DiCola wasn’t the only person providing music for The Transformers: The Movie, however, as rock singer Stan Bush was set to be involved. Bush, who had provided vocals for artists such as Alice Cooper and Jefferson Starship, had written a track called “The Touch” to pitch for Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cobra which was eventually turned down by the producers. “And then the record label got it placed in the Transformers animated movie,” Bush recalls. “So we were like, ‘okay it’s a cartoon movie about transforming robots’. I had a nephew who had the Transformers [toys], and he was really quick at manipulating it and I thought that was pretty cool.” Joining “The Touch” would be the equally uplifting track “Dare”, which had been written by DiCola with vocals from Bush. “Stan and I never actually interacted directly with one another because one of the co-producers on the song “Dare” recorded Stan’s vocals on the track.” DiCola adds. “Richie Weiss had worked with Stan on many previous Scotti Brothers projects so it made sense to have Richie involved, not only because of his recording experience with Stan but for Stan’s comfort level as well.” Bush adds: “I really think that [the music] has a great influence on the iconic-ness of the movie, if that’s a word. It stayed in people’s minds. They saw it as kids and they listened to the songs hundreds of times.”
Released on August 8th 1986, The Transformers: The Movie was given a small release across 990 theatres and opened to $1.7 million, earning $5.8 million overall. Though it achieved an average of $1,797 per theatre, it was not enough to compete against fellow newcomers A Fine Mess and One Crazy Summer, and certainly not enough to go up against Aliens, The Karate Kid II or Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. Reviews for the movie, what little there were, were not kind. Caryn James of New York Times wrote, “All this action may captivate young children, [but] the animation is not spectacular enough to dazzle adults,” while Pat Graham of Chicago Reader called it a, “computer-animated feature based on a popular TV cartoon show, further inspired, no doubt, by the philanthropic desire of Japanese and American toy manufacturers to keep their kiddie customers rolling in robots.”
The Transformers: The Movie would be followed by a couple more seasons of the cartoon which continued the film’s story with the new characters, although they did eventually bring back Optimus Prime firstly in an episode called “Dark Awakening” and then in the two-parter “The Return of Optimus Prime”. “They didn’t recognize that Optimus Prime was the heartbeat of the Autobots,” Friedman argues. “The strong and fatherly presence that made sure everybody else behaves and tries to live up to his example. You cannot pass that over and have any hope of duplicating the success you had. I was proved right because they resurrected him rapidly. They established an icon.” Dille adds: “That episode [“Dark Awakening”] was written in a panic. Hasbro was very upset that Optimus’ death had traumatised so many kids. They wanted to fix the situation so bringing Optimus back to life was a first priority. Honestly, I have trouble remembering the episode.”
No official plans for a sequel to The Transformers: The Movie were made, although some VHS releases of “The Five Faces of Darkness”, written by Flint Dille and delved further into the origins of The Transformers, saw the five-part mini-series cut together as a feature-length episode listed as ‘The Sequel’. By 1987, The Transformers cartoon series came to a close with a three-episode long fourth season titled “The Rebirth”. “I think a lot of things were happening simultaneously,” Dille recalls. “I think the ‘Toy Show’ era was ending. I think they had enough for syndication. At that point [Hasbro chairman] Stephen Hassenfeld was dying, I believe. He was a genius. I remember feeling, at the time, that it was just an era ending. The odd thing is that I don’t remember being surprised. It was sad. That was a fun period.”
