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"Voltron Force: New Defenders Trilogy": Did Anyone Bother to Form The Head?

Years have passed since Voltron, defender of the universe, was decommissioned after a final victory against the forces of evil. Its members are scattered. But three of the Galaxy Alliance’s Flight Academy students have discovered a mystery related to its decommission, just as a new civil war begins. The evil Prince Lotor is ready to unleash a new set of Robeasts on the galaxy, and it’s up to Voltron to reassemble. With three new cadets and Keith on the run from his former allies, the real question is: Who’ll form the head?

Voltron was one of those shows that, pardon the pun, was more than the sum of its parts. An adaptation of Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (rather than a run-of-the mill mech import), Voltron was assembled by connecting plots, much like the way Robotech and later Power Rangers franchises would pull unrelated source material into one larger adaptation. It did much better in America than in Japan, and the story was later continued in the CG series Voltron: The Third Dimension. But that series failed to spark any interest, leaving the field of combining and transforming robots to Power Rangers and Transformers for the next few years.

Voltron Force, the first animated return to form since then, describes what happened years after the war’s end (much like Third Dimension), and adds three new characters to the mix: Vince, Larmina, and Daniel. The original five (okay, the main five—Sven’s presumably still out in the universe, having avoided the deadly fate suffered by his character in the original Japanese series) have aged a little bit, and all unleash new weapons in the form of the Voltcoms. Voltcoms prove to be a very specific attempt at Green Lantern rings, forming a weapon specific to each character.

The plot is rather simple: After the final battle with Prince Lotor, the lions that form Voltron went buggy and damaged the city, so they were put away never to be heard from again. Hunk, Pidge, Princess Allura, and Lance appeared to go about their lives, and Commander Keith went on a private mission to find out the truth behind their apparent sabotage. Three students are then chosen to stand up to the public distrust of Voltron and help clear its name and form Voltron once again.

There are enough turns (if not telegraphed) to keep viewers—especially the target audience—interested, but that also raises an important question: How much Voltron has the target demographic actually seen? We’re about a decade out from Toonami’s airing of the show, and around three decades out from its original run.

But its animation is Voltron Force‘s greatest and most obvious fault. No one claims that GoLion featured incredible animation for the 1980s, and Voltron: The Third Dimension was pretty weak for late 1990′s CG (and it looks shameful now). Voltron Force is as bad as some of those Stan Lee direct-to-DVD features. There’s no depth or quality coloring, and it just looks bad, which is a shame, because you can tell there’s some good stuff waiting to be unleashed. Character designs aren’t horrid; the use of a CG Voltron is well-done; and some direction is used to good effect. Sure, fake widescreening or comic book paneling for effect is overused and overwrought, but at least it tries something. Even simple touches, such as a display in the bathroom showing a water droplet for faucet use and a flame for hand dryer, suggest that there’s some quality planning here. It all just falls apart when you get to the final animation stage.

Music is largely functional, with sparse use of the original theme put to good effect, but the new theme song is horrendous. Voltron at no point needs a rap soundtrack, though its inclusion almost makes the superior theme song’s use all the more rewarding. Sure, Swizz Beatz may be a Grammy-winning producer, but it doesn’t mean pedigree outranks quality. Voice actors are fine, although it’s funny that Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime in the original Transformers and the like), who did the narration for the classic, is absent, but Garry Chalk (Optimus Primal and Optimus Prime in a number of series) has a role here.

Voltron Force gets off to a decent start with this movie, but it needs to improve. Good direction never comes to the fore, good pencil work is hampered by bad animation, and good plot points are too obvious to anyone (except, possibly, the target audience). At best, Voltron Force is worthwhile as background noise, but skip the intro and try not to pay attention to the animation.

Voltron Force will debut on Nicktoons on Thursday, Jun 16, at 8:30pm (ET/PT).

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