Transformers 3 opens this week, but I will not be going to see it. I won’t even wait and rent it when it comes out on video. Blame the first live-action Transformers movie that came out several years ago — it turned me off to any other movies in the franchise. It also is the reason I decided not to go see the G.I. Joe movie, either, because I know it can’t hold a candle to the awesomeness that was these cartoons that I would watch every afternoon when I got home from elementary school in the mid-to-late ’80s.
G.I. Joe was my favorite of the two, but Transformers was also cool — “more than meets the eye,” as the theme song declared (but I’ll stop there — I still remember the whole thing, as well as most of G.I. Joe‘s. You can thank me later for sparing you.) And I wasn’t immune to the merchandising, either. Although my brother’s collections were much larger, my parents weren’t completely sexist with the toy purchases — I had one G.I. Joe action figure (Lowlight) and about three different Transformers — a dune buggy, a space shuttle, and an airplane. I couldn’t tell you their names, although I do remember that they were all revealed to be Autobots when you rubbed your finger on the heat-sensitive sticker.
Watching Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and all the rest fight to keep the Earth safe from the evil Decepticons was fun, and of course they always saved the day with a minimum of destruction, absolutely no bad language, and no product placement. Seriously, the live-action version of Transformers was just one long GM commercial, and they had to change essential characteristics of some of the characters to make it so! If they were hoping to hook the twenty- and thirty-somethings like me that cut our teeth on the cartoon by making an updated, more adult version, they certainly didn’t succeed. Unfortunately, they just don’t get it, though, because they keep insisting on cranking out sequels. Maybe they’re targeting the younger set that didn’t grow up with the animated version and just don’t know how awesome Transformers can be, but that’s not saying much for the good taste of the next generation.
They haven’t yet messed with my all-time favorite ’80s robot cartoon, though — Voltron remains thankfully un-adapted thus far, although there are rumors that that might change. It had several advantages over Transformers. Number one, you could play Voltron on the playground because the main characters were people. Find a slide or jungle gym that could double as your lion spaceship and you were set. Or just run around while you pretended to fly your lion. The joining of the lions to make the Voltron robot becomes problematic, but I think I mainly played Voltron by myself or with my brother in the backyard, so that never was an issue. At any rate, you didn’t have to have toys or try to figure out how to transform from the robot to the vehicle and back.
Number two, one of the main characters of Voltron was a chick. At first she was just the princess who lived in the palace where the lions and their pilots were housed, but then something happened to one of the guys and all of a sudden she was elevated to the very cool status of kick-butt pilot of the blue lion and vital member of the Voltron team. No swooning and waiting for the hero to come to the rescue here — she was a go-getter, with an awesome pink-trimmed flight suit to boot. Not a bad role model for a young, impressionable, tomboy-ish girl, especially since you didn’t see any girl robots on Transformers.
Finally, although “Autobots wage their battles to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons,” Voltron was a one-robot universe defender. That’s what his tagline said, even: “Voltron, Defender of the Universe.” (It really is too bad you can’t type words to show the metallic robot voice and inflections. That would have really come in handy several times here!) He protected everyone everywhere from the enemy, not just one enemy force attacking one little planet, and he did it by himself with only the help of his blazing sword (something Optimus Prime never had). Plus, he had a really cool robot-forming sequence:
I hope things fall through for a live-action film and that they never do to my beloved Voltron what they have done to Transformers and G.I. Joe — it would be a crying shame to desecrate it that way. What someone really needs to do is to introduce today’s kids to the animated excellence that was classic 80’s cartoons — to Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Voltron I could add so many others, like He-Man and Thundercats, and the list could go on and on. It makes me feel old to say it, but in this case it really is a true statement — you know, they just don’t make ’em like they used to.