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BEAST WARS is the TRANSFORMERS Feature Film We Need

I had all but written off film versions of Transformers after every subsequent Michael Bay sequel was bloated, misogynistic, and ultimately incomprehensible. Nostalgia alone made me like the first one, and that faded with later viewings. And yet, the most recent trailer for Bumblebee, directed by Laika’s Travis Knight, looks incredibly good–full of nostalgia, yes–but also finally capturing the heart that made the original Transformers cartoon so great. And now I finally think the world is ready for my favorite iteration of the franchise to get a big screen adaptation: the oft-derided, under-loved Beast Wars.

Beast Wars ran from 1996-1999 on first-run syndication, and hit me right as I was in that all-too-important toy-buying age of 12-14. While I definitely watched the G1 Transformers and had several of the toys, Beast Wars was the show I connected with more, with its memorable characters and more complex, often heart-wrenching storytelling. It’s a series that, for many financial reasons, was forced to focus on its main characters and their interpersonal relationships. The good guys didn’t always get along, and the bad guys weren’t just one-dimensional.

The story is set several hundred years after the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, focusing on the descendants of those groups, the Maximals and the Predacons. (Yes, just as on-the-nose as ever in the naming convention). While pursuing a Maximal research vessel, the Predacons trigger a deep-space vortex, causing both ships to crash land on a primitive planet (it ends up being pre-human Earth). While the planet is rich in energon, the robots’ power source, it’s too strong for them to be exposed to it at length. As such, they have to take the form of local creatures; the Maximals take the form of mammals–and later birds–and the Predacons take the form of insects and reptiles, even a couple of dinosaurs taken from fossils. Both groups need to try to repair their respective ships and get back to Cybertron, and they end up fighting each other. A lot.

Beast Wars had a lot going against it at the time. As one of the first fully-CG animated series, its look is incredibly dated by today’s standards. The character designs are good, but the rendering leaves everyone looking smooth and sort of shiny. Due to this, the backgrounds were incredibly bland and basically just open landscapes. Aside from a few animals and one episode’s some primitive ape-men, the main characters are the only players, meaning no human sidekicks. Some Transformers fans also had a big problem with robots disguising themselves as organic creatures instead of like vehicles and objects as they were accustomed to.

I certainly concede a lot of these points, but I think the characters are what drove this series and could drive a feature film as well. You have Optimus Prime’s descendant, Optimus Primal (yes, I know, also very dumb), who commands the respect of his crew like his ancestor, but is much more prone to emotional outbursts. He’s the father figure much more than the military leader, and he often has to settle squabbles between Cheetor and Rattrap (try to guess what animals they are). The crew’s engineer/science officer Rhinox is possibly one of the most interesting characters in all of Transformers, always thoughtful and introspective, but with has a firm sense of duty. For the movie, they could also bring in the vastly underused Airazor, a female transformer who takes the form of an eagle, and actually write her properly.

The Predacons are led by Megatron, who takes the form of a Tyrannosaurus rex. This version of Megatron is much more conniving and less shrieking than his G1 counterpart. He is generally surrounded by incompetent numbskulls, and a few of the Predacons in the first season are killed off and replaced with better characters going forward. So for the feature film, we keep Waspinator–an audience favorite–and bring in Blackarachnia–another of the show’s stand-outs–and a few grunts like Inferno or Quickstrike to round out the baddies. Or, hell, use all of the Predacons from the show, since it’s going to need to have some legitimate stakes, and more bad guys will overwhelm our heroes.

And, no, I haven’t forgotten the show’s most popular and best character, and I think he could be the main plot of this movie: Dinobot, the velociraptor. Dinobot was originally Megatron’s second-in-command, and much like Starscream in the original series, he longed to overthrow Megatron and rule in his place. Except, instead of being sniveling little worm, Dinobot is a stalwart warrior with a strict moral code, that just happens to include backstabbing and treachery if he needs. Early on in the series, Dinobot loses a duel with Megatron and the defects to the Maximals, trying to overthrow Optimus to lead the Maximals to take revenge on Megatron. But instead of ousting him, too, Optimus ultimately invites Dinobot to stay with them, and it’s through this relationship between Dinobot and Optimus the movie can reiterate the franchise’s themes of friendship and fellowship, on top of huge robot smash-em-ups and explosions.

Beast Wars eventually developed an astounding roster of characters a film franchise could use in sequels and utilize some of the best latter storylines, including a star-crossed lover plot with Blackarachnia falling for goody-two-shoes, chivalrous to the Nth degree Silverbolt. The series has developed a devoted fanbase, but it still receives way less love than the first generation. Hasbro is in desperate need of some branching out, and Transformers seems to be the only property working for them right now, so why not try something different, with animals becoming robots, and if you need to set it in the present day so you can attach a big star, give it a jungle setting perhaps. It’d have to be better than setting it in the time of King Arthur, right?

Images: Hasbro

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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