As mentioned before in my previous articles, after all the gimmicks of G1 they tried to relaunch the franchise with G2 which was mostly just recolours with additional guns (rather indicative of the era). Since saying that I realized there were a bunch of Optimus Prime moulds rather than just one but that’s me correcting myself.
G2 was not the return Hasbro was needing, the franchises needed a big shake up and that came in 1996.
Transformers have had Beast modes since… well basically day one if you count Soundwave’s cassettes, or nearly since the beginning if you only count ones that have an alt mode of a Beast. The Dinobots and the Insecticons all had Beast alt modes; the 3rd season of the cartoon had the Decepticon Combiner team the Predacons too. But what was to come was different; all these Beast modes still looked fairly robotic.
Beast Wars was a big relaunch for the franchise, rather than those robot animals of the past these new Transformers would be robots with organic looking alt modes, ones that size not withstanding looked like actual animals. Also these weren’t the Autobots and Decepticons anymore but the Maximals and the Predacons (later material would hint the Combiner team was involved in the faction’s formation explaining the name).
The first release of this new set contained Optimus Primal who turned into a bat and Megatron who turned into a crocodile (or an alligator, not really sure that’s important for once) and a supplementary comic released with the two pack said that these were the originally G1 characters but in new forms.
This would all change when the CG animated series hit.
Made by the creators of the cult TV series Reboot, Mainframe Entertainment Inc from Canada (ironically they couldn’t call the show Beast Wars in Canada because it had the word ‘wars’ in it so they called it Beasties there – hehehe). The series abandoned the idea that they were the same characters and instead made Optimus Primal and Megatron brand new characters, as were all the cast in fact. The series mirrored the start of the original show – two ships fighting crash land on a planet. However rather than being knocked out they soon find the planet is swarming with Energon and they need to assume new alt modes based on the organic life forms to survive the radiation as being in their robot modes for too long outside the ships would destroy them.
We don’t know at first that the planet they land on is prehistoric Earth (despite all the animals and fossils) there are plenty of hints and we do learn from a character that Earth was the original target of the Predacons but there are things that don’t match up, namely it has two moons. From what I have learned the reason for the vagueness was they didn’t know at the start
The first season is mostly made of standalone episodes with some elements of the story slowly building up. At the beginning each side has only 5 characters (the toys had lots who never appeared) these were, for the Maximals. Optimus Primal who turns into a gorilla, Rattrap, Rhinox, Cheetor and Dinobot who turns into a Deinonychus – originally part of Megatron’s crew but they fell out the moment they didn’t know if it was Earth and he joined up with the Maximals… I didn’t bother telling you the alt modes of the rest as their names gave that away.
For the Predacons we have Megatron who has a T.Rex alt mode. Terrorsaur a pterodactyl, Waspinator, Tarantulas and Scorponok once again didn’t bother telling you the alt modes when they are bleeding obvious.
As the series progressed a few other characters would join the roster, this is because as the Maximal ship fell pods containing Transformer proto forms (the basic robot before anything happens, think almost new born baby) were ejected and when one would land it was a rush to claim them as the Predacons could hack into the unformed Transformer and make them evil, something that happened with Blackarachnia.
At first the series wasn’t liked too much by the fan base who felt the change to Beasts was too much and that it was just ignoring all that came before leading to the now infamous cry of “truck no monkey”. Fortunately unlike many times recently that major changes were done to a long running franchise, this one was actually well written and paid attention to fans. It was shown that the people working on the show really did care about the franchise and the history of Beast Wars was unveiled. We learned the Maximals and the Predicons were the descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons, the original war having long been won by the Maximals. Predicons were considered second class because of this and Megatron had after stealing 2 golden discs renamed himself after their legendary leader and apparently went out to use a map on the discs to steal Energon to start a full blown war – Optimus Primal was Optimus Prime’s descendant. We also got a few cameos like when Starscream’s ghost possessed Waspinator. Later material would later go to explain that Pretender and Micromaster Technology was what allowed for the great upgrade switching them into smaller more energy efficient forms that could take on an organic like outer skin.
