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"Challenge Of The GoBots" Decidedly Challenged

by on July 7, 2011

Mention “The GoBots” to anyone who’s seen Clerks II, and you will get this response: “The GoBots are the K-Mart of Transformers!” You can see their point.

The GoBots got a single, 65-episode series, and one movie where they battled a spinoff toy franchise, Rock Lords. The Transformers, meanwhile, garnered over a dozen television series produced by multiple countries and is getting its third summer movie (or its fourth, if you count the original The Transformers: The Movie). The GoBots featured minimal transformation capabilities compared to their Autobot and Decepticon foes, and…

Oh, let’s just list the similarities.

An American toy company acquires the rights to a Japanese toy line that focuses on robots that can disguise themselves, but they create a new storyline for them, in which heroic heroes led by their singular male leader fight crazed opponents who are willing to do anything to acquire special power. The war has been brought to Earth, where the heroes team up with civilian youths while the villains will inevitably team up with human threats.

Leader-1, meet Optimus Prime.
GoBotron, meet Cybertron.
Scooter? Bumblebee.
Nick Burns? Apparently, not your company’s computer guy. (SNL flashback, sorry).

The similarities are unending, except when it comes to being a success. It was a decade before the Transformers had to try something new to recapture the public consciousness (Beast Wars), but GoBots just came and went in three years (1984 to 1987). Hilariously, both got movies to promote new toy lines at the same time, which had critics assuming that one was a knockoff or a cash-in on the other. (For the record, the GoBots movie beat The Transformers to theaters, but the latter film had been in production longer.)

Indignities continue. The Challenge of the GoBots now gets a DVD release via Warner Archive.

The series plot, maddeningly, is uninventive on two fronts. For starters, it too closely tracks The Transformers‘ “escape to Earth for various reasons and fight alongside audience-relatable child characters” plot. Unfortunately, it interprets the plot through Hanna-Barbera’s late ’70s/early ’80s action-adventure style. So you have the goofy, cackling villain; the oddly accented female villain (who seems perpetually on the verge of taking off after Moose and Squirrel); and animation that just isn’t a good fit for giant robots. Characters such as Scooter come off as a goofy Bumblebee or as a transforming Jabberjaw, and it all feels as if it needs a laugh track. It would be a good decade until Hanna-Barbera got the action beats down in SWAT Kats (another Warner Archive release). At least it has a theme song that will drill its way deep into your brain, to resurface at the worst times. Movie theater? “The GoBots! The GoBots!” Buying groceries? “The GoBots! The GoBots!” Writing a review about Challenge of The GoBots? “The GoBots! The GoBots!” It’s a very minimal song, but something about those few beats and chanting of the name will echo and reverberate through your very being.

Warner Archive is known for releasing shows that wouldn’t otherwise have a chance on shelves (and in fact, most Warner Archive titles don’t ever hit shelves, being made-to-order), and since they’re not looking to be promoted by special features and the like, there’s none to be found. Even things you’d consider normal, like menus made for the disc, are completely nonexistent. If this was released by contemporary robot DVD releaser Shout! Factory, there’d be toy commercials, commentaries, notes on the original Japanese toyline Machine Robo, and the like. As it stands, there’s no word on if the rest of the series or whether the movie will ever be released on DVD, even in this format, so chances are high that things like this will be relegated to YouTube.

Challenge of The GoBots, like many other Warner Archive releases, stands out purely as an appeal to nostalgia, or for collectors’ sakes. Transformers fans may pick up the release to feel a sort of completeness with 1980’s transforming robots, but there’s nothing here that wasn’t done better or more memorably in other series. While to this day the Transformers transform and roll out, the GoBots should go back to where they came from.

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