The first visit to the cinema for anyone can be a memorable and important experience. Growing up as a fan of all things film-related, being taken to the my local cinema as a young five-year-old whippersnapper, the thrill of seeing one of my favourite television shows turned into a feature-length film proved more influential than I could possibly have imagined. Accompanied by my dad, we sat down in 1986, with popcorn and a drink to share and witnessed something magical. As the cinema lights dimmed and that now recognisable vision of flickering images being projected onto the screen, I knew this was something that I’d never forget.
Children’s cartoons have always been associated with marketing and merchandising. Toy companies such as Hasbro would come up with a new line of toys and then use cartoon television shows as a way of showcasing and advertising to young audiences. In the mid-1980s Hasbro had a string of success stories that helped shape a generation, the most famous of which was The Transformers series. Originally conceived in Japan, Hasbro bought the rights and created a backstory about two factions of robots; the Autobots and Decepticons who are fighting a never-ending for the galaxy. After two successful seasons as an animated cartoon, Hasbro released The Transformers: The Movie.
Set in 2005, twenty years after the end of the second television series, The Transformers: The Movie follows the Autobots, lead by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) defending their HQ against an onslaught by the Decepticons, lead by Megatron (Frank Welker). During the conflict and in a truly shocking change from the light-hearted nature of the television show, many of the original Autobots get massacred by a surprisingly merciless Megatron.
These acts of violence lead to Optimus Prime having a showdown with Megatron to decide the battle and attempt to save any other Transformer from being killed. It’s tough to relay exactly how momentous this one-on-one fight was for a child who had grown up watching the show. These two titans of the Transformers world had fought before, most notably on top of a dam in the early episodes, however with old favourites like Ironhide and Ratchet being so casually discarded there was a real sense that this would be the end of one of these two iconic characters. As it turned out, neither would make it through the film with Optimus succumbing to his wounds after protecting young Autobot Hot Rod (Judd Nelson) and passing over the Autobot Matrix of Leadership and Megatron being discarded by his fellow Decepticons, picked up by a huge planet-eating Transformer and being reshaped into Galvatron (Leonard Nimoy).
With the whole established Transformers universe status quo being shaken in the opening 20 minutes of The Transformers: The Movie, you would have thought that they’d bring in the new characters and let them fight it out in traditional fashion. However, while they were pushing the envelope in violence and much darker tones throughout, they decide to add the aforementioned planet-eating Transformer known as Unicron (unbelievably voiced by Orson Welles). He represented the truly memorable villain of the piece and allowed for an epic showdown that escalates the action and places The Transformers: The Movie above the basic television show.
Animated by using the Toei animation style of anime, The Transformers: The Movie represented a drastic shift from the standard animation of the television show. The deep colours and shadows employed during explosions and battles gave everything a certain heft and weight and added to the feeling that I was watching something unique and special.
As an adult cinema-goer, it is easy to dismiss films because of problems with narrative structure, pacing and bad acting. The Transformers: The Movie is not the best animated film of all time, in fact, it’s not even in the Top 30 Animated Films, but for a five-year-old me, experiencing cinema for the first time it truly felt like it. There are times when your own personal experience influences your opinion to the point of distraction. So despite the bizarre plot twist that drags the film to a planet of junk, a somewhat dated 1980s soft rock soundtrack and a finale that wraps things up in about 2 minutes, The Transformers: The Movie is not without a host of problems, but for me, as a naÃ¯ve five-year-old it represented so much more and I’m still willing to forgive it almost anything.