Out Of Time: Transformers: The Movie
The title might catch people’s eye considering that even with the under-performance of Transformers: The Last Knight at the box office, Michael Bay’s franchise is still going relatively strong. But we’re not here to focus on that. No, we’re here to focus on the original Transformers movie. The 1986 animated film.
When it was released in August of 1986, it didn’t set the box office on fire the way many people were hoping it would. It opened in 14th place and was the 88th highest grossing film of that year.
Considering the immense popularity of the cartoon and the fact that it featured many well-known actors voicing the Transformers (Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle and Orson Welles in his last role) it’s reasonable to ask: Why did it not become the blockbuster that a lot of people were hoping it would? I think there are a few factors at work here:
1: The movie was released about a year after the cartoon and the toy line’s popularity had reached its peak. A similar thing would happen with the Masters Of The Universe movie a year later.
2: The fact that it was tied directly into the cartoon (it served as a bridge of sorts between the second and third season) may have been confusing for people who weren’t regular viewers.
3: SPOILER WARNING. Negative word of mouth regarding character deaths. In the film, several beloved Autobots die, most notably Optimus Prime. A lot of parents were probably having to comfort kids who were in tears at the death of beloved cartoon heroes. The overall tone of the movie was significantly darker than a lot of people were anticipating.
Going back to what I noted earlier about this tying into the series, this was intended as a sort of bridge between seasons two and three. Season three was supposed to introduce a whole new line of Transformers.
4: Critical reception was pretty low. While many critics are not fans of the Bay entries, fanboy tendencies are higher now than they were in the 80s.
So those factors combined caused the Transformers movie to not do too well at the box office. This, combined with the failure of the earlier My Little Pony movie, caused the GI Joe movie to get bumped from a planned theatrical release to video (as well as airing as a four-part episode of the cartoon).
Now we come to the central question: How well does Transformers: The Movie hold up 31 years after its original release? Do the Michael Bay films blow it off the screen?
Let’s address a few central issues. First off, the animation could have been better. In some ways, one senses that the name actors as voices was a compensation for cutting corners in the animation department.
The second factor I noted above also limits its appeal to a large audience, That’s the most likely reason for why Transformers has a cult following these days as opposed to a larger one.
But for that cult audience, this movie holds up quite well. In fact, I’d wager that for most people within five years of my age either way who watched the cartoon as kids, this is the Transformers movie. Forget the big budget noisefests. Those basically use the Transformers as an excuse to show money on the screen for two and a half hours. This one was made by people who were to put some actual thought into the characters and was willing to take some chances. There are some actual surprises here (as I noted above) while the Bay films are quite predictable.
So while Transformers: The Movie may not be a forgotten masterpiece, it actually holds up well as an entertaining movie. It’s way more entertaining and involving than any of Bay’s entries and it actually gibes the characters things to do as opposed to using them as decoration. Yes, the Transformers has the touch. It’s got the power.