Screen: 'Transformers,' Animation for Children
By Caryn James -- Printed August 9, 1986, New York Times

It wasn't quite pearls at the opera or green hair at rock concerts, but the audience at "The Transformers--The Movie" was de rigueur in its own small way. A girl who looked 4 or 5 carried a Transformer toy--part doll, part car, the toys represent robots that can be changed into trucks, spaceships and other high-tech objects. Across the aisle, a slightly older boy waved a Transformer comic book. As the offscreen dynamics reveal, the Transformers--enormously popular toys that became a television cartoon, then an animated movie--are the latest fusion of commerce and childhood imagination.

"The Transformers--The Movie," which opened yesterday at the Criterion and other theaters, has of course, a larger budget than the television shows, and uses it to aim for a broader audience than Saturday morning cartoon viewers. The film moves faster, features a rock-style score and has more complicated animation. These robots transform in a flash; the colors are shocking pinks and electric greens; the film is packed with one-to-one combat, large scale battles and exploding planets.

Despite these improvements, though, the movie is not for anyone too grown-up. It's a variation on a standard plot, in which the good Transformers, the Autobots, try to win back their home planet of Cybertron from their enemies, the Decepticons, who are aided by an evil, omnivorous planet named Unicron. There are lots of old favorite characters like the Dinobots--Autobots who transform into not-too-smart but superstrong dinosaur robots--and Starscream--the whiny, conniving Decepticon who's always trying to oust their seriously malicious leader, Megatron. The bright young hero is an Autobot named Hot Rod, who changes into a pretty sharp racing car and survives being thrown into a pool of robotic sharks on the planet Sharkticon [Quintessa--ed.].

While all this action may captivate young children, the animation is not spectacular enough to dazzle adults, and the Transformers have few truly human elements to lure parents along, even when their voices are supplied by well-known voice actors. Leonard Nimoy is the evil Galvatron; Robert Stack is the Autobots' short-lived leader, Ultra Magnus, and Orson Welles is Unicron. To adults it may seem like a cruel joke that in his last movie role Mr. Welles portrayed an entire planet, but then it sounds less like Mr. Welles than it does any deep and echoing voice.

Unlike most movie stars, though, the Transformers have offscreen lives and personalities that their fans will carry with them to the theater. Children have an advantage here, for they can project their playtime scenarios on the old friends and heroes in action on the screen, while parents may just wonder what the fuss is about.

"The Transformers--The Movie" is rated PG ("Parental Guidance Suggested"). One character uses a word you might scold your child for saying.


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