Ricky Church on the 25th anniversary of Beast Wars: Transformers…
In the 1980s The Transformers franchise was a massive worldwide hit with a successful toyline, animated series, comic and a feature film which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. There was a lot to enjoy as the franchise depicted the battles between the heroic Autobots against the evil Decepticons as they transformed into all sorts of vehicles and even dinosaurs. Despite the popularity of Transformers, the franchise waned in the 90s as the toyline slowed and only select episodes made their way to home media. For a while, it seemed like Transformers was set to fade into obscurity.
Enter Beast Wars, a continuation of The Transformers which saw Maximals and Predacons, descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons respectively, begin a new war on a strangle, remote planet far from Cybertron. In place of vehicles, the two factions instead took on beast forms made up from the animal life across the planet, ranging from dinosaurs, gorillas, spiders, rats and cheetahs. Beast Wars revitalized the franchise not just with its concept or its ties to the original Generation 1 series, but also being the second fully CGI-animated series to be developed after the hit ReBoot. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Beast Wars: Transformers, it is important to look back on how this series saved the franchise from stagnation and ushered in a new era for Transformers.
Taking place several centuries after the conclusion of the original Transformers, Beast Wars followed Optimus Primal and his team of Maximals against a new Megatron and his band of Predacon rebels after Megatron stole a precious Cybertronian relic in search of energon to begin a new war of conquest. It followed the opening premise of the G1 series as the two teams crash landed on a distant planet rich with energon and took on new forms to transform into, only the beast forms of the Maximals and Predacons protected them from the high levels of radiation the raw energon emitted. As the Beast Wars rage on, mysteries and secrets about the planet reveal this isn’t a war for the galaxy, but history itself.
Two of the most notable aspects to the G1 Transformers was its ever expanding cast of characters to introduce a new wave of toys in stores and its episodic nature so fans could tune in any time they wanted. Beast Wars was the opposite. While most episodes in the first season were episodic, there was an overarching storyline as the factions investigated alien structures and devices around the planet, leading to a confrontation in the season finale. The cast was relatively small, especially compared to Transformers, allowing for more character driven stories that developed their individual journeys over the course of the series. Though new characters did pop in time for a new toy release, as well as some characters gaining advanced forms, there were story purposes behind them as the Maximals and Predacons coveted stasis pods containing new transformers for their teams.
The serialization of Beast Wars‘ story only intensified in the second season as many episodes led into the next, furthering character development and the revelation the planet they are on is actually Earth in the distant past. The serialized storytelling really fit the nature of the small cast as Cheetor matured out of his ‘teenaged’ phase, Blackarachnia began a romance with Silverbolt and shifted her allegiances and Megatron’s ego grew in size ten times by the time the series finale rolled out. However, the one character who had the biggest evolution is Dinobot, the Predacon-turned-Maximal who prided his code of honour above all else, but was also not hesitant to resorting to underhanded methods to defeat the Predacons. In the 25 years since the series’ creation, Dinobot is a popular fan-favourite among the entire Transformers franchise.
When the series began, Beast Wars tried to be its own series with only loose connections to G1. References were made to Cybertron or other Transformers characters in early season one episodes, but the fact Beast Wars was a spiritual sequel to G1 became clearer the further the season went. Starscream, the original Megatron’s backstabbing lieutenant, appeared as a ghost in possession of one of the Predacons, referencing the Transformers episode ‘Starscream’s Ghost’. Even the planet destroying Unicron makes something of a cameo after the mysterious aliens use his form to communicate with Optimus Primal. The second season goes even further than that not only with the introduction of Ravage, Soundwave’s loyal cassette-former reformatted into a Predacon, but shows a secret message from the original Megatron as the exact time the Maximals and Predacons are on Earth is during the four million years when the Autobots and Decepticons were in stasis lock in the Autobot ship the Ark underneath a fiery volcano, tying it perfectly to the the very opening of The Transformers! Predacon Megatron’s mission this whole time has been to rewrite history by killing Optimus Prime, thereby achieving a Decepticon victory the moment they wake up in 1984. It adds a whole new level of excitement and tension into the Beast Wars as all of existence is at stake.
Along with the story serialization and character development, Beast Wars offered fans some truly strong episodes that balanced the levity and seriousness that examined the personal costs of war. One such episode was ‘Law of the Jungle’, where the usual pacifist Tigatron nearly leaves the Maximals after a friendly animal is killed due to their actions, condemning both the Maximals and Predacons for the cyclical nature of Cybertronian violence. ‘The Agenda’ three-part finale to season two was like an epic movie after building off all of the season’s massive plot points as the Maximals fought to save the future with one of the most stunning cliffhangers in Transformers history. The real highlight of Beast Wars though was ‘Code of Hero’, an episode regarded among one of the best in the whole Transformers franchise as Dinobot’s journey culminated in a heroic sacrifice against the entire Predacon force to save early humanity from Megatron. It is one of the few onscreen deaths in a children’s animated series and an incredibly emotional sequence on par with Optimus Prime’s death in Transformers: The Movie and launched Dinobot further into the fan-favourite category.
Despite being a spiritual sequel to G1, elements from Beast Wars made their way into other aspects of various Transformers series and comics. Concepts like stasis lock, beast modes and most significantly sparks, essentially the heart of a Cybertronian, became common elements to Transformers mythology. Characters from Beast Wars even made their way into some Transformers shows and IDW’s previous comic continuity. The company began publishing this year a Beast Wars reboot to celebrate the 25th anniversary. The series really is a huge part of the franchise for the changes it brought, the mature storytelling and characters and reinvigorating a dying franchise in the mid-90s. The concept is even set to make its way into live-action with next year’s Transformers film Rise of the Beasts. Whether you’re an old fan who loves the show or a brand new one interested in what it did for the franchise and animation, now is as good a time as any to experience Beast Wars all over again.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.