In the mid-eighties, The Transformers were everywhere. On television, in toy stores, and on plenty of licensed merchandise ranging from toothbrushes to dinner plates. However, after a few years, The Transformers suffered the same fate as Jem and the Holograms and He-Man: Masters of the Universe. The fans outgrew the franchise, and the series was no longer popular, and therefore, no longer profitable.
That's until the mid-nineties, when a mish-mash of Japanese and American television footage called Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers took over the airwaves. Like the The Transformers before them, the Power Rangers were everywhere—television, toy stores, licensed merchandising. The competition took note, and suddenly everyone was morphing, and it was usually into something robot and/or animal related—in the Power Rangers’ wake, you also had VR Troopers, SuperHuman Samurai Syber Squad, and the cult book series Animorphs.
Enough time had passed since the heyday of Transformers mania, so what better time than during this craze of morphing and big robots to go for a reboot? Also keeping up with the times, the animation style would not be traditional—rather, they would use a relatively new and exciting form of animation called "computer animation." For those readers who were born in the nineties and are used to most cartoons being animated by computer, this was a huge deal. The animation brought new depth that traditional hand-drawn animation simply couldn’t pull off. The timing of this decision could not have been better—Toy Story, the first completely computer animated feature film, was a massive hit and Canadian television import ReBoot was just starting to take off.
There was one flaw with this approach to the “new” Transformers—while the animation and robot forms had changed, the basic story had not. Two groups of fighting robots wind up on a mysterious planet due to a shift in the space/time continuum, and each group tries to stop the other from obtaining a rare artifact that could destroy civilization. For Beast Wars, this meant changing the Autobots and Decepticons to their futuristic descendants, the Maximals and the Predacons. The mysterious planet, once again, is Earth, but in the prehistoric ages. The artifact in question is the Golden Disk, and serves as the catalyst for the battles between the animal robots.
The problem with keeping the original story and placing it with relatively new characters (the leader of the Maximals is Optimus Primal and the leader of the Predacons is still called Megatron, but a “different” Megatron) is that if the original story is good enough for the fancy new show, then why not just keep the robots and the animation style, or have a completely different storyline featuring the animal robots? Having this weird hybrid of cartoons seems to cheapen the original, and sets the tone for future series involving The Transformers.
The original premise for the revitalization of the Transformers franchise was to have the original characters placed in new bodies and set in the future, which would have made more sense than turning the beloved Autobots and Decepticons into morphing animals. Although there was an animal element to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, it was not the be all and end all—the robot element was more important, as it was the united dinosaur robots (pardon, zords) that won the battles against evil, not the animal robots on their own.
Overall, Beast Wars could have been a great way to revive a once powerful cartoon franchise. Instead, it became hyper-trendy with the animal element and computer animation. This alienated old viewers who were excited to hear about the return of Optimus Prime only to see a gorilla robot in his place, and lost the new viewers, who were entranced by the larger robots and typical teenagers of Saban-produced television shows partially imported from Japan. Although the Transformers franchise has recovered due to Michael Bay’s film trilogy and the decision to bring back Autobots and Decpticons to newer animated series, it was still sad to see what could have been a great revival turn into almost every other kid-oriented television program in the nineties.
“6 Classic Kids Shows Slapped Together From Recycled Material” by Maxwell Yezpitelok, Cracked.com, October 14th, 2011 http://bit.ly/o6hi0b
“Beast Wars: Transformers (cartoon)”—Transformers Wiki http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Beast_Wars_(cartoon)