'Transformers': Making Us Feel Like Kids Again

For the last 10 million years, give or take a millennium, an epic battle between good and evil has raged across the universe. In one corner, the noble forces of the "Autobots," led by "Optimus Prime." In the other corner, the devious army of the "Decepticons," led by the sinister "Megatron."

On their home planet of Cybertron, the two factions fought for millions of years before eventually bringing their fight to Earth.

The intergalactic war of "Transformers" spilled onto our planet in 1984 in the form of a hit cartoon series, and on July 3, it will explode onto screens at movie theaters across the country. Brought to life by director Michael Bay, and executive producer Steve Spielberg, at least one lucky movie-goer who's seen the movie calls it the birth of "another language" in filmmaking.

Defined by their ability to take on and "transform" into different vehicles, animals, devices and even dinosaurs to hide their robotic alien identities, the "Transformers" were one of the biggest boy-toy crazes of the mid-1980s and beyond.

It may not mean much to their kids, but for their parents, names like "Optimus Prime" conjure up warm and fuzzy memories of Saturday morning cartoons and playing alone in your room with toys instead of video games.

Though the film's PG-13 rating will certainly drive young people to the theaters, grown men -- and even a few women -- are already buying up tickets across the country, evidence that the fans never went away, they just got older.

Saturday Morning Was Ours

"I was one of those kids who early on in life just couldn't sleep later than six o'clock in the morning, so I would get up and be glued to 'Transformers' on TV," says Ted Nista, a 25-year-old clerk at a pharmacy in Carmel, Calif., and an aspiring filmmaker.

Back when Saturday morning still belonged to kids, children across the country would sneak out of bed in the wee hours, often before mom and dad had finished sleeping off the work week, and plop down in front of the TV to enjoy hours of cartoons.

"In those days, there was really only one place that was meant for you and that was Saturday morning," says Bob Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in New York. "This was the ghetto for kids."

Duking it out with iconic programs like "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe," "Thundercats" and "G.I. Joe" for animated supremacy, "The Transformers" were at the top of the heap during what was one of the last great generations of Saturday morning cartoons.

"Looking back on it with older eyes, some of it seems pretty corny, but the story, the voice acting -- Peter Cullen [voice of Optimus Prime] who was just so great that they brought him back for the new film ? it was just great," says Zach Oat, editor for ToyFare magazine and a life-long "Transformers" fan. "I was a big fan, watched the cartoon every day as a kid."

Now, 20 years later, Oat and millions of others who grew up with "The Transformers" are getting a chance to see a piece of their childhood live and breathe on the big screen in spectacular fashion.

Though the film's story line deviates significantly from that of the cartoon, at a recent screening in New York, with few exceptions, filmgoers were cheering and laughing throughout most of the movie.

With the thrill of watching "Transformers" come to life, there also comes a somewhat melancholy reminder of years past.

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