Anytime I go back and watch a cartoon from my childhood, I’m wary. You never know if the show was actually good or you didn’t know any better and just thought all the bright colors and explosions were cool. Unlike some of the classics I watched as a little kid like Masters Of The Universe, Transformers or M.A.S.K., I was a bit more discerning when Beast Wars came on in 1996. I was 13 of course and I really dug this show.
And thankfully, I enjoyed it again after watching Shout Factory’s collection of the whole series. When I wrote about M.A.S.K. I noted that I was surprised that it was still pretty funny, but overall really goofy, for the most part though Beast Wars is just plain good. The set-up is like this, thousands of years in the future (same continuity as the 80s toon), Decepticons have evolved into Predacons while Autobots are now Maximals. Megatron (not the same one) takes off in a spaceship with Optimus Primal and his crew giving chase. They hit a space/time warp that crashes them on a planet inhabited by animals. There’s a ton of Energon around which is bad for Transformers apparently, so they wrap themselves in animal or insect bodies. From there it’s what you might expect, the Predacons are bad and the Maximals are doing what’s right and keeping them from spreading their terror across the galaxy.
But, it’s not all that simple, thankfully. Sure, you’ve got some pretty basic cartoon plots like “all the good guys go blind!” or “the good guy in the bad guy’s headquarters!” but the creators also did a lot of new and unexpected things. As soon as the Predacons land and get their alternate forms, Dinobot starts giving Megatron a bunch of shit for being incompetent. You think this is pretty general Starscream territory and are kind of waiting for it to be over and then Dinobot just bounces and becomes a Maximal. Better yet, he stays one (at least through the first season, I can’t remember what happens in 2, 3 and Beast Machines). That’s not the kind of thing you’d see in a cartoon from the 80s, something like that would last an episode and wind up coming off as super corny.
There’s also a pretty clever plot device where, before crashing, a bunch of protoforms were released. Theses are basically blank Transformer bodies waiting to be booted up. I believe they’re Maximals, but we see pretty quickly that Predacons can reprogram them, which raises a lot of philosophical questions that I’m going to tackle in another post. This not only gives them something to do other than fight over Energon and also gives the potential for new characters for either side. As much as I dug the main characters (from Cheetor who reminds me of my cat and I like how he pronounces his name “Cheater” most of the time to Terrorsaur who screams “Terrorize” like he’s in a black medal band), it’s always fun to see what new TFormers will be coming up and which side they’ll be on. Really fun stuff.
The most practical praise I can give this set of DVDs is that I watched all four discs of the first season in relatively quick time. After getting through the first disc of the M.A.S.K. set, I enjoyed the experience, but figured I could take a break before moving on since there’s no real through line to the episodes. With Beast Wars, though, I was always interested in what was going to happen next. What’s happening with the Energon? Are they going to get off planet? What’s with that strange floating island? Who’s going to get the next protoform? There’s a lot going on and I’m excited to move on to the next season. Not only that, but it got me interested in watching the Transformers animated movie again, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid, as well as the G1 animated series. I’ve got Transformers fever, gang!