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Figures & Speech: The Dork of the Moon-dane

There’s a quote that pissed me off this week, and you’ve probably seen it linked on a few movie sites. At a recent press conference, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner was asked to comment on disappointing sales for the toys from Transformers: Dark of the Moon. His response, as excerpted by tfw2005.com, was one that’s of interest to film fans, as it included this tidbit:

“…it’s because of same characters in all three movies. This is why Transformers 4 will have a new cast of [robot] characters and it will be a story revolving around these new characters.”

Pardon me while I hurl my Voyager Class Mechtech Shockwave across the room. Okay. Deep breath. Preparing to articulate response in 3…2…1…

Hi there, Mr. Goldner. I’m sure you have your own internal research team and a bunch of statistics. And if they reflected my view of reality at all, I’d leave you to them. Here’s the thing: your logic is both faulty and cover-my-ass lame. I am your demographic, more so than you think. I’m a movie critic who actually likes the Michael Bay movies, a child of the ’80s who doesn’t think “flames on Optimus = nipples on Batman,” and a toy collector who really digs the movie-accurate figures, in large part because I think it’s incredibly cool that this:

can turn into this…

Frankly, I can’t begin to imagine how toy designers come up with this stuff. And considering how many figures these days are repaints and reuses of other parts, the Transformers line is one that constantly impresses me. Yes, thank you, I WILL pay $64 for Ultimate Optimus. That’s how I roll out. I spent months looking for some of the figures for the first movie when there weren’t enough to meet demand. I spent further months waiting for the second movie’s Jetfire to be more available, and wound up missing out. I was looking forward to Dark of the Moon toys, big-time.

And then… they sucked. Half the line’s “Energon” went into creating a smaller scale that lingered forever on shelves (see last week’s column for why that was a bad idea), and the other half into creating a kid-friendly gimmick called Mechtech that basically involved oversized, interchangeable (and here’s the key – NOT movie-accurate) weapons. The large-sized Leader Class Bumblebee was a waste for those collectors who don’t care about such add-ons, since much of the toy was a giant clip-on electronic launcher. As for Sentinel Prime – look, I know it’s probably expensive to hire Leonard Nimoy to record voice clips for a toy. But at least get someone who sounds like him. Kids can spot fakes much more easily when they don’t even try.

As for the regular figures? The mid-range “Voyager Class” were uniformly smaller than those from previous films, and more lightweight. And here’s what’s most maddening: the movie itself absolutely gift-wraps you some new toy concepts, and you blow them. Megatron gets a badass new rusty look as a ragged oil tanker that becomes a cloaked desert nomad warrior? Great, let’s make the toy version tiny and badly painted so nobody can see the detail. Optimus’ trailer actually turns into something onscreen? Let’s not duplicate that in the toy, because we have another idea. Shockwave’s the new villain? How about leaving out the one item in the movie that’s absolutely key to his villainous power – the robot snake he rides upon? Soundwave has a new alt-mode as a car? We’ll make that one…and then never release it. Bumblebee gets to fly a spaceship? Don’t make that.

If Hasbro made toys out of the snazzy new Ferrari-bot or the Irish-accented, Einstein-haired “Brain,” I missed them (and I was looking). I will give props on the Target and National Guard car-bots, the best in this line. But I will also add this: if I, a dogged collector with disposable income and ample free time to scour stores had this much trouble, what do you suppose it was like for the kids who wanted what they saw onscreen?

Now, let us address the idea that having the same characters in all three movies was the problem. While one could argue for Bumblebee fatigue, doing away with Optimus Prime would be an insane mistake, one that Hasbro ironically enough made before in the 1986 animated movie, which cynically killed off a large number of key characters to introduce an array of new ones they knew kids would then have to buy. Kids responded by being traumatized that their hero Optimus was slain, forcing Hasbro to back away from an intended similar strategy in its G.I. Joe animated movie (hugely ironic when you think about how the live-action sequel in that franchise is apparently going about things). Here’s the point: whatever one feels about Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, everybody agrees that Peter Cullen’s return as the original voice of Optimus was a good call; possibly the best call of the whole film franchise. And you’re thinking of replacing him? With who – Rodimus again? Judd Nelson is probably available.

Look, obviously you need new robots each movie, and there were a LOT in Dark of the Moon. You just didn’t choose to emphasize them as toys. And you can make a part four keeping the fans happy with additions, especially if you bring in the Dinobots as good guys, and planet-sized Unicron as the villain. But you have no franchise without Optimus. You think you do, but trust me – it was Cullen’s Prime that elevated the original toons above their toy-commercial roots; an actor taking seriously something he could have easily blown off, and becoming a fictional hero in the process.

And don’t screw up the Dinobot toys. Or you’ll be making a similarly lame excuse again in a couple of years.

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4 comments

  • It’s interesting to me how he is worried about making toys first and a movie second. I suppose that’s Hasbro’s job.

    Anywho, you are exactly right. Hasbro needs to figure out their target audience.

  • I totally agree, dude. You hit the nail on the head. I’ve talked about this with friends. It’s hard enough for collectors to get the toys, never mind a kid with only passing interest in the brand in the first place. Walk into any store right now, and you’ll see 4 pegs. 3 of the pegs will have the new Fall Of Cybertron figures on it. The 4th peg will have a full sleeve of Bumblebees from TF Prime. Why? Because no one wants BB anymore. The fact that Soundwave never hit shelves was beyond stupid.

    I’ve heard rumors that Hasbro is actually being railroaded in part by Walmart and other stores like them. Wallyworld is demanding higher price points for lower costs, and if a certain number of units don’t sell at a specific volume, then they cut back on orders. I’ve also been told that once Hasbro puts together their delivery line and quantities, it has to pass through a marketing committee that works for Walmart, not for Hasbro. So Hasbro could decide to pack 1 Bumblebee, 2 Wheeljacks, 1 Arcee, and 1 Cliffjumper, and then the marketing guys turn and tell them to switch the 2 Wheeljacks to 1, make it 3 BBs and drop Arcee to every other case. I don’t know if there’s truth to this, but it would go a long way to explain why not only the quality has shifted, but also why you can’t find any of the best figures.

    Peter Cullen = Franchise. There’s a reason why they brought Optimus back before the third season was even done.

  • Agreed. On everything except for liking the Bay movies, but hearing Peter Cullen’s voice rumbling out of a giant robot was enough to make me forgive the entire series.