Friday, February 25, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: GoBots Edition

The last time I did a Nostalgia Theater was back in September, despite my very best efforts to keep up with the feature regularly. Still, new digs, new year, and a fresh commitment, so let's see how we do this time. For this installment, I present the GoBots. Those of you with long memories may remember the toyline, inaugurated by Tonka in 1983 but perpetual second fiddle to that other line of transforming robot toys that debuted from Hasbro a year later. And it's not hard to see why. Cheaper (both price-wise and quality-wise), simpler, and dumber, GoBots was inferior in every way to Transformers, which was armed with a higher caliber of product and a richer mythology to draw from (as dreamed up by the folks at Marvel Comics).

Given how successfully Hasbro was able to swoop in and dominate the cutthroat "robots-into-vehicles" market of the '80s (that's right, cutthroat), it's easy to see how everything about the Tonka line felt like a pared-down, funhouse mirror version of its more-popular rival, with Cybertron replaced by GoBotron, "Autobots" and "Decepticons" replaced by "Friendly" and "Enemy" robots, and detailed, elaborate transforming mechanisms replaced by cheap crap that fell apart in your hands. In fact, I have a feeling the most common memory folks of my vintage may have of the GoBots is as what they ended up getting even after specifically asking for Transformers. Certainly, this pattern played out with me enough times over a short enough span of time -- getting stupid Scooter when I wanted Bumblebee, getting lame Leader-1 when I wanted Optimus Prime -- that I think I still carry some deep-seated resentment toward the property.

The "El Cheapo" nature of the thing even manifested when it came to adapting the line for television, with Hanna-Barbera handling production chores on the syndicated Challenge of the GoBots -- check out the intro below -- which aired for one 65-episode season in '84-'85 before fading into relative obscurity (and USA's "Cartoon Express"), and the toyline followed suit away a few short years later. Transformers, meanwhile, has continued to this very day. While GoBots still has a fanbase (evidenced by recent plans to release the TV show on DVD), anyone hanging in there for a big screen, Michael Bay-style, revival probably shouldn't hold their breath. In what amounts to the final indignity, Hasbro ended up buying the GoBots line from Tonka lock, stock, and cheap plastic barrel in 1991, putting the property down for good.

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