As mentioned the series had a few oddities on the planet and this was because of strange alien artifacts. The season ended with the aliens returning claiming the Cybertronians had ruined some grand experiment and revealed the second to be artificial which they tried to use to destroy the planet – season 1 ending with Optimus Primal dying after Megatron locked him in the pod he was going to jettison out of once it got on a collision course destroying the moon… they did not know if they were getting a season 2… And that’s not even the most shocking cliffhanger this series would get.
The toys were also selling well, as mentioned there were a lot of characters that had toys but didn’t make it into the show but that wouldn’t stop them from selling. The toys came in now standardized size categories. Deluxe Mega and Ultra being the main sizes. Both Megatron and Optimus Primal being Ultra sizes while the rest of the cast were Deluxe with one or two Megas.
The show and the toys proved a hit and the second year for both were green lighted. Much like later G1 though they had 2 main over arching gimmicks, these were Transmetals and Fuzors. Fuzors were Transformers with Beast mode – a fusion of 2 different beasts, such as Silverbolt being part wolf part eagle. The more popular was Transmetals which flipped the organic animal and metallic robot inside out. These had a robotic looking animal alt mode while the robot mode looked almost organic inside. They also had the ability to assume a sort of 3rd form which had semi vehicle aspects.
Another notable aspect of this second year is that many of the new toys were in fact upgraded forms of the already existing cast which also happened in the show with Rattrap, Optimus Primal, Megatron and Tirantulas becoming Transmetal thanks to a energy wave caused by the destruction of the second moon. The other characters who didn’t get the upgrade were shielded from it, though probably wish they hadn’t as Transmetals were shown to be more powerful than their old forms. The second episodes also introduced and explained Fuzor characters Silverbold and Quickstrike as having been hit by the wave while in their protoform pods messing up the scanning systems (though it did show they were stronger than normal Transformers too, oh and before anyone asks yes I know how Optimus Primal’s one happened it was a different body, while writing this I realized just how long it was going to have to be so it’s already being split in two).
In the story however there was now no doubt, as Waspinator pointed out, there was only 1 moon now, this was Earth they were on, prehistoric Earth leading to a scene I always go to when I complain about cartoons being crappy stupid stuff and claiming “oh it’s just for kids” as Dinobot realizing they have gone back in time, holds the golden discs revealing one of them to be alien origin but the other was from the Voyager space craft. He monologues about the nature of free will in a universe where time travel exists and that he would kill himself if it turned out history can’t be changed THIS IS FROM A CHILDREN’S SHOW IN THE 90s PEOPLE, scenes like this are why Beast Wars – especially its second season – is often regarded as one of if not the best Transformers series, at least in storytelling.
You see it was all CG late 90s CG and what was groundbreaking then looks rather dated now. I do warn people trying to watch it of the dated animation, but if they can get past that is one of the best written shows out there.
As we can see from the show there were more shake ups than just Vehicle to Beast. Because it was CG, having a smaller cast was more cost effective so each side was made of a smaller group than the G1 cartoons. They all got far more characterization and development than even some of the major G1 characters.
We really got to know these characters and their personalities really came out. Optimus Primal you could feel he was a young leader. Commanding was new to him. Megatron well… he was a far more theatrical person than his name sake though season 2 began to show he was a far more dangerous and calculating foe than some of his earlier scenes had shown, Dinobot though a Predacon was a deeply honourable warrior but was now struggling with the full weight of realizations. Many of the Beast Wars main characters would end up standing aside much older characters as the best in the franchise’s history. Plus each year they could release a toy of the character with the new line rather than have to make a brand new one. Many of these elements that are now standard in Transformers started fully for the first time with Beast Wars.
The show was also helped, by listening to fans and saved the life of one of its all time best. Waspinator you see had this way of talking that made it hard for them to write for him, so they often had him taken out in a fight early often in comical ways to limit his speaking. This ended up making him come off as a lovable buffoon (though not dumb remember he was the first to realize they were indeed on Earth), in fact he was so beloved that when he was originally meant to die at the start of season 2 to make way for new characters, they changed that to kill off Scorpinok and Terrorsaur (once again this was a show for kids and it had characters die PERMANENTLY) .
But I’ve talked enough for one article, and only part way through season 2, we have yet to see the full master stroke of Megatron’s plans, one of the best episodes of Transformers ever, more evolution of the characters and how its ambitious sequel sadly would bring around the end of the Beast era.