Bumblebee’s finest hour

Transformers

Like most of the men of my generation, I grew up watching Transformers in the ’80s; and like most of the men of my generation, I lost interest in the Transformers mythology after the original TV series ended. I was disappointed by what Japanese producers did to it after the US abandoned it (Headmasters, Super God Masterforce, Victory); dismayed with what Canadian animators did to it after the Japanese abandoned it (Beast Wars, Beast Machines); disturbed by what Japanese writers did to it after Canada abandoned it (Car Robots, Super Link, Galaxy Force); distraught with what American producers did to it after Cartoon Network imported it (Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon); and disgusted by what Hollywood studios did to it after Spielberg acquired it (Transformers: a Michael Bay film, Transformers: Animated).

With no knowledge or interest in the new characters or mythology, therefore, the toy line has held no interest for me since I was a child, and nothing of the ’80s toy aesthetic appeals to my sensibilities as an adult toy collector, either. The only Transformer toys in my collection are from the recent product lines aimed squarely at adult collectors, the “Binaltech” Transformers and the spare-no-expense “Masterpiece” line, all of which are scale-accurate reproductions of actual modern vehicles, feature rubber and die-cast metal components, extremely complex and exacting transformations, and price points far beyond what parents or children would be willing to spend… and they’re based on characters that haven’t been depicted in films or on television in over twenty years.

BinalTechs

I scanned these design drawings from a Japanese art book (yes, the Binaltech toy line actually has a glossy 160 pg. art book entirely devoted to it!) just to show you what a new Transformers TV series could’ve looked like, if only they’d based it on these toys:

Instead, this is what now fills the airwaves and the toy aisles.

Oddly enough, this new animated series has been well-received by much of the fan community… must be because it’s well-written and performed, ’cause it’s certainly not much to look at!

Anyway, one unfortunate omission from the Binaltech line was Bumblebee, the classic yellow Volkswagen Beetle that was to have been re-designed as a modern version of the VW bug, had Volkswagen actually granted them the rights to do so. (Unfortunately, we live in a much more litigious age now, and German car companies don’t like their products associated with war, see.)

Boy, that would’ve made a sweet Transformer!

Of course, practically anything would’ve been an improvement over the original toy…

…or so I believed, until I saw the hideous abomination that bears his name in the Hollywood film.

Movie Bumblebee

But all is not lost, for (unbeknownst to disillusioned ex-Transformers fans such as myself) a truly great Bumblebee toy was eventually released, as part of Hasbro’s appropriately-named “Classics” product line. Bumblebee is no longer a VW, of course, but we have only Volkswagen to blame for that. I never actually saw this toy for sale in stores, but when I saw one online, I simply couldn’t resist. Finally, a toy worthy of the classic character!

While he looks exceedingly large next to my Spike figure, you’ll see the figure is appropriately scaled to Bumblebee when displayed in vehicle mode.  This particular incarnation appears to be a Peugeot 206 GTI 180 (or as close an approximation as Hasbro could produce without having to pay Peugeot for the rights).

Scale, of course, will forever be a problem with Transformers displays, since the apparent size of the robots depicted rarely bore any relation to the scale of their alternate modes; Megatron (a handgun) stood as tall as Starscream (a fighter jet). As a result, displays that look right are never to scale, and displays that are to scale never look right. In my toy room, it boils down a simple choice; whether to display the toy in robot mode (based on the animated depiction) or in alternate mode (based on the actual scale of the vehicle). These three, for instance, look cool together as robots, but they’d look ridiculous next to each other as vehicles!

(Nemesis Prime, 1:24th scale Dodge Ram, left; Bumblebee, 1:32nd scale Peugeot 206, center; Starscream, 1:72 scale F-15 Eagle, right.)

You’ll find a proper review of the Transformers “Classics” Bumblebee here. Mine is the Japanese “Henkei” version, which lacks the white stripe and the black sticker on the roof of the US release, and is more in keeping with the original Bumblebee look… and it came with a mini-comic book, too!

Now THAT’s what the new animated series should’ve looked like!

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2 Responses to Bumblebee’s finest hour

  1. pagz says:

    Transformers never really gripped me the way other series of the 80s did. Not to say I didn’t love transforming robots, but I just never got that deep into the mythology, if it can be called that. I was more of a GI Joe/Star Wars kid.

    You should check out the new animated series. I think you’ll find the designs will grow on you. The series is very well performed. I’ve only seen the first 3 or 4 episodes so I won’t make a judgment about the overall writing, but the series starts off pretty strong at the very least. The toys from the series are also rather nice in that they manage to accurately capture the look of both the robot and vehicle modes, which is pretty rare in the transformers lines.

    I’d love to see an animated series with the designs you have on display here, but alas I expect that the work involved would make the venture to cost prohibitive.

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