As I stated in my previous review, Transformers: Robots in Disguise carries a lighthearted charm with the promise of weighty foreshadowing and epic storytelling. I was excited to see the antics Bumblebee and his crew would come across. Transformers: Robots in Disguise’s first DVD release contains the first five episodes and provides just as much fun as the 2-part premiere.
Robots in Disguise stars Bumblebee, a street cop tasked to return to Earth for a vital mission by Optimus Prime. He reaches the planet just after the Autobot prison ship, Alchemor, crashes into the woods, unleashing a barrage of Decepticon prisoners. Fortunately Bumblebee isn’t alone in this quest. Accompanying him are junior cadet Strongarm, a by-the-book cop; Sideswipe, a rebellious fun-lover; Grimlock; an aggressive, but enthusiastically friendly Dinobot; and Fixit; the nerdy guardian of the prison ship. Along for the ride are two human companions, the father-son duo of Denny and Russell. Meanwhile, a recurring subplot deals with the deceased Optimus Prime undergoing trials provided by the ancient Primes in order to thwart an upcoming evil.
Robots in Disguise’s greatest strength is its characters. The cast members are heavily-focused, given specific quirks and dilemmas that motivate their backgrounds. Though paint-by-numbers, the diversity between cast members provides endless source of interaction and hilarity. The first five episodes displays expert levels of pacing that slowly, but surely introduce the overall show.
The two-part opener does a bang up job setting up the premise of the story. Bumblebee’s struggles are especially effective since they carry the central plot. His constant frustrations to keep the team together shine in the pilot episodes, ensuring a dilemma that we can sympathize and relate with. I find it notable that the primarily protagonist isn’t a wide-eyed youth who’s just starting out, but a veteran warrior who’s been shifted to a new position that forces him to question whether he’s under Optimus’ shadow or not.
“Trust Exercises” centers on the bickering feud between Sideswipe and Strongarm, as the two diametrically opposed personalities are forced to work together. Though the outcome is predictable, the episode spices it up at the end when Strongarm is kidnapped, causing the both of them to improvise a solution instead using of the standard heroic team up. This episode introduces Steeljaw, the show’s primarily antagonist. He’s instantly the most interesting and potentially deepest character in Robots in Disguise. One of the Decepticon fugitives, Steeljaw quickly claims he’s turned a new leaf, desiring a world for wayward Decepticons like him to live out in peace. With his suave voice and charismatic know-how, who knows if what he says is true?
“More Than Meets the Eye” focuses on Fixit. While he mostly stays on the sidelines, Fixit’s nebbish looks doesn’t stop his earnest behavior when he tries his hands out in the field. In spite of his geeky mannerisms, Fixit is fairly sassy and if one scene is anything to go by, he possess a great deal of physical strength that belies his Mini-Con appearance. It may hint why he’s the sole guardian of a dangerous prison ship and proof the episode title wasn’t just chosen to reference the franchise’s chief catchphrase.
The DVD concludes with “W.W.O.D?”, an amusing episode that thoroughly lampshades Optimus Prime’s nobility in all its tongue-in-cheek glory. Specifically, it rips into Peter Cullen’s infamous voice when Bumblebee tries to imitate his former leader. It stands out as a unique beast by gently poking fun at an infamously beloved part of Optimus’ package. This is also the episode where I really warmed up to Denny. I stated in my first review that neither humans enticed me. This is still true of Russell, who’s either a sourpuss for lame reasons or a bland figure that changes personality and motivations on a whim depending on the plot. However, Denny has grown on me. I was afraid he’d continue the long line of lazy, incompetent fathers, but he proves to have his head in the game and is cleverer than he looks.
The DVD contains one extra, a short behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of Robots in Disguise. Disappointingly, at a paltry three minutes, there isn’t anything substantial to absorb.
Transformers: Robots in Disguise: A New Autobot Mission doesn’t have much to offer outside of the bare minimum, but a show isn’t ruined simply because it plays its narrative straight. The cast of characters are entertaining and their struggles to function as a team is handled beautifully. The first five episodes contain a substantial amount of meat in spite of its monster-of-the-week format. There’s plenty of laughs, actions, and story to go around that audience of any age can dig into.
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