Mainframe, the production company behind the Beast Wars Transformers series, certainly gave itself a challenge: computer-generated animation of realistic animals interacting in a realistic Earth-like environment.
Considering this pilot episode of Beast Wars came out just one year after Pixar’s benchmark-setting “Toy Story”, Mainframe can give itself a virtual pat on the back for its accomplishments here. For a television show with a limited budget (spent building two alternate forms for each character) Beast Wars is certainly cutting edge.
The animation and direction of the opening space scene looks amazing, and still now comparable to anything produced at the same time be it for an animated series or otherwise. Once the action transfers to the planet below, however, there is a drop in detail such as shadows and background.
One thing which is truly an animation accomplishment on Mainframe’s part is the beast mode facial expressions. They look truly emotive (especially Optimus Primal) and convincing.
The plot of the first episode makes for a promising set up of the entire series. Look closely and you’ll find much detail and foreshadowing of the next three years’ of stories revolving around the Golden Disc.
The cast itself of Beast Wars is the highlight of the series. Despite some clumsy introductions the small cast, with their very clearly defined roles, are instantly magnetic. This is thanks in no small part to the exceptional quality of the voice acting. Optimus Primal, Dinobot and Rattrap come across the strongest so far, and though Waspinator and Cheetor have more airtime, they seem like the “children” of their respective teams. Megatron, too, is a layered character (though look out for some particularly awkward animation when his tail moves when he first emerges from his spacecraft).
Another plus side of Beast Wars is the sound design. If you listen carefully (with a good pair of headphones while watching the DVD version) you can hear all manner of sounds from ambient wildlife, falling water, servos of the joints of the robot modes. Mainframe has really gone all out to provide a rich soundscape for the viewer.
One particularly jarring aspect, however, is the insistence of using “activation codes” every time a Maximal or Predacon transforms.
For fans of the original Transformers cartoon, Beast Wars might take some getting used to. The setting of the pilot is deliberately obtuse and it seems like the powers that be want a fresh a start as possible for the characters and the franchise at large. Coming to Beast Wars with an open mind may be more satisfying.
Pilot episodes are rarely the best any series has to offer, but certainly with Beast Wars there’s a lot of promise!
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!
— Graham (@grhmthmsn)