Ugly ROTF Transformers Toys

Hi, Everybody.

Gotta get something off my chest. As a die hard fan of the Transformers since age 9, it is a dream come true to see them on the big screen in live action situations. As a toy designer, I’m also quite impressed with how well the live action movie characters have been made into toys. Though, two items from the up coming movie really make me want to puke. You’ll find out why after I dig and delve for a bit.

I got my first Transformers toy, the Autobot Jazz, for my ninth birthday back in 1984. I have loved the Transformers ever since. As a child, as you’ll find unsurprising, I preferred playing with stuffed toys than with toy cars and trucks. I was utterly unimpressed by toy versions of machines of many kinds.
The only porsche I ever loved
When Transformers hit American TV screens and stores, I was immediately hooked.

I don’t know much about the history of Transformers, and without going into too much detail, I’ll say what I understand. Various lines of Japanese robot characters which had “alt” modes as machines, weapons and vehicles were acquired and branded under one name, the Transformers, and marketed to Americans. If I’m wrong, please point me in the right direction.

I’m dilettantish at best when it comes to the history and the expansive “why” behind the Japanese fascination with, and prowess at, robotics, robot toys, their function, design, implementation and application. But what stood out to me was the basic concept at heart; machine becomes humanoid.

Jazz, my first transformer
First I saw the toys in stores. I was fascinated. Friends started getting them for birthdays and such. I was jealous. Dad got me Jazz. I was thrilled. At last, I could relate to cars and machines. Even in vehicle mode, I knew there was a person waiting inside my new toy Porsche ready to come out and interact with hands, feet and face. The artist/creator/maker within me really resonated with the challenge of making all the humanoid parts fold up, become and fit within a realistic looking machine. I became quite impressed with the many applications of that challenge.

As the transformers line grew and changed, the standards were raised on points of articulation and poseability. The designs became better and better. Realistic machinery (or believable machinery, in cases of non-earth vehicles) now became even better looking, better functioning anthropomorphs.

The odd asymmetrical arm, or weapon instead of a hand popped up occasionally, and for the most part I enjoyed that. It’s okay to take liberties with anatomy. We’re talking about fiction and toys and imagination after all. But. I feel the need, as a lifelong, devoted disciple of design, and a throw-myself-in-front-of-a-train adorer of Transformers, to draw a line in the dirt, and take a stand on a couple of recent items.

The recent, live-action Transformers movie, and the new one coming out this summer, feature robot characters that are a lot more alien in appearance than the toys and cartoon characters we’ve known in the past. I understand this was a directorial decision made to emphasize the characters’ otherworldly origins. It took me a little while to warm up to these character’s sharp, jagged, covered-in-cutlery appearances.

Knifey Wifey
But these days I really like the alien robotic aesthetic. I think it works for the movie. As well, it raises the standard yet again for toy design. Everyday machinery must now convert into much more complex forms that still retain basic human anatomy and hold true to their alien movie nature. But recent characters for the 2009 movie represent an unfortunate departure from this high standard of conceptual design. For such a well-funded and well implemented couple of movies, the characters and toy versions of Demolishor and a new version of mega-popular female Autobot Arcee are just downright pathetic.

Fucking lame as terds
Look at Demolishor (the red and grey one pictured). He’s a Decepticon from the new live action film Transformers; Revenge of the Fallen. He’s made up of a teensy head, floating between two great big arms, and suspended by pegs over a massive, tipsy topsy wobbly wheel. Given the complexity and detail of the other characters in the new movie, this one doesn’t belong. This one, for that matter, barely fits within the Transformers aesthetic at all. Granted, there have been other Transformers with nontraditional anatomies, like Beast Machines Rattrap, who, in the cartoon had two wheels instead of legs. His well-designed toy version featured the option for wheeled legs or traditional ones with feet. It’s not Demolishor’s non-humanoid arrangement that bothers me. What bothers me is that such a great looking machine (the power shovel pictured) flubs and splays open into a gangling, clumsy-looking interchange of poorly supported and inarticulate parts.
Most of the power shovel’s mass is frittered away on the gargantuan shoulders and gorilla arms. Those titanic arms appear to have no forward articulation and look more like buttresses to the otherwise unable to stand figure rather than working limbs that reach, grab and pose. I imagine the other Decepticons have to feed him and help him go to the bathroom. The floating wheel atop all the dishevelment of Demolishor’s body is also a head scratcher. It looks like it could topple forward and roll off. What is it there for? Perhaps I’ll discover what it’s for in the movie. Perhaps the movie version of Demolishor looks incredible with that anatomy. Perhaps he uses his unique build in savvy, unpredictable, terrifying ways. I’ll know when I see the film. But I’m sure the toy version could have had a bit more effort spent on detail, design and transformation. He looks like a ride at the fair.

Similarly, the current movie version of Arcee, arguably the most popular and influential female Autobot in Transformers lore, has a wretched toy form. In the 1986 animated Transformers the Movie, Arcee was introduced to the world with a futuristic car alt mode. Very, very few attempts have been made to create a toy version of Arcee that remotely mimics the original movie version we’ve come to know and love. Many different toy versions of Arcee exist. Most of them are motocrycles. I think the vaunted character deserves a higher regard than this from those who make the toys.

Even though she wasn’t a character in the 2007 Transformers movie, there was a toy version of Arcee within that movie’s toy line. I liked that version, even though it was a motorcycle. Apparently attempts were made to animate that version for the 2007 movie. I was under the impression we’d see that version of Arcee in the upcoming Transformers movie, but apparently we will not. Quite a few rumors fly about which version of Arcee we’ll see in this movie, but if this is the toy we’ll get, I’m thoroughly disappointed. The red motorcycle pictured is a nice looking machine. It apparently unravels into a jointy intestine of a robot, with bits of motorcycle kibble hanging off of it. It needs a stand, for pete’s sake, because two wheels alongside each other do not support a body. In fact, two wheels alongside each other are not, in fact, legs (unless you’re Beast Machines Rattrap).

I feel about this toy the same way I felt Ironhide (and ratchet) from the first generation of transformers. His brethren transformed from amazing machine forms into very nice looking robots. Ironhide, on the other hand, started out as a red van (I have no problem with vans), which promptly lost its roof, entire cargo/passenger section and rear doors, leaving the windshield, grill and axels to become a scrawny looking runt of a robot, utterly undeserving of the name Ironhide.
The other 70% of his mass turned into some strange looking tank/sled/jetski thin with a cannon on it. Nifty concept, but inconsistent with the high standards set by the rest of the brand. Ironhide’s cartoon appearance was a much more appealing sight, and since then, attempts have been made to create a toy that pays homage to that cartoon form.

If only Arcee could have the same attention paid to her toy version. Collectors all over the world would go nuts for an Arcee toy that looks like Arcee. Enough of grabbing whatever transformer you want and painting it pink and white and trying to pass it off as Arcee. Enough building us up with CGI images of really rad movie concepts, then punching us in the neck with the (pictured) Red Spaghetti Cobra Monster.

I love Transformers and will remain a devoted fan. I hereby submit that the directors, decision makers and toy designers, however thickly buried within the Transformers world, escort ROTF Demolishor and ROTF Arcee to the kill room, do what needs to be done, then return to the drawing boards, having taken stock of the very important legacy which they now perpetuate, and start the heck over.

Images provided by www.siebertron.com, www.tfw2005.com, www.ntf-archive.de and wikipedia.