Review: "Transformers Rescue Bots: Energize" & "Slugterra: Slugs Unleashed"
As I’m sure I’ve written before, I’d be shocked and dismayed at the way Transformers: Rescue Bots smashes little boy hot buttons by centering on rescue vehicles that turn into giant robots, except that it’s actually a really good show. The show’s second DVD, Transformers Rescue Bots: Energize, has just been released, and my only major complaints are the eight-month gap between volumes and the relatively paltry five episodes included on the disc. Otherwise, the show demonstrates impressive staying power and even begins playing around with elements of continuity and longer-form storytelling. It is surprisingly effective at both, as it is in presenting solid action scenes that communicate serious stakes and real consequences, almost always without being too intense for the target audience.
Set in the New England town of Griffin Rock, Transformers: Rescue Bots teams up the Burns family of first responders (police chief dad Charlie, brash firefighter Cade, brainy engineer Graham, hotshot medevac pilot Dani, and audience identification character Cody) with a quartet of search and rescue Autobots (grouchy leader fire truck Heatwave, straight-arrow police car Chase, sincere and sensitive bulldozer Boulder, and slightly cowardly helicopter Blades). All the episodes on this disc center on high tech gone wrong, requiring ingenuity and elbow grease to keep the citizens safe. While each individual episode can be watched as a standalone, the show still manages to have character and plot development as it builds on its own past. Having spent most of the first DVD getting acquainted with each other, the Burns clan and the Rescue Bots show a lot more cohesion in the five episodes of Energize. The show rewards those who pay attention to pick up little events, like the way Cade and Heatwave have largely stopped sniping at each other and in Blades’ surprising exuberance when Dani pulls a maneuver that would have triggered a much more negative reaction in earlier episodes. There’s even a return of the antagonist from the show’s very first episode, although in a much different context here, and a twist to the status quo in that episode’s closing moments that will play out in future episodes.
Of the five episodes on this DVD (“Cody on Patrol,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Christmas in July,” “Deep Trouble,” and “Return of the Dinobot”), three introduce a running mystery suggesting sinister purpose behind some of the tech that runs amok in Griffin Rock. In fact, the DVDs deviate from production and broadcast order, switching the last episode on the Roll to the Rescue DVD and the first of Energize to make it easier to see the thread in play. It’s all done well enough to ensure that kids won’t get lost while supervising adults won’t lose interest. I must also commend the show for the little throwaway bits clearly targeted at those supervising adults, like the numerous references to Jaws in “Deep Trouble” and a reference to Jurassic Park in “Return of the Dinobot.” It’s all good, clean fun that stands up surprisingly well to repeated viewings (especially appreciated considering how many times a young child will be willing to re-watch the same episode over and over).
As with the earlier DVD release, Transformers Rescue Bots: Energize delivers each episode in an anamorphic widescreen and, surprisingly, a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack (which is quite nice, especially in the more action-oriented episodes like “Return of the Dinobot”). The only bonus feature are printable coloring sheets in PDF format if you pop the disc into a computer. The only real complaint I have is the relatively short amount of content on the disc, and the length of time between releases. I find myself enjoying Transformers Rescue Bots almost as much as my young son, and am really looking forward to more, hopefully sooner and in greater quantity.
Slugterra is the other ongoing series with a second volume from Shout! Factory, and like Transformers Rescue Bots, I find my enjoyment of the disc slightly mitigated by its short length. Slugterra: Slugs Unleashed picks up the next five episodes of the adventures of the Shane Gang: leader Eli, spunky Trixie, tough cave troll Kord, and comic relief molenoid Pronto. The four (along with Eli’s signature slug Burpy) are on a mission to bring justice to the bizarre subterranean realm of Slugterra, where the land is linked to the strange little slugs used as willing, living ammunition in the show’s plentiful action sequences.
The first DVD, Return of the Shane Gang established the gang and the basic ground rules for Slugterra and the slug duels that form the core of the show, as well as the show’s main antagonist Dr. Blakk. Surprisingly, the next five episodes on Slugs Unleashed don’t feature Dr. Blakk at all, which means these episodes of Slugterra fall into a “bad guy of the week” formula. This might be why I didn’t find them quite as compelling as the episodes on Return of the Shane Gang. On the other hand, the show certainly doesn’t hurt for variety here, ranging from the race anchoring “The Slug Run”; the vaguely environmental concerns of “Shadows and Light” and “Endangered Species”; the mystery behind “Club Slug”; and the zombie story of “Dawn of the Slug.” While these episodes don’t directly push forward Eli Shane/Dr. Blakk confrontations, the long shadow that Blakk casts over Slugterra is still visible enough to maintain a sense of real tension. The sense that Blakk is such a pervasive influence on Slugterra in both overt and subtle ways makes him seem even more intimidating. In general, the combination of appealing characters, fun stories, a good sense of humor, and the weirdzo Western stylings make me more prone to overlook the show’s weaker moments.
Slugterra: Slugs Unleashed presents its episodes in anamorphic widescreen, and also surprises with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. The show looks and sounds fine, although there seem to be a few more moments in these five episodes where the TV budget shows through. There are some obviously recycled shots in “The Slug Run,” and Pronto looked a bit off enough times to be noticeable. Bonus features include a five-minute featurette on writing Slugterra and three more explanatory “Slugisodes,” two of which focus on how duelers recover their slugs after a duel, which has lingered in my head since the first episode. It’s an OK explanation, and is even alluded to in “The Slug Run,” but I wish it had made its way more prominently in the series itself. And, as with Transformers Rescue Bots: Energize, I find my biggest complaint is that only 5 episodes per DVD feels a little paltry, but at least Slugterra seems to be coming out more regularly.