Over time, Transformers: Rescue Bots has become my favorite Transformers show because it strikes the perfect balance between seriousness and levity, crafting a wonderful cast of human and Autobot characters in the process. The characters may not stray far from archetypes, but this is fitting considering that the show is aiming at much younger audience. Even within those confines, Transformers: Rescue Bots finds interesting ways to spark the characters off each other. It certainly helps that I can always find genuine excitement and humor in all its episodes. While I like some episodes more than others, I have yet to watch an episode I didn’t like, putting Transformers: Rescue Bots into the same rarefied kidvid territory as shows like Pound Puppies and Curious George.
The good news is that there’s another Transformers: Rescue Bots DVD out, bringing another five episodes of the show to home video. Unfortunately, this DVD, Mystery Rescue continues an unfortunate trend of totally arbitrary episode selection in Hasbro Studios shows on DVD. This isn’t a problem for a show with little or no continuity like Pound Puppies, but even continuity-lite shows like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Littlest Pet Shop have suffered on recent DVD releases, while the first season of Kaijudo was unjustly butchered on DVD in its last DVD volume. Transformers: Rescue Bots isn’t so continuity-reliant that the missing episodes on Mystery Rescue are a real problem, but the omissions are still rather annoying.
As always, Transformers: Rescue Bots is set in the sleepy New England island town of Griffin Rock, where an Autobot rescue team (Heatwave the fire truck, Chase the police car, Boulder the bulldozer, and Blades the helicopter) is teamed with the Burns family of first responders, with Dad and Police Chief Charlie riding herd over the Bots and his four kids: Kade the firefighter, Graham the civil engineer, Dani the medevac pilot, and young Cody the audience identification character. The first two episodes on this disc come from the show’s first season, and the first, “Countdown,” may be my favorite single episode of the show to date. A mishap at Doc Greene’s Archive leads to tiny flying robots swarming over Griffin Rock, making everyone they touch disappear. The Burns family and their Autobot partners are soon swamped by the disasters that ensue before they start disappearing, too. The situation rapidly turns into a race against time, as the remaining Burns family members, Frankie Greene, and the Rescue Bots try to figure out what’s going on before all the people town disappear. The episode is a perfect example of how Transformers: Rescue Bots can introduce an element of genuine peril without being too frightening for younger viewers. It’s also a marvel of storytelling efficiency, wasting little time in setting up the problem and then continuously raising the stakes as the minutes tick by. It all works beautifully from start to finish and, like the best of the best shows on the Hub, “Countdown” has as much to offer grown-ups as it does to kids.
“The Haunting of Griffin Rock” is a fun little mystery that injects a bit of the supernatural into the normally tech-heavy show. Ghosts seem to be appearing throughout Griffin Rock, spooking the natives and causing no end of headaches for the Burns family. While it’s not too hard to figure out the big twist, it’s not trivial either, and it’s hard not to get a “Eureka” moment when you realize what’s really going on no matter when it happens (as I witnessed personally while watching the show with my five-year old son). This episode is also a good example of how the show avoids turning Cody into a know-it-all Ensign Crusher noodge, keeping him from dominating the show in unrealistic or annoying ways. He’s a bright, energetic, and genuinely good-hearted kid, but (as in this episode) is a supporting character just as often as he’s the lead.
Inexplicably, Mystery Rescue skips over the two-part season one finale and the first five season two episodes. Strictly speaking, there’s only one truly missing plot element, and it’s easy enough to figure out that it happened from context in subsequent episodes. Still, considering the long hints dropped throughout the first season, it’s exceptionally annoying that the big reveal wasn’t included on this DVD, especially since there is no very good reason for these episodes to be missing.
“Spellbound” introduces Madeline Pynch, a scheming rich industrialist, and her spoiled, over-privileged daughter Priscilla: both new potential antagonists to the Rescue Bots and the Burns family. “Spellbound” plays around with mind control storytelling tropes, as Chief Burns starts acting oddly after he finds a mysterious cell phone. Soon, the entire town of Griffin Rock seems possessed, including 3 of the 4 Rescue Bots, all mumbling “the project is the priority” in a monotone. “Spellbound” is a wonderful exercise in suspense, since the audience is shown what’s happening long before the characters have any chance of figuring it out. The added knowledge leaves us on tenterhooks hoping someone will catch wise before it’s too late, and still manages to keep motivations a secret until the very end.
“Blame the Gremlins” is mostly Kade’s episode, though it begins with a cracking pre-credits teaser that gives Dani a moment of truly hardcore badassery. When Kade’s childhood fears of gremlins re-asserts itself, the resulting nightmares keep him sleepless enough to impact his effectiveness as a first responder. He tries to cure his phobia through a visit to Doc Greene, resulting in an entirely predictable technical mishap since that’s just how the show works. The gremlins are brought to life as tiny creatures intent on draining all sources of electrical power dry, causing no end of mayhem as a result. I find Kade to be one of the most interesting characters on the show, since he’s a near-insufferable jerk, but never to the point that we dislike him. He’s proven his mettle enough times on the show and received no small amount of come-uppance for his arrogance, which lets us laugh with him and at him in equal measure. It’s a remarkable balancing act to pull off, and the show has gotten better at it as it has gone on.
Finally, “Feed the Beast” toys with horror movie tropes, as Cody and the Bots spot a Sasquatch-like creature from Griffin Rock lore. Nobody believes him until a series of strange break-ins and thefts start occurring. The episode pulls a great head-fake, making you certain you know what’s happening before a few sudden twists throw you right off that path, leading up to more fun surprises as the truth is slowly revealed. It’s also a nice spotlight episode for Graham and the sensitive bot Boulder, and I greatly appreciate the way Boulder takes special pains to emphasize understanding over hasty action, and finding a non-violent solution to the problem.
As with all of Shout! Factory’s Transformers: Rescue Bots DVDs, Mystery Rescue gets a fine anamorphic widescreen presentation and a solid Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There are no bonus features at all on the disc. The giant gap in episodes is unfortunate (especially since a season set of the show doesn’t seem to be forthcoming), and one hopes the next release will fill that gap.