30 Day Film Challenge – Day 6

Posted: June 15, 2021 in Uncategorized

Another cheat, but with good reason this time.

So, for my “favourite” animated movie, I had a lot to choose from. Most Pixar movies would work. When I was a kid, I loved the Disney animated Robin Hood and Lady and the Tramp. I also love (and watch every year, either at Christmas or Halloween) The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I was very close to choosing that one.

But no. My heart truly only belongs to one animated movie. The only problem is I very recently wrote about it on this very website. Can I write a whole new column on it? Do I have anything new to say?

The truth is, I have nothing new to say, but I could also not in good conscious pick another movie to write about. So, check out what I had to say about one of my favorite movies, animated or otherwise, from childhood or adulthood, and then check out the podcast we recorded about it and then the interview with one of the creators we conducted on the podcast, and then my link tree for all my other dumb crap.

And now, my post from December 2020 on my “favourite” animated “mouvie.”

Transformers The Movie (1986)

I would like to say that this selection is pandemic-related, that rediscovering passions I had in my youth is an attempt to find some joy during these sad and troubling times. And there might be a little truth to that, but I can’t necessarily blame the pandemic. Not only have I been doing a pretty childish and nerdy podcast for over ten years, but this movie has been one of my favorites my whole life, and my friend John and I saw a big screen re-release a few years ago and enjoyed it just as much as we did as kids. I’m not even going to say that the pre-movie drinking had anything to do with it. Ok, maybe a little bit.

However, recently on the afore-mentioned podcast, my friends and I (including the afore-mentioned John) interviewed one of the writers of Transformers: The Movie, as well as several episodes of the cartoon it was based on, Flint Dille, and that definitely reignited my interest on this film. You can listen to the interview with Flint here, as well as our previous episode where we did a deep dive into the movie here. But for a more personal take, read on:

First, a little background: The Transformers has been through a lot of changes (or should I say “transforma… nah, I won’t) over the decades, but for my money, and probably a lot of other fans agree, it doesn’t get any better than what we like to call “Generation 1.” I’m talking mid-80’s, benevolent Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, battling evil Decepticons, led by Megatron. Prime turned into a big red semi, and Megatron turned into a gun. The gun part was only changed because it became controversial, not because a toy company was trying to make a buck, but overall, in its purest form, that was Transformers in the early-to-mid-80’s. I was 9-10 years old, and getting both the Prime and Megatron toys on one Christmas might have been (say it with me) “the best Christmas ever.”

While the cartoon that was inspired by the toys was still popular, Hasbro figured those toys weren’t selling anymore, so the bigwigs got together with the creative folks and decided to make a movie to introduce a bunch of new toys. And since they weren’t going to make those old toys anymore, the mandate was to kill off all those old characters. Hey, it’s just business, right?

However, the commercial did have a little bit of a spoiler in it, saying, “Does Prime die?” The accompanying visual was Optimus Prime getting shot a bunch of times. Of course, as a small child who didn’t understand how the world works, I thought there was no way that Optimus Prime would die, because no one ever died on Transformers or any of my cartoons. The good guys always won and they moved on to the next episode, and rarely did any episode impact the others, unless there was a new toy that was introduced. I had no reason to believe this movie would be anything other than a longer episode of my favorite cartoon.

Well, I hope you haven’t seen it, because I’m dropping the spoiler here; not only does Optimus Prime die, but a whole bunch of Transformers die. In fact, most of my favorite characters died (or if they were Decepticons, their dying bodies were made into newer Decepticons, Megatron included, which was a pretty cool way to introduce new characters, in retrospect.) Looking back now, I realize that this is high on the list of influential things that happened to me. I mean, finding out Darth Vader was Luke’s father or finding out there was no Santa Claus were rites of passage for me, but watching Optimus Prime literally turn grey and die? That was heavy stuff for a ten year-old. And it happens in the first 30 minutes of the movie. How do they do the rest of the movie without the main character? This was unprecedented, to say the least.

Another spoiler, they do finish the movie, the good guys do win and a new Autobot leader arises, Rodimus Prime. And the new characters weren’t that bad. And then the TV show picked up where the movie left off (in the year 2005) and basically my whole world changed. Even when they brought back Optimus Prime, things were different. And it all started with this movie. That’s why I’m still talking about it, nearly 35 years later. But this movie wasn’t a cultural touchstone, like Star Wars, so what gives? Well, I’ll try to put it into words.

I was at a party once and had a conversation with a friend about why our generation wasn’t able to “let go” of our childhood, as we phrased it (as if it was something to be ashamed of.) He theorized that our generation had no Vietnam War-type event that thrust us into adulthood, and basically we just liked this stuff, so we never felt the need to move on. I think about Bruce Springsteen’s line in “Thunder Road,” when he says “Maybe we ain’t that young anymore,” and how he was 24 years old when he wrote that, but his theory on that was the Vietnam War had just ended, and nobody was that young anymore. The theory posited by my friend made sense then, but I’m not sure if it still holds true (maybe because we were drunk). I often quote John Hodgman when it comes to this stuff, who believes that “Nostalgia is our most toxic impulse,” but I don’t always know when it applies and when it doesn’t. See, like cholesterol, there’s good nostalgia and bad nostalgia. Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is just living in the past and hoping things can be that good again, and that’s bad. Good nostalgia is just appreciating things that were, and still are, great, like Transformers: the Movie. Does it bring back feelings of joy from my youth? Of course, but do I long to be ten again? Not really.

Unfortunately, for many years I hid my nerdiness from the world as best I could, because I wanted to be cool. Needless to say, I failed at this miserably, because there’s nothing more uncool than not being who you are.

More Nostalgia for you…

I remember many years ago, when I was in high school, getting together with some friends to play baseball or whatever, and one of our friends drove to the neighborhood with the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack blasting through his tape deck with the windows down, and we all made fun of him a little, because it was the early90’s, and Transfomers: The Movie wasn’t really the cool thing for a high schooler to like or listen to. Looking back now, I definitely regret it. I wish I had come to the realization earlier that Transformers: The Movie was really cool no matter what decade you are in. Not that it would have been some kind of Back-to-the-Future-style life-altering moment, but I think I would have been happier if I just embraced these things instead of trying to pretend I didn’t like them. Not only like them, but in the case of this movie, really liked them. And having a conversation with the writer of the movie, and reading his book, and realizing that he had the same passion that I did, that it wasn’t just some gig he got all those years ago, that was pretty cool. They say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, and I can’t even say Flint Dille was a hero of mine, just a name I saw in the credits of my favorite movie and some of my favorite shows. And yeah, in 1986, there was a part of him that thought writing Transformers: The Movie was a gig, because he had other writing gigs, and still does (The guy had his hands in Pokemon Go, for God’s sake!) But knowing that he looks back at that time in the mid-80’s, when he wrote for Transformers and G.I. Joe and Visionaries and Inhumanoids, with fondness, like I do, that makes even my angry years worth it.

Of course, 2020 has been rough for a lot of people, but I will leave you with this; we should be at least happy that we live in a time when, after a hard day at work, you can get in your car and go to your chosen music-streaming service, punch up the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack, and blast it through the speakers while driving home, and all will be right with the world for that brief time. I know because I did that the other day, and all was right with the world. Even after the death of Optimus Prime.

  1. […] it’s not a movie I saw as a kid that makes me happy now because of the nostalgia factor (See my Transformers: The Movie post from a few days ago for that). This is a movie that I saw as an adult that somehow makes me […]

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