other Transformers series, as well as the successful big-budget movie franchise. It focuses on the cartoon clashes between two groups of giant robots -- the evil Decepticons and the noble Autobots. Expect plenty of robo-combat and lots of explosions, but few actual injuries. The series was originally based on a line of popular toys; the toys are still available, as are many other Transformers products, but the cartoons are at the heart of Transformers empire.
What's the story?
A long-running war between two groups of intelligent robots -- the evil Decepticons and the noble Autobots -- has left their home planet Cybertron stripped of energy. Seeking new resources, the Decepticons are thrilled to discover Earth; their leader, Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker), is determined to steal the planet's entire energy reserves. Head Autobot Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) vows to protect Earth from his enemies' wicked schemes and befriends young Spike Witwicky (Corey Burton), who helps the giant robots learn about humans. The animated TRANSFORMERS series follows the ongoing conflict between the two robotic forces, featuring plenty of robo-battles and mechanized combat.
Is it any good?
The show takes its name from the robots' distinctive shape-shifting capabilities. Though they typically assume human-like forms -- with arms, legs and heads -- they each have an automated alter-ego, including jet planes, trucks, cars, and other nifty designs. These quick-change transitions are a key part of the show's appeal, and they make for a pretty cool effect when the Autobots and the Decepticons gear up for battle. Of course, shape-changing robots also make ideal playthings for young boys; in fact, the products came first, and series was created in large part to boost sales of the Transformers toys. No surprise, the plan was a huge success.
Even though the Transformers franchise has now moved way beyond the products, the series holds up well. Yes, the animation is very clunky by today's standards, but the transformation effect never gets old, especially for the legions of die-hard fans who grew up watching Optimus Prime slug it out with Megatron. The series also deserves credit for placing natural resources at the center of the story, a prescient move that seems very current today. Bottom line? The show looks its age, but it's still fun.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about marketing and product tie-ins. This show was created explicitly to promote a line of robot toys. Do you think the series functions well on its own, or does it seem like an extended commercial? Kids: Does it make you want Transformers toys? When does a show cross the line between entertainment and advertising? Is there such a line?
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