In 2003, producer Don Murphy dropped his adaptation of G.I. Joe due to the real-world conflict in the Middle East, and instead optioned a live-action Transformers movie, and in 2005 music video and Armageddon director Michael Bay signed on to helm the project. Someone who was keen to also be involved was Stan Bush, who re-recorded “The Touch” for possible inclusion in the movie. “I never found out what happened,” Bush admits. “It was pulled at the last minute. Like, a couple of weeks before the movie came out. There was going to be a little clip of it played by Bumblebee. It would have been a cool thing for the fans, but I don’t know. I got conflicting stories that Michael Bay was trying to distance himself from the original film. It was all speculation, but I never found out what happened.” For Bay’s sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Bush recorded another version of “The Touch” titled “Sam’s Theme”, which again wasn’t used in favour of nu metal band Linkin Park’s “New Divide”. “It seems like he could have done it for the fans if nothing else,” Bush argues. “I like Linkin Park and think they’re a great band, but I cannot hum one of their songs and remember it. Part of it is a style thing. The 80s had big anthems that you sang along with. You’d remember it.” DiCola adds: “Michael Bay made it clear in the press from the beginning that his intentions for the live-action movie were for it to be completely different and separate from the animated movie… It’s possible he was concerned that songs like “The Touch” and “Dare” would bring too much of a ‘dated’ feel to the new live-action movie. Speaking from my own perspective, I would’ve loved an opportunity to contribute some material to at least one of the live-action movies, but I understand and respect Bay’s previous relationship with and loyalty to [composer] Steve Jablonsky.”
Vince DiCola and Stan Bush have both been embraced by the Transformers fan community, with the pair regularly attending conventions and fan events and Bush even being inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame. “Stan and I have performed together at more than a few BotCon conventions over the years,” DiCola says. “The first was in Rochester, New York in 1997, and we recently performed together at BotCon ’16 in Louisville, KY, and we always have a good time together.” Bush adds: “It’s really cool to be associated with [The Transformers: The Movie]. It’s funny, because that whole feeling and vibe, that was the beginning of a new path for writing songs. I’ve written several songs since then that had a similar sort of message. ‘Go for it’, ‘positive’, ‘believe in yourself’. We make our own reality and people don’t realise that. If you have this positive outlook, you can move mountains. It’s incredible. We don’t even realise how much power we have.” For Bush, the impact “The Touch” has had one fans around the world is very important to him. “I’ve gotten fan letters from people saying those songs changed their lives. One guy was a successful attorney and he says every time he goes into a court room, before he goes in he plays “The Touch”. It’s just a great feeling. It’s been incredible to be associated and affiliated with the brand. Hasbro have done a lot of things over the years like bringing me to the conventions and using “The Touch” on toys. The games have used “The Touch” and “‘Till All Are One”. It’s been a great ride to be associated with them.”
“Not everyone knows who Stan Bush is, but everyone knows The Touch,” he concludes.
Now thirty years since its release, The Transformers: The Movie has become an important part of the franchise’s history, with a reputation that survives to this day. “It might be self-praise, [but] The Transformers: The Movie was the art that came from all staffs’ best efforts even though its quality was quick turnaround,” Shin says. “Moreover its format was the old traditional ‘ink and paint’, an old analogic method: each piece of paper was on a celluloid for colouring with paints, which required a labour intensive way with lots of people and time. Anyway, this film was the first robot animation feature in the U.S.A., which did not imitate Japanese styles. And it just took only one and a half years to be completed, compared with three or four years for production of a feature film in general at that time. Its story was interesting and fun for a child, and about love between robots and human – humanism. Also based on my former experience of special effects of Lightsabers from George Lucas’ Star Wars, I used a special animation skill for the laser gun of the Transformers. And I made the Transformers’ own special sounds too. I think it was unique.” DiCola adds: “I’m in awe of the longevity of the franchise and it continues to astonish me that the project garners so many new fans with each passing year. And of course I’m very grateful for the positive feedback my score continues to receive… The fans have been so good to me, and they have unknowingly lifted my spirits at times when my spirits were most in need of lifting. It’s been an amazing ride so far and I’m more grateful than the fans can possibly know.”
My thanks to Nelson Shin, Vince DiCola and Stan Bush for their time contributing to this article. Ron Friedman quotes taken from He Killed Optimus Prime, and Frank Dille quotes taken from An Interview with Transformers Writer Flint Dille. Peter Bogadanovich’s Reddit AMA answer can be found here.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.