Orson Welles lay dead, his final project an animated feature about robot cars from a distant planet, knocking hubcaps and heads off of one another in pursuit of a glowing cube. Such is life, I suppose, and had Welles lived a tad longer, he could have hung his hat on something that wasn’t a supporting role alongside Eric Idle. Prestigious that may be, the former Python and the Oscar-winning master of cinema are not predictable bedfellows. Still, Unicron and Wreck-Car were bound to appear together at some point, but it is an odd one under these circumstances. Possibly? The only part of Transformers as a concept I am aware of is that the Hot Wheels promotion was rather good, and the Michael Bay attempts are also available.
Its jargon is brief and light, not entirely distracting from the overwhelming anthropomorphising of trucks and cars, but just enough to engage an audience with unique displays of characterisation. When the terms “Autobots” and “Decepticons” can be exchanged for insults and played with relatively easily, it allows for director Nelson Shin to adapt his script around the world of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and company, rather than these robots around his vision. It works rather nicely, and it has an approach to it that feels both friendly and fixated on the ideals that come from an ensemble of robots looking to beat each other senseless.
But it is not all that often that we get to see cool robots bashing circuit boards or snapping spark plugs. Its writing leaves much to be desired, effectively boiling down to a collection of obvious observations and pithy scenes of 80s cheese. Seeing a young boy and his friendly, oversized robot from another planet fish while waiting for the return of the boy’s father is, as expected, filled with awful one-liners, groan-worthy writing and the occasional guitar riff. It is, after all, the 1980s. We cannot linger on characters that do not feel like they are repressing their desires and emotions. They must be black and white, clear as crystal, and never devolve from their position as out and out hero, or shady villain. It would work for a twenty-minute pocket on television, but it is a struggle for a feature film.
Flashy lights, animated atrocities and a Saturday morning cartoon approach to it all, The Transformers: The Movie has enough detail and story for newcomers to the series, and enough expansion on the world around them for recurring, veteran fans of the show. Its lighting is frenetic and hurts the eyes and ears, seizure-inducing at times, like that gag in The Simpsons but without the humour. But as the soundtrack blares out of the speakers and “Eric Idle as Wreck-Gar” appears on-screen, there is a comforting realisation that this good piece of animated fun is just that. Fun, light, and an attempt at blinding those who wish to see robots prat about, whacking each other in the head. There is not more than meets the eye here, but nothing more than that is needed.