Transformers: Less Than Meets the Need
This past Saturday was the official release date for Transformers movie toys, and of the three toy-inspired movies coming out this summer (Bratz and Care Bears: Oopsy Does It being the other two), this was clearly the one with the must-have merchandise. Though the giant morphing robots in the movie are—perhaps deliberately—too complicated to replicate exactly in miniature plastic form, the folks at Hasbro have managed to come close, maintaining the general look and compromising only in order to facilitate a semi-decent transformation.
But good luck finding many of them in stores. A visit to a couple of OC Toys 'R' Us stores revealed shelves mostly empty of the main guys, though a simplified kiddie line of the robots remained virtually unsold. Even the high-end, $40 Autobot leader Optimus Prime was scarce (though Target has an exclusive version that's smaller, cheaper and more available). Bumblebee, the bright-yellow Camaro-droid who seems to be the film's major hero, was nowhere to be found, proving either that kids love a good guy or that they're drawn to bright yellow things.
The people at Hasbro have a theory that kids don't go for toys that are colored black—that was the official explanation for why Spider-Man 3's Venom action figure came out purple, anyway—and they may have been vindicated here: The only movie Transformer figures that are still widely available everywhere are Ironhide, a black GMC 4x4 pickup truck, and Blackout, a gray helicopter who just happens to have the word "black" in his name. I would have put money on Scorponok being the unpopular one—a giant robotic scorpion who "transforms" into a standing-upright robot scorpion, he isn't exactly "more than meets the eye," and since he'll never be mistaken for an actual scorpion, he's hardly a "robot in disguise" either, making him a miserable failure as far as the Transformers credo goes. But whaddaya know, kids seem to be buying the big bug—your only shot at getting him now is in the Toys 'R' Us two-pack bundled with, yes, Blackout. For Scorps, it's like taking an ugly girl to the prom.
Arch-villain Megatron isn't available in stores yet, possibly to preserve some element of surprise about his final transformation. But thanks to some friends at Hasbro, we got a copy, and we have to ask: How do kids handle these toys? The big guy's a major headache to transform, especially since he changes into an alien vehicle that doesn't look like anything familiar, and the instructions, which are drawings rather than photographs, don't necessarily clarify the crucial aspects of the change. Once you get it to work the first time, it's a bit easier, but it's hard to imagine some 5-year-old having the patience.
And one toy that we don't reckon will sell out any time soon is the Optimus Prime Voice Changer Helmet. Back when they did the same deal with a Darth Vader helmet, it was cool—everybody knows James Earl Jones' iconic voice. But no one outside of the nerd community could tell you what exactly Peter Cullen sounds like, and frankly, the helmet doesn't sound much like him anyway when it yells, "Autobots . . . roll out!"
As an associate member of the nerd community, I feel obliged to point out the correct catchphrase is "Autobots: Transform and roll out!" And also that the helmet doesn't say Optimus' major catchphrase, "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings." Maybe someone thought that sounded too much like something our president might say, and therefore it might make Optimus less sympathetic.